The End, Two Weeks Out

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

It doesn’t seem like that long ago that we were all sitting around anxiously waiting for Opening Day. It was a discordant winter. There were trades we loved, trades we hated, signings we found puzzling, and all sorts of prognosticating about what the future looked like in Detroit. The Tigers extended Cabrera on a massive deal and Scherzer turned down another. Whether this was going to be a successful year wasn’t clear but it was pretty clear that Father Time was coming for us.

The core was aging. The marquee players were on the wrong side of thirty, both coming off surgery. There was a new manager and the fan base fractured along the lines of the Fister trade. There was optimism, sure, but the whole thing was this close to falling apart as well. A failed 2014 season wasn’t an option, but Rondon went down. So did Iglesias and Dirks. The margin of error was small and getting smaller. The pressure was on. It had to work.

For a while, it did. The Tigers got off to a blazing start, winning 27 of their first 39, and adding enough cushion that all they needed to do was tread water the rest of the season. They proceeded to collapse. Then rise. Then stumble. Then what?

Verlander’s never found his footing. Cabrera’s been dealing with multiple injures. The defense has been unwatchable at times. The base running hasn’t been much better. Ausmus, the first year manager who looked full of promise, is arguably a worse tactician than his ancient predecessor. Joe Nathan, the prized closer Dave Dombrowski so badly desired, was a mess from day one.

There were bright spots, of course. Ian Kinsler’s been great. JD Martinez, a gift from God. Scherzer and Porcello have done their job. Anibal Sanchez was effective when healthy and the Smyly/Price rotation slot has matched expectations. They added Soria, who was injured before anything much could happen and Victor Martinez is having the kind of year you need to have when the team’s offensive anchor is wounded.

I wasn’t shy in saying that I felt the offseason was a series of big mistakes, with the exception of the tremendous Fielder-Kinsler deal. On balance, my expectations weren’t that high. I set the over/under at 89.5 wins. Good team, not great. Plenty could go wrong.

It’s also been a discordant Summer. You know that. I know that. The team’s play has been stale at times. Ausmus has made many tactical errors. Two of the biggest stars have crawled their way through. The team has been about as good as expected, but man, an 88 or 89 win team with this payroll and this kind of name value? Still didn’t feel right.

It’s almost Fall. The end of the year is two weeks away. They’re capable of finishing this out, making it to the postseason, and winning it all. No question. After taking two of three from the Royals and sweeping the Indians, they are back in control. The Royals are coming down from their impossible post All-Star Break run and the Tigers are getting it together. There is a showdown coming this weekend that should provide clarity.

I often speak about a baseball season being much like a romance. You fall in love with that particular team throughout the season and losing them when winter comes is a hard breakup. But I’m not sure I’ve had that moment this year. The streak in May, maybe. The Davis grand slam, perhaps. There have been some big moments, but I’m not sure about season defining ones. Porcello’s shutouts? The 19 inning loss?

I’m not sure.

This is a very different team than the ones we’ve cheered for over the last few seasons. Many of the familiar faces are gone. Some are aging. Some have one foot out the door.

Maybe the most memorable moment of the season came July 31 when the Tigers were playing during the deadline. We were watching Twitter, the beat writers were spying Dombrowski, and Austin Jackson got pulled mid-batter. That might have been the defining moment of this Tigers season and it was a farewell more than anything else.

I think this team can and will survive the Royals. I think they’re plenty capable of winning in the playoffs. But I’m not sure what I’ll remember about this team. Each Tigers team since 2006 has been distinct in my mind. The things that stick out about this year aren’t wholly positive. Something’s missing, even.

When I analyze the game I think about it objectively. This player is good, this one’s okay, and this one stinks. This decision was right, that pitch was incredible. But as a fan, it’s also about feeling a connection with the experience of watching the team every day. It’s about connecting each team with that specific year in your life. It might just be me, or it might be the team. Maybe it’s because I loved last year’s team so much that the changes have been hard to adjust to or maybe I’m just feeling stagnation in my own life. I don’t know.

But there’s two more weeks. Maybe the moment hasn’t come. Maybe this team’s going to be the one that floors it and marches into the postseason on a hot streak. Maybe it’s going to be about Verlander finding himself or Cabrera, on one leg, recapturing his rightful place among the game’s most feared hitters. It could be anything.

There’s still time. At least two weeks, and hopefully more.

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