One you expected eventually.
Royals 5, Tigers 2
It was not Rick Porcello’s (30 GS, 201 IP, 3.31 ERA, 3.56 FIP, 3.4 fWAR) day. He didn’t have his command and the Royals put pressure on him early and often, bouncing him afer 3.1 innings, nine hits, four runs, two walks, and one strikeout. The Tigers got one back on a Kinsler home run and another on an extremely rough error by Moustakas in the 4th. The bullpen did solid enough work, allowing just one additional run but the Tigers couldn’t get to Guthrie before the Royals unleashed their three-headed monster and they managed to salvage the finale of the three game series. The Tigers will head home with a 1.5 game lead in the division with the Royals likely to lose the suspended game tomorrow afternoon. That means the magic number is effectively six with seven full games to play. Kyle Lobstein (4 GS, 27.2 IP, 3.58 ERA, 3.96 FIP, 0.3 fWAR) is slated for Monday.
The Moment: Hardy strikes out Gordon to avoid disaster in the 4th.
Tigers 3, Royals 2
Max Scherzer (32 GS, 214.1 IP, 3.19 ERA, 2.86 FIP, 5.4 fWAR) got the ball in the most tense game of the season and did not disappoint. The Royals foiled some early chances with unwise bunting and Torii Hunter launched a solo home run to give the team a 1-0 lead in the 4th. The Royals responded with one in the 5th and then everything converged on the bottom of the 6th and top of the 7th. The Royals had men on second and third with one out when a line drive was hit to Kinsler. He tried to double off the runner at second and Suarez missed the ball, allowing Perez to score from third. Of course, Perez forgot to tag up and was called out after much discussion. In the next inning, the Tigers got a single from JDM and a walk from Suarez to set up a pinch hit single from Collins and single from Davis to plate two men. Max held in the 7th, finishing with six strikeouts and a walk. Joba got the 8th and allowed a run on two hits. Nathan got the 9th (um…where’s Soria?) and put two men on with one out. It was Aoki and Ibanez who both grounded out and ended this one after taking years off our lives. Rick Porcello (29 GS, 197.2 IP, 3.19 ERA, 3.55 FIP, 3.3 fWAR) for the sweep.
The Moment: Tyler Collins comes up with a pinch hit go ahead single in the 7th.
Tigers 10, Royals 1
The Tigers opened with a four hit attack in the 1st inning that led to a three run cushion for Justin Verlander (31 GS, 198 IP, 4.68 ERA, 3.82 FIP, 3.0 fWAR) and Justin Verlander didn’t even need that many. He had one of his best outings of the season, getting into very little trouble and tossing 7.1 innings of 7 hit, 0 walk, and 4 strikeout baseball en route to one run. The bats kept charging with one in the 2nd, one in the 4th, and five in the 5th as they absolutely pummeled the Royals to open a huge series that could determine the fate of the division. Top to bottom, it was as convincing as they come. They’re look to guarantee they leave town with a bigger lead than when they arrived with Max Scherzer (31 GS, 207.1 IP, 3.26 ERA, 2.88 FIP, 5.1 fWAR) going tomorrow.
The Moment: A five run 5th inning puts the game out of reach.
This was more or less decided after the 2013 season, but Miguel Cabrera is going to the Hall of Fame. Despite being injured for the better part of the season, somehow he’s running a 149 wRC+ and 5.1 WAR in 2014. Not to make too much of arbitrary cut points, but that’s his 9th 5+ WAR season and has pushed him over 60 WAR for his career.
You basically need two things to get into the Hall, a great peak and a decent among of longevity (or total value). Cabrera’s peak is unassailable and his total value has now crossed the rough threshold of players who typically make the Hall (60 WAR). Of course, these aren’t perfect rules and WAR is just an estimate, but Cabrera is 31 and has about 11 years left on his contract. Even if he’s a 3 win player for the next 5 year and then becomes terrible, he’s making the Hall in a walk. And he’s almost certainly going to be better than that.
He has a 152 wRC+ which leaves him about 28th all time, right around Joe DiMaggio, Manny Ramirez, and Hank Aaron. Through age 31, he’s 35th in WAR, around guys like Gary Carter, Wade Boggs, George Brett, and Honus Wagner(!). In other words, Cabrera hits all of the major nails directly on the head and will do better with the voters because his defense drags him down and voters overweight offensive achievement.
The last Tiger to get voted in by the BBWAA was Al Kaline in 1980. Maybe Tram and Lou will get in via the Veteran’s Committee before Cabrera, but otherwise the only question will be if Verlander makes it and if he beats Cabrera to the podium.
Assuming he stays reasonably healthy and doesn’t test positive for PEDs, Cabrera is going in as a first ballot Hall of Famer and the first living Tiger to make it close to 50 years..
Twins 8, Tigers 4
David Price (32 GS, 232.1 IP, 3.37 ERA, 2.86 FIP, 5.5 fWAR) didn’t have his best stuff on this night, surviving just 5.2 innings while allowing five runs on eight hits, three walks, and five strikeouts. The Tigers jumped out to an early lead, gave it back, took it back, and then gave it back once more. Collectively, the hitting can’t be faulted but a huge base running blunder cost the Tigers a huge chance to rally and the Tigers faded into the night, dropping two of three in Minnesota when they probably should have won at least two. Justin Verlander (30 GS, 190.2 IP, 4.81 ERA, 3.89 FIP, 2.8 fWAR) opens in KC on Friday.
The Moment: Tyler Collins gets a big hit to set up and ultimately failed 8th inning threat.
Twins 4, Tigers 3
Here’s the story of this game. Rick Porcello (29 GS, 197.2 IP, 3.19 ERA, 3.55 FIP, 3.4 fWAR) went eight strong innings, allowing a single run on a couple of hits and a solo home run later, but basically cruised. He was tracking toward a complete game loss and getting stronger when the 8th inning ended and he put the game in the hands of his offense. Hunter doubled, Cabrera singled, and with two outs, JD Martinez hit another inexplicable 9th inning home run to put the Tigers head. Joe Nathan allowed a runner and then Carrera turned a single into a double and the Twins tied it up. Then you had the ol’ walk off infield single and we’ll play for the series win Wednesday behind David Price (31 GS, 226.2 IP, 3.26 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 5.4 fWAR).
The Moment: JD Martinez hits a go-ahead, two out home run in the 9th.
Too close, but sufficient.
Tigers 8, Twins 6
Max Scherzer (31 GS, 207.1 IP, 3.26 ERA, 2.87 FIP, 5.2 fWAR) cruised through three innings and his offense staked him to a 6-0 lead, so you probably figured you could get through this one without palpitations. Wrong. Despite the lead and offensive assault, Max got into some trouble, allowing four runs over his seven innings and giving way to a bullpen that allowed two more. Thankfully, Hunter and Cabrera were due up in the 9th and went back to back to retake the lead and dampen the blood pressure of the faithful. Soria got the 9th and secured the win. Rick Porcello (28 GS, 189.2 IP, 3.23 ERA, 3.52 FIP, 3.3 fWAR) gets the ball on Tuesday.
The Moment: Hunter and Cabrera go back to back to retake the lead in the 9th.
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.
A decisive sweep.
Tigers 6, Indians 4
This may be the new normal for Justin Verlander (30 GS, 190.2 IP, 4.81 ERA, 3.89 FIP, 2.8 fWAR), but you’ll take it given what we saw earlier in the year. It wasn’t his best stuff but he worked through the first five innings allowing just one run and then the bullpen surrendered two more of his runners in the 6th. All in all, it wasn’t ace level stuff, but it was workable. The Tigers trailed 3-1 when JD Martinez drove in Cabrera in the 6th and then Kinsler crushed a two run bomb in the 7th to take the lead 4-3. They added two extra runs during a mess of an inning for the Indians in the 8th that featured some very wild pitches. Nathan came on for the 9th and Nathan’d all over the place. He allowed the first three men to reach base and the induced a double play and a popup to escape. The sweep sets up a great chance to add some distance in the division race with Max Scherzer (30 GS, 200.1 IP, 3.19 ERA, 2.84 FIP, 5.1 fWAR) going Monday.
The Moment: Kinsler knocks a go-ahead home run in the 7th.
Perfectly according to plan.
Tigers 5, Indians 4
Kyle Lobstein (4 GS, 27.2 IP, 3.58 ERA, 3.95 FIP, 0.3 fWAR) had one job: Don’t let things get out of hand. He succeeded in doing that despite allowing a two run homer in the first. He would give up two more runs over his five innings and looked a great deal like you would expect a Triple A starter to look. He gave them a chance, and it was a chance they took. They pushed across two in the third and Martinez went deep in the fourth to take the lead 3-2. After Lobstein allowed the tying and go-ahead runs, it looked like the Tigers might be out of luck. Fortunately, a Cabrera walk set up a two out, full count go ahead blast from Alex Avila in the 8th. Joe Nathan allowed a man into scoring position but survived. A sweep will be on the table Sunday afternoon with Justin Verlander (29 GS, 185 IP, 4.82 ERA, 3.91 FIP, 2.6 fWAR) on the bump.
The Moment: Avila hits a go-ahead home run in the 8th.