When the end came, it was Hernan Perez at the plate, grounding into a double play. That might say it all. The Tigers won 90 games and the AL Central, but when the now or never moment arrived, it was Hernan Perez at the plate. It wasn’t Miguel Cabrera getting toasted by Sergio Romo or Brandon Inge whiffing on an Adam Wainwright curveball. It was Hernan Perez hitting a routine ground ball to the third baseman and failing to beat the relay to first. The Tigers season ended on Sunday evening. It didn’t end terribly early or inexplicably. They died as they lived. At the hands of a bad bullpen, poor defense, and reckless base running. On balance, a good baseball team, but in sum, not the best. The team was unlucky and a few confusing decisions were made, but 90 wins and a division title isn’t a disaster.
A year ago, the Tigers underwent a rather significant overhaul. Fielder, Benoit, and Fister were shuffled for Kinsler, Nathan, Joba, Davis, and well, those guys from the Nationals. It was a different roster, and then Dirks and Iglesias and Rondon all got hurt and anything resembling depth was gone. Plus you’ve got injuries to Verlander, Cabrera, and Sanchez in some capacity.
There was found gold in the Martinezes and a nice little boost from Kinsler. Price came but it cost Jackson and Smyly, and Soria did as well, but hardly played a role and didn’t pitch well when he was finally asked to hold the season together.
What’s the story of the 2014 Tigers? What did we learn? What matters? What should we take from the experience we all just shared?
I think there are a few simple things. You can’t ignore defense, you can’t give away outs, and when you have a bad bullpen, you have to be willing to adapt. You can hit and pitch your way through almost anything, but when we’re playing at the margins in October, you can only avoid so many mistakes.
I was hard on Brad Ausmus in his first year. I don’t regret that. He was overmatched, inflexible, and downright stubborn. But that doesn’t mean Ausmus couldn’t have won with a better club or that a good manager with this team would have won those eleven important October games. Being a bad manager and being the reason your team lost aren’t always the same thing. All else equal, they’re better off with someone else, but the team that wins the title is almost always the team that had good fortune and with a good enough roster. That wasn’t the Tigers this year.
There were some exciting moments and some fun individual seasons this year. It wasn’t as fun as the 2013 squad, but that’s going to happen.
There will be significant changes again this offseason. Max Scherzer is likely moving on in free agency. Victor Martinez will be sought after as well. Torii Hunter might hang it up. Bullpen decisions, potential extensions for Porcello and Price will be on the table and there’s a glaring hole in CF waiting to be filled. Will Iglesias be healthy? Can Nick improve at 3B? At what point does Avila decide he’s been struck in the head one too many times? Does Moya or McCann play a role?
There are questions. The Tigers brass will huddle and consider their options. They’ll kick around creative ideas and they’ll decide on a course of action. It could go a lot of different ways. There’s a case to be made for going for it in a big way, before the Cabrera/Verlander contracts go south, but now might also be a time to reinvent the wheel a bit too.
I’ll give it some thought and decide what I think is best. The rest of the fan base will do the same. And then Dombrowski will do something none of us predicted and we’ll argue about it until February.
I had fun, even if it wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had with the team and I hope you did too, even if it ended with a whimper rather than champagne, or at least a deep run.
The Tigers were talented enough to win this season, but talent is only part of the equation. There’s a lot of luck and timing and a lot of that’s out of your control. Sometimes, no matter how good the team was for however many games, you end up with Hernan Perez taking your team’s final swing. Could the Tigers have avoid this? Sure. But it was a bunch of little things that went wrong and you can’t plug 20 pinhole leaks no matter how hard you try. (Note: I don’t know much about boats, this might be easy)
It’s the end of the line. It’s going to be an interesting winter. It sucks, but it builds character. The day is going to come where the Tigers win the last game of the season and all this suffering will have been worth it.