By Ken DeLaat
I love this team, the current members of the club whose players don the Olde English ‘D’. They’re my favorite kind of competitors. They’re scrappy, fearless and undaunted by defeat. A radical change from the past few glory years when expectations far outweighed performance and there seemed to be a tightening about the neck during crucial games. Those years saw a cavalcade of superstars parading through the locker room, few Hall of Famers to be sure (exceptions being JV and Max I’d say) but All Stars. Guys who were (and are) some of the best in the league. Now scattered to LA, Boston,Houston and D.C. or retired ala Prince, Shef,and the huge signing mistake known as Joe Nathan. These were all (for the most part) fine players but in many ways the team had kind of stopped being fun. The disappointment of ‘almost’ and ‘what might have been’ collapsed into ‘way not close’ and ‘what will never be’ last season culminating more than a decade of close calls with those teams.
They did the right thing, abandoned hope and slashed payroll while trying to build a foundering minor league system. Be patient they said, this will take awhile.
“We’re going to rebuild”
I knew what that meant. It meant a repeat of the Trammel years when the poor guy was given a ragtag group of someday’s, never were’s and incredibly futile moundmen. Bobby Higginson another contractual disaster, was still around and Dmitri Young was their lone All Star, a guy they liked so much they cut him a month before they captured the pennant in the redemption season of ‘06. Their ace? Mike Maroth who fashioned a 5.73 earned run average into 21 of the 119 Tiger losses that year. Jeremy Bonderman came in a close second losing 19.
So we entered this season a bit cautiously. Throughout spring training attention was paid to the lineups and the jockeying for position that was going on. Then came the opener.
The lineup was pretty unfamiliar and they dropped their first 3 in close and entertaining contests with the Pirates. Then they won 4 of 5 before losing 5 straight. Since then it’s been that kind of season. A few wins combined with an equal amount of losses as they attempt to catch up to that elusive .500 mark.
But, man, they are fun to watch. They run, they hustle, they’re slashers at the plate and the pitching has ranged from outstanding to awful but mostly a tad above average. Their third sacker Candelario is a personal favorite and came here in a trade made by the Tiger GM who swapped his son to the Cubs to bring him here. Yep. His son.
Their young players are going through a learning curve but have shown some flashes of brilliance while players who have kicked around the fringe of the Bigs have come through far more consistently than expected by nearly everyone but themselves. There is the uplifting return of Miguel Cabrera and the blue collar approach of Victor Martinez, leftovers from the purge because of their bloated untradeable contracts. They’re adding just enough firepower to this youthful lineup and their veteran presence certainly doesn’t hurt either though they each hit some of the longest singles imaginable..
Then there is Gardy, the best manager in baseball for such a team. He spun miracles out of the Twin Cities with limited talent and has not only kept this team believing, he also provides a welcome presence in the post game interviews with a sense of humor to go with a vast baseball knowledge.
This team works hard, plays every out and makes much stronger lineups earn any victories they get. They win games with a fun kind of flair and lose them with a sense of aplomb that tomorrow will be another day.
They aren’t going anywhere. It’s still a rebuilding year and year one at that.The starting pitching won’t hold up over a whole season and the bullpen while effective from time to time still lacks consistency particularly in the closer role.. The young hitters will likely encounter lengthy slumps and a 6 month season can weigh on anyone’s enthusiasm.
Then there are the teams ahead of them. The Red Sox, Indians, Astros and the ever hated Yanks as well as a few other teams in the West with plausibly more postseason promise than this squad. So, no World Series nor even a good chance to be playing beyond their last day of September season finale in Milwaukee with the Brewers. However, they are more than likely to escape the cellar (of course the White Sox are terrible the Royals not much better) and will give opponents all they can handle most nights.
So grab a scorecard and root for Leonys, Niko, Dixon, Viktor (Reyes not Martinez) and former Whitecap Artie Lewicki.
Follow them as they begin to sort out who will be in their future plans and as they aspire to defy those who had them hovering near the bottom. Catch Gardy’s post game chats. Like I said this isn’t a great team, but its not a horrible one either.
And believe me the Tigers of this year bear no resemblance to that bleak rebuild season 15 years prior. While the present day Tig’s have won 31 games (as of June 9th) the ‘03 squad won their 31st on August 12th. It was the lone win in a 16 game stretch that ended 12 days later with a 10-9 win (#32) on a walk off homer by Brandon Inge.
Yep. Brandon Inge.
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