It’s tempting to be satisfied with the unexpectedly good season the Detroit Tigers just finished. After all, they were picked to finish last in the AL Central after a disappointing 2008, so to hold onto first place since May (even in the weakest division in baseball) made for a surprisingly entertaining summer of baseball in Motown.
The development of several young players gives me reason to believe that the Tigers will improve again next season. Rick Porcello was fantastic at only age 20; he deserved much better last night after pitching possibly his best game of the season in a do-or-die situation for his team. Edwin Jackson turned out to be an outstanding off-season pickup, and Ryan Raburn, Clete Thomas and Alex Avila all impressed when they had the chance. (In fact, why didn’t Jim Leyland use Avila – or Marcus Thames – to pinch hit for Gerald Laird in the final inning? Ah, second guessing.)
But the fact is, the Tigers just finished one of the biggest folds under pressure in major league history. No team had ever lost a division title or a pennant when three games up with four to go. Despite tonight’s near-heroics in Minnesota, the Tigers again lost a division title to the Twins on the last day of the season. In 2006, they couldn’t beat lowly Kansas City and had to settle for the wild card playoff spot. This year, their record would barely have kept them in third place in the East Division, so no playoffs are forthcoming.
Even though Miguel Cabrera somewhat redeemed himself on Tuesday with a massive two-run homer, the Tigers will have to determine if his drunken arrest over the weekend is a recurring event or a one-time situation. If Cabrera has personal demons, the team will have to insist that he take responsibility for them and turn his life around, or seriously think about finding him a new home. And I’m still shaking my head over several odd managerial decisions Leyland made in the final week, from starting pitching to apparently resting players for an AL Divisional Series that isn’t going to happen now.
The 2009 Tigers were entertaining, and there’s some positive momentum for next season. Right now, though, it’s too close to the Collapse of ’09 to be satisfied with the old saying, “Wait ’til next year.”
Photo credit: Kevin Ward via Flickr