Is This Year the Tigers Best Chance?

10/11/13 in MLB   |   Andrew_Ericksen   |   230 respect

Oct 10, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera (middle) celebrates with teammates including Prince Fielder (left) after game five of the American League divisional series playoff baseball game against the Oakland Athletics at Coliseum. The Tigers won 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY SportsThe Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals have both now been part of the ALCS and NLCS respectively for the past three seasons, making them two of the most consistently successful franchises in the majors across that span.  However, the big difference between the two teams is that the Cardinals have a World Series trophy to represent their success.  The Tigers have fallen up short the past two years.  They lost in 6 games to the Texas Rangers in the 2011 ALCS and after sweeping the New York Yankees in the 2012 ALCS, they weren’t able to take a single game in the 2012 World Series against the San Francisco Giants.
But are the Tigers on pace to change the recent trend of falling up short?
Here are some of the main differences between the team this year and the past two seasons:
1 - The heart of the lineup
In 2011, Miguel Cabrera’s right-hand man was Victor Martinez and in 2012, it was Prince Fielder.  This year the Tigers have the support of both sluggers behind him for the first time but there are still two main concerns.  First, is of course Cabrera’s health.  He’s only hit 2 home runs since August 26th, after his 43 bombs from April to August.  Every time he’s had to run or make a quick move, you can see the wince in his face and the limp that weighs him down.  Second, is the fact that Fielder’s 2013 campaign has been far less inspiring then his debut season in Detroit.  He’s undoubtedly still an extremely important presence in the middle of the lineup, but he hasn’t been the game-changer the Tigers have needed him to be, yet.
2 - The first round drama
In 2012, it took the Tigers 5 games to beat the Athletics, just like this year, but the team didn’t ever really have their backs against the wall.  They won the first two games of the series in 2012 and after the Athletics took 2 right back, Justin Verlander worked his magic in a 6-0 game 5 victory.  This year, the Tigers were down 2 games to 1, and 3-0 midway through game 4, but they were able to rally to 8-6 and 3-0 victories to extend their season.  Will their ability to overcome early obstacles help fuel the team this year?
3 - Having a second Verlander
The combination of Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer is just ridiculous.  Both pitchers were great in the ALDS and figure to be every bit as nasty in Boston.  Scherzer is slated for game 2 and Verlander for game 3.  Boston has a solid 1-2 in Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, but they aren’t nearly as dominant a duo as Scherzer and Verlander.  Scherzer pitched pretty well in the last two postseasons, particularly against the Yankees both years, but he’s taken his game to new heights and having another ace-caliber pitcher to rely on in addition to Verlander is a huge asset for the Tigers.
The Bottom Line
If Cabrera was fully healthy and Fielder was putting up his regular power numbers, I wouldn’t hesitate in calling the Tigers the favorites to win the World Series.  With the deepest rotation of the four remaining teams (Kershaw and Greinke may be the best two-some, but with Sanchez and Fister to round out the rotation, the Tigers have the most depth) in addition to the league’s most feared hitter with solid support in Fielder and Martinez, the Tigers’ ceiling is higher than any other of the three remaining teams.  Unfortunately, having Cabrera at 50-60% right now and Fielder in a slump (plus, playoffs have continually been difficult for him) may prove to be too much of an obstacle against Boston.  The Red Sox are playing great all-around baseball right now and even though I think it’s going to be a long series, I think Boston will come out on top in 6 or 7.
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