Friday, November 2, 2012

World Series Thoughts and Look To the Tigers Off-Season

Michigan Expats - Commentary - See All Commentary
By Doctor

It’s time for the highly anticipated MichiganExpats.com Tigers season review and off-season preview. Why so anticipated, you ask? Because the other options are reading Mitch Albom and Drew Sharp in the Free Press and listening to “Huge” moron Bill Simonson spout ignoramus on Michigan sports talk radio.

First, a sad yet necessary look back at the World Series sweep to the San Francisco Giants. The least said the better, but it was obvious that the almost week-long layoff hurt the Tigers. Major League Baseball is a game played every day. From April through October, the players are locked in and focused. It’s difficult to finish off a sweep of the New York Yankees to advance to the World Series, spend the next week shagging fly balls and taking batting practice, and be mentally and physically ready to take on a team that was as locked in as the Giants were following winning three straight possible elimination games against the Cardinals.

Don’t let the World Series sweep diminish what this Tigers team accomplished. This was the Tigers third trip to the World Series in my lifetime, and I don’t remember anything about the first. They swept the New York Yankees in the ALCS, at home no less, to win the pennant after holding off the team of destiny Oakland A’s in five games in the ALDS.

They left the lights on at 5/3 Ballpark for the Series
It was a remarkable run. In Grand Rapids, the Celebration! North movie theatre showed each of the ALCS and World Series games on the big screen. Fifth Third Ballpark, home of the Tigers Class-A affiliate West Michigan White Caps, opened up the ballpark for fans to watch the Tigers postseason games on their huge outfield screen or in the comfy confines of their outfield Pepsi Stadium Club. I watched Game 1 at the ballpark, and I admit that it definitely had a Field of Dreams type feeling sitting just beyond the outfield wall with the lights glistening on the outfield watching the game on the video board with the game audio coming through the ballpark PA system.

The World Series also provided a great atmosphere for the opening of Grand Rapids newest brewery, The Mitten Brewery. I attended there opening night during Game 2 with a standing room only crowd, just about all in Tigers gear, in an old firehouse GR’s North West side retrofitted as a brewery with a Tigers theme including bleacher seats from Old Tigers Stadium. They even had a Peanut & Cracker Jack Porter on tap – a light porter with a great peanut butter flavored finish.

Of course, the Tigers kept fans captivated all season long. Following last season’s Central Division title and ALCS run, the Tigers went out and signed Prince Fielder to join the headlining act of Miguel Cabrera and the reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner, Justin Verlander.

The Mitten Brewing Co.
From opening day, fans filled the stands, not just at Comerica Park which drew over 3 million fans this year, but on the road as well. I saw the Tigers play the Cubs at Wrigley Field on my birthday in June. On the train into Chicago, the Windy City streets, and the L to Wrigleyville, we were surrounded by Tigers fans. The scene was similar in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and numerous cities this season.

It wasn’t as easy as most people expected it would be. That week in June just before that trip to Chicago was the low point. The Tigers were 26-32 and trailing the White Sox in the Central Division that they won by 15 games the year before and everyone handed to them before a game was played in 2012.

Eventually the Tigers had to fight and earn that Division title and playoff spot. They did it behind the incredible Triple Crown performance of Miguel Cabrera and another Cy Young caliber season from Verlander. Austin Jackson had a breakout season at the plate and a stellar defensive year in center field. Fielder made the transition from the National League to the American League look easy batting over .300 with 30 home runs, 100+ RBI, and an OBS over .400. Max Scherzer overcame the sudden death of his brother and performed as one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball for most of the year and finished only second to Verlander in the majors in strikeouts.

They had to overcome being a below average defense and limited offensive productivity from the bottom of their lineup. The lineup, Jim Leyland’s lineup, always a fun discussion among Tigers fans and even more so by second guessing radio talk show hosts. The Tigers didn’t get much offensive production from second base or the corner outfield spots regardless of who the Skipper penciled in there. GM Dave Dombrowski addressed second base and shored up the starting rotation with the acquisition of Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez from the Miami Marlins in July.

Looking Ahead – Off-Season Priorities (after the jump)