Thursday, August 23, 2007

Tigers Don't "Feel" Like A Playoff Team, To Me

I want you to take a step back and try to answer this question objectively.

Do the Tigers, to you, "feel" like a team that's headed for the playoffs?

There's no right or wrong answer here. If you answer in the affirmative, then that's terrific. You're able to look past the many warts and injuries and the current 11-22 slide and stand firm in your resolve. I admire you. If you answer no, then you are, perhaps, biased by this 33-game funk, which is a violation, I suppose, of my order to answer the question objectively.

I fall among those biased by these last 33 games, but I also like to think of myself as a realist.

Its hard to imagine, but the Tigers had the best record in baseball after 93 games (57-36). They had just swept the Twins in Minnesota. Despite injuries to the pitching staff, things looked very promising.

But then Gary Sheffield hurt his shoulder, and the starters stopped giving quality starts, and the bullpen started to implode, and the breaks started going the other way, and...

The Tigers haven't won more than two in a row since that sweep in Minnesota in late July. Sheffield's shoulder is troubling him again. A nasty flu bug is just now completing its run thru the Tigers clubhouse. The bullpen remains shaky, despite the return of Joel Zumaya. The starters remain unreliable, unable to consistently pitch deep into ballgames. And it just doesn't seem to be showing any signs of ending anytime soon.

The Tigers don't need to win eight or nine in a row. They're still just 1-1/2 games out of first place, thanks to the Indians' recent stumbling and bumbling. But they do need a nice little 10-4 or 8-2 stretch to regain some confidence and maybe jump start things again. I'm just not sure if it's in them.

The Tigers won, 2-1, behind the great pitching of rookie Jair Jurrjens and a 2006 dose of relief pitching. But those kinds of games have been few and far between. And the offense was silent -- managing just three hits. Last night, the Tigers left two runners on base in the 7th inning. OK -- they were still only two runs behind, clawing back from an 8-3 hole to creep within 8-6. Still two more at-bats to make up those runs. But the bullpen, once again, failed them, giving up a three-spot in the top of the 8th. Those kinds of things just suck the life out of a team. The Tigers made it interesting in the ninth, but couldn't get over the hump, thanks to that three-run eighth by the Indians.

The hitters are striking out far too often, especially with runners in scoring position, and double-especially when those runners are on third base with less than two outs. One of baseball's cardinal rules is to at least put the ball in play in such situations.

Like I said, I just don't have that playoff-loving feeling. But those that do aren't wrong -- just incredibly optimistic. And there's nothing wrong with that.


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