Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Paper Tigers

Paper was a wonderful invention. It took some ingenuity and some good old-fashioned hard work, to devise a method of turning tree bark into something on which we can write.

But you can't tell all that much from paper, beyond the ink that's imprinted on it.

Take the Tigers, for example.

On paper, they looked invincible. How many runs would they score? A thousand? How many games will they win? 110? Who can possibly overtake them? Anyone? It was a rather simple thing to do, to peruse the roster on a piece of paper and rattle off the star names.

Miguel Cabrera. Gary Sheffield. Magglio Ordonez. Pudge Rodriguez. And so on.

But the Tigers didn't count on Cabrera crawling out of the gate and still not looking comfortable after nearly 40 games. They didn't count on Sheffield still not being right despite off-season shoulder surgery and looking closer and closer to retirement. They didn't count on Placido Polanco having back trouble and hitting his weight (barely) throughout April. They didn't count on Curtis Granderson getting hurt. They didn't count on having Cabrera and Carlos Guillen swap positions, because neither could play the other. They didn't count on Dontrelle Willis being a non-factor for the first month. They didn't count on their ace, Justin Verlander, starting 1-5. And so on.

Once the names on paper actually started playing the games, some things became evident.

The Tigers are a slow, still-depend-on-the-home run-too-much team that has a leaky defense, especially in the infield -- the corner spots specifically. They have a lot of the same types of players. They still have no major lefthanded thumper in the middle of their lineup. And the pitching staff, the rotation especially, is pedestrian -- at least right now.

But I look no further than the 2007 Yankees to have hope. Those Yanks were 21-29 at one point, and then went on a tear, all the way to the finish line. And the Tigers, last year, had the best record in baseball at the All-Star break. The Yankees made the playoffs; the Tigers scuffled along in August, which killed their chances.

So at 14-20, it's not ledge-jumping time. It's just what happens sometimes in sports, when ink and paper are poor substitutes for flesh and bone.


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