Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tigers 2008: What A Long, Strange Trip

A major league baseball diamond is made up of, last I checked, green grass and orange-red dirt.

Had it been made of paper, the Tigers would be on cruise control now, preparing for an assured appearance in the AL playoffs.

That's right where the Tigers' hopes started and ended this season: on the parchment that contained so many ebullient predictions for them.

They were going to win 110 games, and score over 1,000 runs in doing so. They were going to rival the Yankees' old Murderers' Row for overall offensive production. They were going to make a mockery of their division, and ultimately the entire league.

All this was going to happen, according to what was sprayed, in ink, onto newsprint. And what was shouted all over the Net. The Tigers were a sure thing.

Oh, how smug it must be, today, to be one of those naysayers who were drowned out in spring training. To be one of those who tried to warn us all about the Tigers' shaky bullpen and pitching, in general. If you were one of those, then you must have felt like Chicken Little as everyone derided you and dismissed your warnings as so much rain on the parade -- which was scheduled for sometime in late October, down Woodward Avenue.

I wish I could say I was one of the naysayers, but I can't with any honesty. I got caught up in all the hype, too. But it wasn't just the fans, or the bloggers, or the local media. The national scribes bought into all of it, too. So did the online journalists, and the talking heads on TV. Well, most of them, anyway. You can't tell which ones were dissenting, mainly because their voices were being drowned out.

The 2008 baseball season in Detroit might go down as one of the strangest in Tigers history; certainly in recent times. Strange for the lofty pre-season expectations, which had rarely been higher in Motown. Strange for the injuries and the under-performance by some of the stars. Strange for the war of words being engaged in by manager Jim Leyland and various players, even those who aren't Tigers anymore (read: Jason Grilli). Strange for the 12-5 run in April and the 18-4 run in June that looked to be season saviors, only to be negated by cold streaks in their wake. Strange for the mysteries surrounding the health and well-being of Joel Zumaya and Dontrelle Willis. Strange for the out-of-nowhere trade of Pudge Rodriguez. Strange for the emergence of the Tampa Bay Rays as the new darlings of baseball, replacing the Tigers of 2006.

Once this season has finished, and the Tigers limp home with their 78-82 wins, it will then usher in what could be an almost-as-strange off-season. Futures of so many Tigers are in doubt, and impact names, like Gary Sheffield, Zumaya, Todd Jones, and Marcus Thames (an annual occurrence anymore with Thames).

There will be pieces to be picked up when the final out is made on September 28. And it won't be, as predicted, confetti.


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