What a week it has been. Before the All Star break the Tigers were hot. We convinced ourselves that they were contenders. "The AL Central is weak", we said. "Cabrera is unstoppable," we attested. "Basho!" some of us screamed.
It was July 10th and the Tigers were in first place.
Cleveland? Cleveland?? I don't even know who plays for Cleveland! Seriously. I was watching the Tigers play the Indians in the first series after the All Star break and remarked that Cleveland may be the blandest, least memorable team in the major leagues.
Quick...name three players on the Indians. Go!
Let me guess, you said Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore (who is out for the season) and Shin Soo Choo (also hurt). Or maybe Jake Westbrook. If you're a fantasy guy you might have pulled out Matt LaPorta. Do you know who you didn't say? All of the nondescript white guys that dominate their roster. Or should I say, all the nondescript white guys that dominated our roster.
Cleveland swept the Tigers over 4 games in three days. There was anger. We even needed to be warned.
But lo! All is not lost. Perhaps there are ways to turn this ship around. Hardball talk says Relief Pitching would cure what ails us. Visions of Dan Haren and John Buck dance in our heads.
The pessimist Lynn Henning says that the Tigers should sell at the trade deadline and a collective dislike of Henning by the Tigers fanbase solidifies us in our convictions: We can do this. We can turn this around.
I was halfway towards writing a piece called "the value of Johnny Damon" on Monday afternoon after reading this article. Damon, the veteran presence. The proven winner. Hope?
"We needed to talk," Damon said. "We got (the message). No one is mad at anyone. We got our butts kicked this series. We know that. We know we have to be better."Preach it Johnny!
"We're OK. We're disappointed. But we're still in this thing."
On the fourth batter of the 13th inning of the 91st game of the season, Brennan Boesch hit a bloop single to right field with runners on 1st and 2nd. Then Nelson Cruz did this. Johnny Damon, the expert baserunner, the veteran leader, the champion, was fooled. He didn't score on what should have been the game winning single.
But the bases were still loaded with only one out and Carlos Guillen at the plate. One run to snap this losing streak. To get on the right path. That's what winning teams do, isn't it? Come through when it matters? Cover for their teammates? Erase their mistakes.
Carlos Guillen grounded into an inning-ending double play. Cruz hit a game-winning home run in the Top of the 14th.
Just fucking kill me now.
What did we really expect though? This is a team that, up until the current losing streak at least, had vastly exceeded expectations, despite facing tremendous adversity including:
- Two rookies started on opening day: one needed to be demoted for ineffectiveness
- Dropped the starting SS
- Dropped a starting Pitcher (Willis) and Demoted/Recalled Three others (Scherzer, Porcello, Galarraga)
- Lost Zach Miner, Bobby Seay and Joel Zumaya to season-ending injuries
- Thirteen rookies have played, eight making their major league debut.
- A starting catcher hitting below the Mendoza line
I'm sure any other Tigers fan can list 3-4 more reasons why this team shouldn't have been successful but was anyway. It fostered a sense of hope, of an ability to overcome. But it was a false hope.
On Monday, we could add another bullet point to the list.
- Brandon Inge out 4-6 weeks with a broken hand
So hell, I guess that's it. I'm not throwing in the towel, per se, but I'm accepting fate. Maybe it's a seven-game losing streak talking, but for the Tigers to pull out of this tailspin, with a brutal 2nd half schedule still ahead of them and so little in the way of consistent 1. Starting Pitching 2. Hitting and 3. Relief Pitching, I just don't see it. I'm not happy about it, and I'll continue to watch and root and hope, but it is acceptance time. This is not a playoff team.
But man, we're a stubborn breed, aren't we? I mean, the White Sox and Twins don't look like Playoff teams either, although their holes are less substantial and numerous. Still I'm compelled to channel Bob Wojnowski
Still in itIf they stop the tailspin like, now, they can still make a move and get back in it. In theory. But there are only 10 days left to do so. Otherwise, things start to get awfully interesting. Seems to me as though Johnny Damon is a nice looking trade chip. Could Magglio solve the issues of a team seeking a bat, or is his 2011 contract too much of a disincentive?
Being awful for a week raises red flags, no doubt, but not a white flag. The eyes may lie, but the standings don't. Of course, their two-and-a-half-game deficit might as well be 12-and-a-half if they pitch like they have since the All-Star break, as Jeremy Bonderman struggled in this one.
That's nudging the Tigers toward a major dilemma. Minor wounds are becoming larger, especially in their starting rotation. But the division is there for the stealing again, so do you respond to short-term temptation, giving up young players in a trade, or ride it out and be prudent about the future?
The Tigers probably need to become sellers, but do they really have anyone to sell? The pitching is a disaster, and the only people hitting are your respective franchise cornerstone (Cabrera), future (Jackson, Boesch) or your aforementioned, old, highly paid guys. The bullpen doesn't have anyone to spare either, assuming you want to keep the invincible Jose Valverde around for next year--when you might actually be able to compete.
I've accepted the fate of the season. It's a rebuilding year. Lord knows, I've seen my share of them in my short lifetime, in baseball and beyond. And that's OK. I get it. It's fine. There's always next year. Etc.
For someone who has gone through all stages of grief in the span of a week, that's as deep as my acceptance can go right now.