To be frank, when this is all said and done, the 2012 Detroit Tigers may be remembered as one of the worst teams to win a championship in World Series history. And if that fate isn't approved by the baseball gods, then the Motor City Bengals certainly will be considered one of the most turbulent teams to ever make it to the pinnacle of the professional baseball world.
Their season has been such an odd jumble of poor play, odd streaks and utter absolute averageness that simply defining this team as bizarre is an extremely appropriate description. Very rarely have we seen a group who in one single season was supposed to dominate, then fall so short, and then somehow make it to the final series like these guys have. And yet, smack in the middle of these lackluster performances is a Triple Crown winner in Miguel Cabrera and arguably the most dominant starting pitcher in today's game in Justin Verlander.
Detroit won only 88 games in the regular season, by far the least of any division winner, and its petulant play was rivaled only by that of the St. Louis Cardinals, who also won 88 but barely nabbed the second National League wild-card spot.
Imagine the reaction when the Tigers came out victorious against the Oakland Athletics in the five-game Division Series. Imagine then the shock when they carved up the Evil Empire in four easy games. It all seems like a dream, to be honest. A very weird and freaky dream.
Yet here they are, on the brink of bringing Detroit its first baseball championship since 1984, after a regular season in which many fans didn't even expect them to make the playoffs in mid-September and now, here I am, expected to provide five reasons they can stick it to the Giants and actually win it all. Just for fun, I made a pro/con list of the team and the cons section stretched to the floor and required scotch tape in order to attach all the pages together.
But I'll refrain from subjecting you all to that disastrous horror. Instead, here are the pros.
1. Justin Verlander. Pretty simple really. If Verlander is as good as he’s been all year, the Giants are starting in their own end zone. If needed, he could be on the mound for 43 percent of the innings the Tigers field this series, given his penchant for finishing what he starts and the fact he could start Games 1, 4 and 7 if necessary (although Max Scherzer is scheduled right now for Game 4). This postseason Verlander's thrown 24.1 innings and allowed 10 hits, five walks and two runs, winning all three games he’s pitched in. I tried to find a con out of all those stats and all I found was this creepy guy selling balloons on Woodward Avenue.
2. Prince Fielder. Many would assume that Cabrera will be a major reason the Tigers win the World Series but I don’t see it that way. Cabrera is going to hit, there’s no doubt about it. He's the straw that stirs Mike Ilitch's giant margarita and the Giants may decide to take that stick right out of his hands and walk him in a Barry Bonds-esque revival ceremony this week. Of course, he could hit a bomb in every at-bat and it wouldn't matter if the guys behind him don’t do anything. Cabrera had a 1.606 OPS against the Rangers in the 2011 ALCS and the Tigers still lost that series. So, if the Tigers want an offensive presence, Fielder is going to have to earn some of the $214 million contract that he inked this past spring, and given his strong season and postseason thus far, I don’t think anyone but the Giants should be too worried about his ability to live up to expectations.
3. Bullpen. We may experience a low-scoring series despite the Thunder-cat Brothers' most heroic efforts. And while it may not be the opinion of quite a number of people, most of the Tigers' bullpen has been very good this year and Detroit should be able to build on the strength of a lot of rest the past couple of weeks. Aside from the human atom bomb otherwise known as Jose Valverde, the team has a number of arms fully capable of shutting down an offense from the seventh inning on in some combination of Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel, Phil Coke, Drew Smyly and Al Alburquerque.
4. Starting pitching. Even if Verlander throws no-hit ball in every inning he appears in, there is the matter of the four or five potential games that he will not appear in. Given the dominance of Scherzer, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez this fall, the Tigers will be quite glum if Verlander has to appear in a seventh and final game, as that means there was a crack in the masterful plan that Dave Dombrowski has laid out this October. The Giants' arms are impressive and they may be able to match the Tigers in that department, but given the way the four-headed dragon has performed thus far, it’d be a shock to see them all struggle simultaneously.
5. Austin Jackson, Jhonny Peralta and Delmon Young. Could be a law firm if you look at it the right way, but these three were the offensive catalysts of the ALCS. If the three continue their strong postseasons at the plate, the Tigers' chances of victory will increase tenfold. While a team may have its obvious strengths, as the Tigers do at the third and fourth spots in the lineup and all four starting arms on the mound, they are only going to be as strong as their contributing pieces, of which Jackson, Peralta and Young are a major part.
Josh Worn runs the Tigers blog Walkoff Woodward.