Friday, October 19, 2012

The uncaged Tigers

Phil Coke — who came to the Tigers
as a side piece in a complex trade that
also involved Curtis Granderson, Austin
Jackson, Max Scherzer and Ian Kennedy—
was an unlikely closer in the ALCS.
The lead to the Chicago Tribune's story on the final game of the American League Championship Series had it right — the Yankees got all the attention, the Tigers got all the wins.

So today, let us focus for once on the team in the Old English Ds.

The Tigers have obvious flaws to match their equally obvious strengths. Those flaws, over the course of the long season, left them with just the seventh best record in the AL — behind New York, Oakland, Texas, Baltimore, Anaheim and Tampa Bay — but they had enough to top the league's weakest division.

The strengths were enough, in a short series, to best Oakland. The Tigers have Justin Verlander, who is today the best pitcher on the planet, and Verlander started twice in the five games and won twice.

And the Tigers matched up very well with the Yankees in the second round. The aging Yankees now struggle to hit good fastballs, and the Tigers have built their pitching staff around velocity.

When Detroit closer Jose Valverde cratered, Jim Leyland made do with left-hander Phil Coke. Coke was mediocre in the regular season and untouchable in the ALCS.  This is not unlike Delmon Young, the former Twin: a low-grade regular season and heroics in the ALCS. Young hit .262/.296/.411 for the year, which is woefully inadequate for a corner outfielder turned DH, but he drove in the go-ahead runs in all four games against the Yankees.

The Tigers entered the 2012 season entertaining World Series dreams. For much of the year, it appeared their defensive shortcomings would undermine those ambitions. And now, in mid-October, they clutch the American League title and stand four wins from the big prize.

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