Friday, September 22, 2006

Getting in isn't good enough

It sunk in late Wednesday night, after Joe Crede grounded into the last of his three double plays, giving the Tigers a 6-2 win in the rubber match of a crucial series against the Chicago White Sox.

This Tigers team is playoff-bound for the first time in 19 years.

It's clearly evident--barring a major collapse the last 10 games, six of which come against the basement-dwelling Kansas City Royals--after a very convincing late-season showdown in Chicago.

When the Tigers needed to outslug the power-laden White Sox, they did, smashing six home runs, including four in Monday's 7-2 victory.

When they needed to execute to manufacture runs, they did better than the defending champs, who grounded into 7 double plays.

And, as the story has went all season, when they needed to outpitch their opponent, they did.

Continuing to polish their league-best pitching numbers, Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman once again delivered.

Rogers, wrote off by many after his post All-Star Game swoon, once again claimed ownership of the White Sox, improving his record against them to 3-1, with a microscopic 0.82 ERA.

Then, after rookie Justin Verlander was knocked around Tuesday night, Bonderman once again turned in a clutch performance, once sign of--dare I say it--an ace.

It's outings like Wednesday night's that makes one want to shake the inconsistency out of Bonderman, the only thing preventing him from becoming a bona fide ace.

But although the path to the postseason is looking clearer and clearer everyday, the Tigers still have a division title to win, with the Minnesota Twins lurking only a half game back in the standings.

A playoff berth via the Wild-Card spot would be nice, sure, but undoubtedly bittersweet.

How can one complain about the Tigers making the playoffs, you ask?

Because now that we have seen the potential of this team, we can no longer rest on our laurels that making the playoffs is just good enough.

With every win, expectations have been raised. This team has no relation to the past 12 losing teams, and shouldn't be treated that way. They aren't the same old Tigers.

This team has spent four months of the season in first place.

In April and May we pondered if this team would finish above the .500-mark.

In the summer heat of June and July, we could see the Wild Card in the distance like a mirage.

But when the division lead stretched to 8 1/2 games over the White Sox in August, and 10 1/2 over the now-2nd place Twins, the Division Crown became our target.

Expectations change.

And now, a month later, the lead over the media-darling Twins has all but evaporated.

The Twinkies are now the feel-good story, rebounding from a horrible start to get back in the race, and they just won't go away. There is still a cloud of skepticism over the Tigers.

They're the nervous freshman kid giving a speech in front of the whole school. Everyone's just waiting for him to mess up.

A division championship would pit the Tigers against the soon-to-be AL West champion Oakland Athletics, with the Tigers having home-field advantage.

The Tigers won the season series, 5-4, and match up more than favorably with the A's.

Rogers has two wins and can't lose in Oakland, Verlander has looked dominant in games against them, and wouldn't you love to welcome those Californians to Detroit in October?

A wild-card spot would see the Tigers kick off their postseason in Yankee Stadium against a playoff-seasoned team who is 5-2 against them this year.

And consider those two wins as a gift.

Because in October, there will be no walk-offs against Kyle Farnsworth or late inning three-run home runs off Scott Proctor.

No, there will only be Mariano Rivera.

And an early exit from the playoffs, the end to a fantastic summer with nothing to show for except rich promise for the future.

So, as the Tigers finish the regular season with the Twins breathing down their neck, ask yourself this question:

Is just getting to the playoffs really good enough?


Anonymous said...

perfectly said my dude, perfectly said my man.

Anonymous said...

No, it's not good enough. We have a much better chance in beating the A's then the clutch Red Sox. We've faired well against both sides this season, but I feel more comfortable playing a series with the A's.

Another great article, Anthony.


Anonymous said...

I left a comment on this one where is it?