If you’re looking to assign blame for the Detroit Tigers’ six-game nosedive in the American League Championship Series, you can cry all you want about an umpire’s strike zone in Game 1 and you can scream about Nelson Cruz’s check swing in Game 6. You might have screamed at your television when Leyland stuck with a struggling Max Scherzer in Game 6 (as I did). And you know what? You’d still be dead wrong. This series was not decided by a biased umpire (as some Detroit homers believe) or by a blown call on a check swing (a check freakin’ swing!). It was decided by the Texas freakin’ Rangers.
When it mattered the most, their big hitters lit up the scoreboard like a Fourth of July display. Their pitchers got out of the early jams and silenced any rally Detroit could muster. You can put away your tinfoil hats because the Texas Rangers were, quite simply, the better team.
The problems that plagued the Tigers from April-September were laid bare and exposed in October. The free-swinging Austin Jackson. The inconsistent Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello. The inability to rack up big innings. You can get away with that against the Seattle Mariners in June, but not against the reigning (and repeating) American League Pennant Champion Texas Rangers in October.
Tiger pitchers are going to see Nelson Cruz in their nightmares. Every ALCS game was like BP for him. The Rangers bullpen was solid coming into the series and looks untouchable heading to the World Series.
Detroit has a lot to be proud of this season. No one expected them to win the division (and at least one manager lost his job because of it). And Dave Dombrowski made some brilliant moves down the stretch that will pay dividends beyond this season. The acquisition of Delmon Young from Minnesota and Doug Fister from Seattle were genius. But it wasn’t enough to mask the deficiencies. Austin Jackson as leadoff hitter may be an experiment worth retiring. Call me old fashioned, but I prefer my leadoff hitters to not be strikeout kings.
The Tigers certainly have some pop in their lineup. But when that pop begins and ends with hitters 3-4-5, you’ve got problems. Look at both the Yankees and Rangers. “Easy out” is not a phrase you will say too often when glancing at their lineups.
I’m disappointed the way the 2011 season ended for the Tigers, but it was a great ride. I’m already excited for 2012.
When do pitchers and catchers report?