After a season filled with fan frustration and managerial second-guessing, the Detroit Tigers are right where most people expected them to be: representing the American League in the 2012 World Series. The only remaining question is whether their upcoming opponent will be the St. Louis Cardinals or the San Francisco Giants.
Many expected an eventual playoff showdown with last year’s villain, the Texas Rangers. For better or worse, though, that possibility evaporated when the Rangers squeaked in as a Wild Card and were taken out by the Baltimore Orioles in a one-game play-in. That set up a match with the AL West champion Oakland Athletics, this year’s little-team-that-could. Many felt that the A’s had freshness, enthusiasm and momentum on their side. But as the saying goes: age and experience will beat youth and skill. It took the full five games, but the Tigers moved on to the American League Championship Series.
While some had hoped for an opportunity to avenge last year’s loss to Texas, the ALCS matchup with the Yankees held even more resonance for Tiger fans. It was the highly improbable victory over NY in the ALDS of 2006 that signaled the team’s arrival on baseball’s national radar. They repeated the first-round knockout of the Yankees during the 2011 playoffs. There was speculation that the men in pinstripes were foaming at the mouth for a chance at payback.
But the foam turned out to be the last gasp of a lame horse being put down as the Yankees suffered their first post-season sweep in 36 consecutive appearances. The Tigers never once trailed in these four games, even after a potentially disastrous Game 1 meltdown by closer Jose Valverde, one that (for the time being) cost him his job. That was the only blemish on an otherwise stellar performance by the pitching staff. The starting rotation, facing the vaunted Yankee sluggers, posted a nearly impossible ERA of 0.66. (Their cumulative post-season ERA is now 1.02, the lowest ever for a team playing more than 5 games.)
The Tigers offense had their share of fun at the party too, boasting a team batting average of .291. Delmon Young, a punching bag for much of the season due to problems both on and off the field, was named MVP for his performance, a .353 BA, including 2 home runs and 6 RBI. Jhonny Peralta, another player who endured the wrath of the fans, made a strong case for the award as well, hitting .389 with 2 home runs. Even late-season call-up Avasail Garcia made his mark with a .455 BA and 3 RBI.
Now it comes down to the Giants or the Cardinals. Novelty or history. Detroit has played San Francisco only 12 times total, all during interleague play. But they’ve faced St. Louis in the World Series three times, in 1934, 1968 and 2006. In what may be a good omen, the results have been loss-win-loss. Regardless of whom they end up facing, to trot out another cliché, it’s hard to deny that the Tigers seem to be peaking at the right time, fighting to bring a World Championship back to the city and fans of Detroit.