When the Detroit Tiger's 2011 season came to a screeching halt at the hands of the Texas Rangers in the ALCS this past October, it left many fans obviously disappointed, but also optimistic.
Come playoff time, every team has its share of injuries but the Tigers seemed to have had them at very costly positions and left glaring holes in their lineup.
American League All Star and Silver Slugger at the catcher position Alex Avila could barely get out of the batter's box following swings after just flat out catching too many games. Victor Martinez had been battling an injury for the entire second half of the season. For the entire playoffs the Tigers had missed some power from the left side with young right fielder Brennan Boesch out needing thumb surgery.
The Rangers defeated the Tigers in 6 games but "what ifs" in regards to a potentially healthy Tigers lineup had fans confident in what they had going forward into the 2012 season.
The 2012 season hit an enormous snag before it had even started when news broke that Victor Martinez had tore his ACL during conditioning drills prior to spring training. The roster had appeared all but settled aside from position battles at second base and at the fifth spot in the rotation, but replacing a .300-plus clutch hitter penciled in to bat behind AL batting champion Miguel Cabrera everyday would be nearly impossible.
It was a deflating feeling, and there was even a small sense of panic amongst fans. Rumors began to swirl about potential candidates to replace Martinez as the designated hitter this season like Vladamir Guerrero, Juan Pierre and former Tigers Carlos Pena and Johnny Damon—none of which seemed to completely satisfy the Tiger's faithful.
About a week after Martinez's injury, the Tigers shocked the sports world and found a more than suitable candidate for the job. Team owner Mike Ilitch and President/General Manager Dave Dombrowski had announced the signing of Prince Fielder from the Milwaukee Brewers and brought that optimism back to its fan base.
The addition of Prince Fielder easily made the Tigers the favorite to win the AL Central, and took their World Series odds from 14:1 to 9:1, the fourth best in all of baseball. Fans in Detroit felt they had the best odds, season ticket sales skyrocketed, Prince Fielder jerseys hit the shelves and disappeared from the shelves all in the same week.
The Tigers had last appeared in a World Series in 2006, losing to the St. Louis Cardinals, and had last won in 1984. But the metro Detroit area had the feel of a pennant race, only it was late January and the sudden excitement and national attention had an all too familiar feel going back to just a few years ago.
Heading into the 2008 season, the Detroit Tigers were again in the national spotlight. Over the winter the Tigers had made a blockbuster trade when they acquired Cabrera and starting pitcher Dontrelle Willis from the Florida Marlins in exchange for two top prospects in center fielder Cameron Maybin and starting pitcher Andrew Miller.
Earlier in the off-season, the Tigers had traded for shortstop Edgar Renteria and added outfielder Jacque Jones to an already bolstered offense. With an everyday lineup of Curtis Granderson, Placido Polanco, Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera, Gary Sheffield, Edgar Renteria and Ivan Rodriguez, as well as a solid group of role players on the bench, there was a lot of talk of this team scoring 1,000 runs.
Much like this year, many of the experts saw the Tigers returning to the World Series, and fans talked about them as if they were a lock to get there. However, within the first week and a half of the season, reality checked in and the Tigers got off to an 0-7 start and didn't get to .500 until their 80th game of the season.
The Tigers finished what was supposed to be a special season last in the division with a 74-88 record. The team thought to score over 1,000 runs finished with 821 and parted ways with Rodriguez, Sheffield, Renteria and Jones, who actually didn't last beyond a month or so during the season. A season that had all the buildup to be one of the biggest seasons in Detroit's history wound up being a big dud.
Fast forward to 2012 and the addition of Prince Fielder, who along with Doug Fister and Delmon Young have high expectations heading into their first full season with the ballclub.
Fister found himself leaving his first start early with an injury to a muscle near his rib cage and hasn't pitched since, though he is expected to return this weekend. Young got into an altercation during this past weekend's road trip to New York and has been suspended for seven games.
The Tigers find themselves a .500 club at 11-11 and are a game back in the AL Central. Now while the standings don't matter so much during the first month of a 162 game season, the parallels to the 2008 season just a few years ago are quite alarming.
Again thought to be a team to reach 1,000 runs, this year's team is on pace to get just under 700. Twice the talk of the town, and twice now garnering all the pre-season national attention will hurt twice as hard if again the Tigers come up short and wind up the laughingstock of baseball.