The Tigers will certainly take a sweep over the Yankees if they can win on Wednesday (Oct. 17), advance to their second World Series in six years and enjoy the extra rest and preparation that finishing off a series early would afford them.
In the meantime, the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants will beat each other up in what looks destined to be a seven-game series. The winner of that grueling wrestling match then has to face a Tigers team coming off a seven-day break. With little left in the tank, the NL champion would get steamrolled by Detroit, right?
Well, it didn't work out that way for the Tigers in 2006.
Six years ago, Detroit swept the Oakland Athletics in the ALCS. The Tigers finished off their series on Oct. 14. On the same day, the Cardinals took a 2-1 series lead over the New York Mets in the NLCS. From there, however, the Cards and Mets traded wins, extending their series to seven games.
It would be a full week before Detroit and St. Louis met in the World Series. During their hiatus, the Tigers got to sit back and listen to the media and fans talk about how great they were and how they would wreck a Cardinals team that won only 83 games during the regular season and had to scratch and fight its way through a seven-game NLCS.
Detroit had the better lineup and pitching staff. It looked like a sure bet to bring Detroit its first World Series championship in 22 years.
Instead, the Tigers looked lethargic. They almost appeared surprised that they weren't going to beat the Cardinals simply by showing up, which was the narrative that had been created. Detroit was knocked back on its heels from the beginning, losing Game 1 by a score of 7-2, and could never regain enough footing to make the series competitive.
The Tigers went on to lose the World Series to the Cardinals in five games, one of the more surprising results in recent memory.
Could Detroit be due for a repeat performance if it dispatches the Yankees in four games, then wait a full week before beginning the World Series? The circumstances could take on a even greater similarity if the Tigers face the Cardinals, who narrowly made it into the NL playoffs as a Wild Card once again.
Of course, it wouldn't be the exact same scenario this time around. The Tigers and Cardinals both finished the regular season with the same 88-74 record. St. Louis is the defending World Series champion.
While Detroit has a fantastic starting rotation—compiling an 0.96 ERA this postseason—the Cardinals have one of the deepest lineups in MLB. While the Cards' starting staff might not look quite as strong, they have an advantage over a shaky Tigers bullpen.
If the Tigers advance to the World Series, do you think a sweep of the Yankees would be worse than a longer ALCS?
I'm not overlooking the Giants, by the way. I even wrote an article that a Giants-Tigers series is the World Series matchup baseball fans should be rooting for. It's just natural to compare the Tigers and Cardinals since they played each other in the World Series six years ago and face a potential rematch.
But how would a San Francisco lineup that's hitting .217 so far this postseason fare against that Detroit starting rotation? How would a Tigers offense that's already faced two strong pitching staffs with the Oakland Athletics and New York Yankees handle the Giants rotation and bullpen?
If the Tigers finish off the Yankees on Wednesday and end up with a week-long layoff before the World Series again, it's doubtful that the team will be as flat as it was in 2006.
Yes, its momentum will have skidded to a halt. Yes, the long layoff will almost certainly make it rusty. And having a long time to think about two different playoff opponents could blur its focus.
However, Jim Leyland and his coaching staff will surely remember what happened six years ago and take measures to prevent it.
That 2006 team also didn't have Miguel Cabrera or Prince Fielder in its lineup (though perhaps its batting order was deeper). Justin Verlander was a rookie then. Now, he's surrounded by a much stronger starting rotation.
Most importantly, there's absolutely no reason for the Tigers to underestimate their World Series opponent this time around. The Cardinals and Giants are both excellent teams, featuring strong lineups and pitching staffs. Neither of those teams sneaked into the playoffs or looked lucky to be in the postseason as the 2006 Cardinals did.
If the Tigers were to overlook the NL champion, if they did allow themselves to become complacent—perhaps drunk with acclaim from the national and local media—then they will almost certainly lose again.
The challenge will be avoiding that pitfall. It could be an obstacle more difficult than any opponent Detroit has faced during this postseason.
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