Detroit Tigers: 5 Reasons They Are Headed to the World Series

Gabriel TaylorAnalyst IOctober 19, 2012

Detroit Tigers: 5 Reasons They Are Headed to the World Series

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    After a surprising sweep of the New York Yankees in the 2012 American League Championship Series, Detroit has a bevy of sources to credit for its success on the road to the World Series.

    Although Detroit welcomed back most of its roster and manager Jim Leyland, this year's journey featured seven fewer wins in the regular season as the pitching staff regressed from a phenomenal campaign in 2011.

    The Tigers didn’t lead the league in any major  pitching categories after Verlander led the AL in ERA, strikeouts and wins while Tigers closer Jose Valverde led the league in saves in 2011.

    This season was more about Detroit's offense as the Tigers added first baseman Prince Fielder in the offseason and Miguel Cabrera earned baseball's first Triple Crown since 1967.

    The Tigers entered the 2012 postseason tied for the worst record among MLB's eight postseason teams.

    But Detroit conquered the American League this season with improved postseason pitching and hitting along with a more balanced attack.

    The Tigers stifled the Yankees, only allowing 1.5 runs per game in the ALCS after allowing 6.5 runs per game while falling to the Rangers in the 2011 ALCS. The Tigers lineup increased its batting average to .254 after batting .237 last postseason.

Justin Verlander Peaking at the Right Time

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    Last season, Detroit Tigers flamethrower Justin Verlander absolutely dominated the American League claiming the AL pitching Triple Crown with 24 wins, 250 strikeouts and a 2.40 ERA as his squad ran away with the AL Central Division championship.

    When the postseason arrived, Verlander was still solid with a 2-1 record and an impressive 25 in 20.1 innings, but his ERA ballooned to 5.31 in the postseason.

    This season, Verlander hasn’t been nearly as dominant, but his postseason play in 2012 is nearly as incredible as his regular season performance of 2011.

    In 2012, Verlander won seven fewer games during the regular season than he did in 2011—the Tigers won seven fewer games this year, too. Certainly Verlander didn’t have a bad season: He won 17 games and led the league in innings pitched, strikeouts and complete games.

    But Tigers manager Jim Leyland, didn’t put as much pressure on his workhorse this season. Although Verlander still averaged about seven innings a start, he pitched 13 fewer innings and started one less game.

    Also, Verlander isn’t looking to hit triple digits on the radar gun on every pitch and with greater control his walks per nine innings decreased to 1.85 in the 2012 postseason after he walked 4.43 batters per nine innings in the 2011 postseason—while still striking out 25 batters in 24.1 innings.

    In the American League Divisonal Series against the Oakland Athletics, Verlander won the series opener and the winner-take-all Game 5 in similar fashion allowing one run in the two games and striking out 11 batters in both contests.

    Against New York in the American League Championship Series, Verlander continued to be the bane of the Yankees, rising to the occasion once again, only surrendering one run in 8.1 innings as the Tigers prevailed 3-0 in Game 3. Verlander has not lost a decision versus the Yankees in the postseason and the Tigers have defeated the Bronx Bombers in each of their last three playoff matchups in 2006, 2011 and 2012.

    Verlander seemed to take a different approach in the ALCS as he fanned a meager three Yankee batters but didn’t allow a walk for the first time in his 11 postseason starts.

    With a more varied pitching repertoire, the Tigers ace is dealing out postseason joy to Tigers fans.

The Prince Returns to Detroit and Helps Turn Cabrera into Triple Crown King

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    After helping the Milwaukee Brewers reach the 2011 National League Championship Series, first baseman Prince Fielder signed with the Detroit Tigers in January.

    Tigers All-Star first baseman Miguel Cabrera didn’t complain as he moved over to third base to accommodate Fielder’s arrival to the team which his father, All-Star first baseman Cecil Fielder starred for in 1990s.

    Like Brewers left-fielder Ryan Braun, who won the 2011 National League MVP, Cabrera benefited from Fielder presence in the lineup.

    With Fielder in the on-deck circle, Braun and Cabrera—already superstar players—were able to get plenty of strikes thrown to them during their at-bats.

    One can’t overlook the mutual benefit Braun and Cabrera have provided Fielder.

    In 2011, Braun had a career-low 93 strikeouts and a career-high .332 batting average with Fielder protecting him in the lineup. Fielder tied a career-high in batting average at .299 and only had 106 strikeouts, at that point his fewest in any of his full major league seasons.

    In 2012, Cabrera claimed the American League Triple Crown and notched career-highs in home runs (44) and RBI (139) as Fielder provided steady insurance with a career-high .313 batting average—the first time Fielder has batted .300 or better— a career-high 182 hits and a career-low 84 strikeouts.

    Fielder has held up his side of the bargain of his nine-year, $214 million deal with the Tigers and according to plan Detroit is back in the World Series for the first time since 2006.

Cabrera's Crowning Achievement

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    Detroit Tigers All-Star first baseman Miguel Cabrera is a seven-time All-Star and a World Series champion.

    This wasn’t a breakout season for the slugger but it was definitely a season to be remembered as Cabrera captured the baseball’s first Triple Crown since 1967 and helped the Tigers earn a trip to the World Series.   

    With a .330 average, 44 home runs and 139 RBI in 2012, Cabrera was able to sketch his place in the history books as the AL leader in each category.

    The picture of success began to be painted in the offseason following the arrival of All-Star first baseman Prince Fielder from the Milwaukee Brewers.

    Victor Martinez, an All-Star whom the Tigers signed for four years and $50 million before the 2011 season, helped safeguard Cabrera in Detroit’s lineup last season. Both Cabrera and Martinez played well as Martinez batted a career-high .330, and likewise Cabrera batted a career-high .344.

    When Martinez was lost for the 2012 season after suffering an offseason knee injury in January 2012 and the Tigers brought in Fielder to replace him in the lineup and continue to provide Cabrera with security in the batting order.

    Cabrera, a smart hitter with a .318 career batting average, instantly noticed some changes with Fielder in the lineup.

    While Martinez is a formidable hitter, he doesn’t possess the power that Fielder does—power that encouraged pitchers to throw Cabrera more strikes.

    Cabrera walked a career-high 108 times with Martinez batting after him in 2011. With Fielder added to the lineup in 2012, pitchers gave Cabrera more opportunities.  

    Cabrera saw quite a different allotment of pitches this season, and although he only walked 66 times, he was able to drive in 34 more runs and hit 14 more home runs than last season.

    Even with help in the lineup it was up to Cabrera to execute and he did so, demonstrating the all-around hitting ability that is common to Triple Crown winners.

    With RBI in each of his last three postseason game—including two RBI and a home run in the series-clinching Game 4 of the American League Championship Series—Cabrera is starting to heat up as the Tigers prepare for the World Series.

The Tigers Perform Balancing Act in the Postseason

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    Detroit Tigers All-Stars Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder haven’t been in beast mode thus far in the postseason, but several hungry teammates are stepping up to the plate and helping themselves to some postseason glory.

    Shortstop Jhonny Peralta had two home runs in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series to help send the Tigers to the World Series. Peralta is batting .343 in the postseason after hitting .239 during the regular season.

    Designated hitter Delmon Young has eight RBI in nine postseason games and earned ALCS MVP honors. Rookie right fielder Avisail Garcia has four RBI in three postseason starts.

    Justin Verlander has been predictably superb but the Tigers other starters Anibal Sanchez, Doug Fister and Max Scherzer have also pitched well. The Tigers starters have combined for a 1.12 ERA.

    Led by reliever Phil Coke who hasn’t given up an earned run in 5.1 innings, the bullpen has been strong as well.

Detroit Has a Feel for Postseason Intangibles

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    Detroit has been doing all the little things that help a team win a championship.

    The Tigers have avoided mistakes and manager Jim Leyland has made all the right choices including the difficult decision to adjust his use of closer Jose Valverde, an All-Star closer who led the American League in saves in 2011.

    The Tigers have defended their home field well, winning all four games at Comerica Park this postseason. Like St. Louis in the National League, Detroit is thriving in an underdog role, playing without home-field advantage in each of its series.  

    The AL champions and their manager also seemed to have gained valuable experience from last season’s American League Championship Series loss. Detroit was gritty in winning Game 5 on the road in Oakland and relentless in sweeping the New York Yankees.

    Dave Dombrowski, the president, CEO and general manager of the Tigers, has built an excellent team and took a big risk signing first baseman Prince Fielder during the offseason.

    With All-Star designated hitter Victor Martinez ($13 million in 2012) injured and unavailable this season, Dombrowski invested in Fielder ($23 million this year) despite already having lengthy and expensive investments in third baseman Miguel Cabrera ($21 million) and starting pitcher Justin Verlander ($20 million).

    The moves really paid off as the team won its division, Cabrera captured the Triple Crown and the Tigers won the AL pennant.