Oh, how a few glorious weeks can erase months of frustration. During most of the season, the Detroit Tigers were perhaps the most frustrating team in baseball.
They entered the season as easy favorites to win their division and make a deep run in the playoffs. As the season unfolded, they struggled for long periods. They found themselves far out of the lead in what became the weakest division in baseball.
They were able to combine a good final few weeks of the season with a complete collapse by the Chicago White Sox in order to make the playoffs. They continued their decent play into the playoffs, but the cracks were already starting to show again. Luckily, for the team, some historically strong starting pitching covered most of it.
The team is not good defensively. They were in the bottom half of the league in errors and fielding percentage this season. The bigger issue is the balls that they just do not get to. While Jhonny Peralta is a sure glove with a great arm, his slow foot speed means that a lot of balls get through that would not on other teams. Adding slower-than-average Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder to the infield make the problem even worse.
Seeing all of the diving and hustle plays that the San Francisco Giants have made during the World Series makes the difference even more glaring. The only way to overcome such a deficiency is with regular and powerful hitting. The Giants keep getting hits to make it through the infield while the Tigers are hitting into ground outs.
They really have not hit well during the entire playoffs. Luckily, they went against a spotty Oakland team and then a New York Yankees team that was in one of the worst slumps ever. Some tremendous starting pitching covered up the hitting issues.
During the regular season, the team averaged 4.48 runs per game. In the playoffs, they have only average 3.25 runs per game and, if not for the eight run outburst in Game 4 against the Yankees, then that number drops to 2.81. They have been shut out three times during these playoffs.
They have only scored three runs in these playoffs. Two of those runs came late in the first game when the game was already out of hand.
Throughout the season, the team struggled with timely hitting. They led the league in double plays hit into and struck out more than six times per game. Those numbers have increased in the playoffs.
Jim Leyland frustrated and baffled fans all season. In fact, for most of the season, many were calling for him to be fired. After making the World Series, many wondered if it is worth it, do the ends justify the means?
The best way to explain Leyland is if you decide to race someone from the second floor of a house to the car outside. One would assume you race down the stairs, through the hallway and sprint out the front door until you reach the car.
Instead, Leyland opens the second floor window and jumps out, landing on the car. Sure, he wins the race, but it is not the most effective way and it is difficult to repeat. His decisions, while not the main culprit, have kept the team from making this a series.
Now, there is a bright side, this team is streaky. They have had eight losing streaks of three games or more this season, and 12 winning streaks of three games or more. So, breaking out of a funk is something they have had to do several times this season. In almost half of those streak busters they have gone onto having at least a three-game winning streak.
That means that, once they break out of a slump, they are able to keep rolling on that win streak. They are now down to their last game to be able to break this losing streak. The stone-cold bats need to wake up for Game 4.
In the end, this is the Tigers team we have seen all season. Teasing us with promise and greatness but far too often leaving us wanting more.
PJ Sapienza is a featured columnist covering the Detroit Red Wings as well as many other sports.
You can follow him on Twitter.
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