Before I write anything else, I have to offer congratulations to the Minnesota Twins. They were seven games back on Sept. 7, and closed the season on an incredible hot streak, winning 17 of their final 21 games—including the one-game playoff against the Detroit Tigers.
Remember, Minnesota accomplished all of this without All-Star first baseman Justin Morneau. Coming back from a large deficit in the final month of the season without one of your best players? Minnesota deserves their playoff berth and all of the accompanying accolades.
As much credit as Minnesota deserves, the Tigers deserve an equal amount of blame. With their spectacular implosion over the final month of the season, they set a record that surpasses anything that the 2007 and 2008 New York Mets managed to do. The Tigers are now the first team in baseball history to miss the playoffs after holding a three-game lead with four to play.
That's right, not even the late-season collapse of the 2007 Mets was this sudden and this dramatic. You're in great company, Detroit.
I hate to pile on my home state team like this, especially given the current state of the city of Detroit, but they have to expect some harsh criticism due to their recent play. There is plenty of blame to spread around, and you can expect general manager Dave Dombrowski to make some major changes in the off-season.
Baseball is a game of statistics, so let's examine some of the numbers behind Detroit's collapse.
- Curtis Granderson—my favorite Tiger—had a downright awful season from the lead-off spot. Just one season after batting .280 with a .365 OBP, Granderson posted numbers of .248 and .325. Yeah, he hit 30 home runs, but the job of a lead-off hitter is to get on base to set the table for the power behind him. Granderson failed in that duty.
- The run support that Detroit gave some of their best pitchers was very poor. I was at Comerica Park in August when Justin Verlander struck out 10 against Seattle. His teammates supported him with a single run. Verlander's ERA was a very respectable 3.45, and his WHIP was 1.18. Those numbers should result in a record better than 19-9. In six of those losses, Verlander gave up three earned runs or less. His teammates let him down.
- Speaking of Tiger bats, they were uncharacteristically silent this year. Only Miguel Cabrera and Magglio Ordonez hit above .300, but Ordonez' power numbers were way down from 2008—he hit eight fewer doubles, 13 fewer home-runs and had 55 fewer RBI in 2009. Carlos Guillen hit .242, and Placido Polanco failed to hit above .290 for the first time since 2003.
- Polanco, who rarely strikes out, fanned twice in the one-game playoff. He had only done that four other times this season, and not since Aug. 11th.
- Adam Everett posted the 20th-best batting average among AL shortstops, tied for 16th with three home runs, was 20th in OBP, and 21st in OPS. While he's good with his glove, he's basically Brandon Inge with no power at the plate. Detroit must get more power at the plate from the shortstop position.
- The Tigers under Jim Leyland have only posted a second-half record above .500 once in four seasons. They were 38-37 this season.
- Since back-to-back sweeps of Tampa and Cleveland to open September, Detroit has only won one series, another sweep of Cleveland from Sept. 22-24. In that span, the Tigers lost two series to Kansas City—including one sweep—and two series to Chicago. Chicago finished the season four games under .500, Kansas City finished 32 games below .500.
- Fernando Rodney's ERA in non-save situations was over 7.00. In September and October, opponents batted over .300 against him after hitting .231 in August and .139 in July.
- Jarrod Washburn, who posted a 2.64 ERA for Seattle early in the season, had a 7.33 ERA for Detroit and gave up 2.5 home runs per nine innings pitched.
- As a team, the Tigers were 10th in batting average out of 14 American League teams. They were also 9th in OBP, 9th in OPS, 11th in sacrifices and 12th in hits.
- The Tigers' pitching staff allowed opponents to hit .263 against them, three points better than the Tigers' own batting average.
The stats tell us that the Tigers overachieved a little bit this season. Their Pythagorean win-loss record puts them firmly at .500.
Even with all of those stats, Detroit still should have been able to finish off the weaker teams in the Central. A .500 team should be able to win a series or two against Kansas City. Had Detroit avoided being swept by the Royals, they would be facing the Yankees instead of the Twins, but we've got the whole offseason to play "what-if?"
The stumble down the stretch will have the front office and fans alike asking, "What happened?" in the offseason. The only sure thing is the Tigers will look very different in 2010.