Tigers' Future Looks Bleak as Detroit Completes Historic Collapse

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Tigers' Future Looks Bleak as Detroit Completes Historic Collapse
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

I think Miguel Cabrera read my Detroit Tigers' Slide" target="_blank">article. Turns out, it didn't matter.

The Tigers became the first team to "accomplish" a slew of things no one ever wants to be associated with on Tuesday night (plenty of that going around in Detroit these days), and in the process they became the Metrodome's final victim (let's face it; the Yankees aren't going to lose here, or anywhere, to the Twins).

The one-run, extra-inning loss to the Twins provided a perfect microcosm for the Tigers' season.

After a nondescript start, they got out to a surprising lead behind some young pitching. As crunch time grew near, the lead disappeared. The game lasted longer than it was supposed to, but they had numerous chances to put the game away. Yet in the end, all was lost.

Maybe it was the stadium. No one outside of the Twin Cities is going to miss that place. Maybe it was Joe Mauer and Joe Nathan, the twin Tiger killers. Maybe it was the bad call on Brandon Inge's billowy jersey (or maybe he shouldn't be allowed to wear that thing in the first place).

Most likely, though, it was the fact that these Tigers just weren't that good.

Much of Michigan truly was drinking the Tiger Kool-Aid, or at the very least they sounded like it. You would not believe the number of times I have heard the phrase "World Series" in the past few weeks, despite overwhelming on-field evidence suggesting the Tigers wouldn't even sniff the ALCS.

But even a resurgent Magglio Ordonez and a noticeably more focused Miguel Cabrera could not give Detroit enough of what it had in spades in 2006: timely plays.

Cabrera does not deserve any blame for this one. Sure, he posted an "oh-fer" in his last three at-bats, but even over that span he worked a walk. Oh, and he opened the day with a double and a two-run, no doubt about it home run. He and Ordonez carried this team through regulation.

Maybe Cabrera simply did what he was supposed to do, as the TBS commentators suggested. He didn't do anything with the Twins pitching when he wasn't given pitches easily extended on, but he hit the balls he was supposed to hit, and he hit them well.

It was a similar story on the mound. Rick Porcello got himself into a few jams, and he was clearly scared to face Mauer to the point of giving up a run on an errant throw to first. Yet later in the game, despite a bit of shakiness late in his appearance, he was actually lifted too early.

And at last we come to the most glaring reason Detroit dropped this game. Jim Leyland, worried about his 20-year-old's resilience in a pressure situation, made the move from his starter to Zach Miner, the pitcher he had pegged pre-game as his first reliever out.

Detroit employed a very different bullpen strategy than Minnesota, choosing to stick with Miner for an excruciating two-thirds of an inning despite a shaky performance from his very first pitch on. All in all, he gave up four hits, two earned runs, a home run, and hit a batter. But don't worry, he struck out one and didn't walk anybody.

Minnesota, on the other hand, went with short, directed assignments for its relievers and moved on whether they got the job done or not.

Immediately after the game ended, I actually said the words, "They should fire Leyland." After taking a little time to think, I don't think anything Jim did today was a fireable offense, but you have to question the way he handled his bullpen. Was he saving arms for tomorrow? In a do or die situation, there is no tomorrow until you win today.

Ultimately, it probably doesn't matter who manages the Tigers next season. The anchors of their bullpen, Fernando Rodney and Brandon Lyon, will move on to greener pastures and bigger deals thanks to effective seasons and a payroll severely bloated by a veritable "who's who" of overpaid non-contributors.

The contracts of middle infielders Adam Everett and Placido Polanco also expire. Everett could return for a very low seven-figure deal, and Polanco will be back if he will take a one-year deal. The Polanco situation will be particularly interesting to watch as the offseason progresses.

However, the Tigers face potentially costly arbitration battles with Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson, Joel Zumaya, Bobby Seay, Zach Miner, and Gerald Laird.

They would be wise to lock up Verlander for as long as he will be willing to sign. Given the way Jackson pitched down the stretch, it will not be surprising if the team and Jackson have different ideas about how much he is worth.

Miner might have cost himself a few bucks in that last outing, but if the 2010 team has any hope at all, they need him, Zumaya, and Seay to step up and be major players out of the bullpen.

Finally, the Tigers are rumored to have some plan to graft Laird's arm to Alex Avila's body and trot it out next year to catch. Laird would still call the game through an in-ear implant.

As sad as it is, considering where the organization was a mere three years ago, this was probably Detroit's best chance to make some noise for the foreseeable future. A slew of ill-advised trades have left the organization short on prospects and even shorter on Major League-ready talent.

Unless the Tigers can quickly reload through the draft (unlikely) or their division opponents continue to field awful teams (somewhat more likely), next year and beyond could be even tougher than this one in and around Comerica Park.

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