Detroit Tigers: Would They Have Beaten St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series?
Two days ago, the St. Louis Cardinals became arguably the worst team to win a World Series championship.
After sneaking into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season, an average team got hot at the perfect time to complete an improbable run.
A team that was 10 games out of the National League Wild Card spot back on September 27 stormed back from nowhere to clinch the wild card on the final day of the season. Albert Pujols and the Cardinals then eliminated the heavily favored Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Division Series and the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Championship Series before defeating the Texas Rangers.
Meanwhile, the Detroit Tigers also enjoyed a successful season. The Tigers won the American League Central, their first time ever winning the division. Entering the postseason, like the Cardinals, the Tigers defeated a heavily favored New York Yankees club. But 2011 just wasn't meant to be: the Tigers were eliminated in the ALCS by the Rangers.
Let's think about this for a minute.
Had the Tigers defeated the Texas Rangers and gone to the World Series, would they have defeated the St. Louis Cardinals? The answer is tough to say, but it's an interesting take. The Tigers and Cardinals match up very closely and would have surely provided an entertaining series.
Who would have won? Let's find out.
Detroit's starting pitching, other than the infallible stuff of Justin Verlander, was average at best. Then came Doug Fister at the trade deadline. In his 10 starts, Fister helped pick up some slack from Verlander, going 8-1 and sporting a 1.79 ERA.
The other three starting pitchers throughout the season, though, were average. Yes, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello each won at least 14 games, but flashed below-average ERAs. The team ERA ranked 18th overall in the league, the same spot as the opponent teams' batting average (.257).
Yet you can't discount what Verlander did. He'll win the American League Cy Young after going 24-5 with a sparkling 2.40 ERA. He had one of the greatest power-pitching seasons in recent memory and anchored a mediocre starting rotation the whole season.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals' starting pitching staff wasn't anything special, either. Kyle Lohse led the team in wins with 14. Their ace, Chris Carpenter, finished his frustrating regular season with an 11-9 record and a 3.45 ERA. The team ERA, 3.74, was slightly better than Detroit's 4.04 team ERA. You can thank Brad Penny for that one.
The one underlying factor here was that the Cardinals lost star pitcher Adam Wainwright before the season had even begun. Had Wainwright pitched, this staff would have been comparable to "a poor man's" Philadelphia Phillies rotation.
Firstly, the Detroit Tigers had the most dominant and consistent closer of 2011. Jose Valverde went 49 for 49 in save opportunities. Sure, like former closer Todd Jones, Valverde provided late-game fireworks and tension for fans, but he didn't falter. His ERA was a solid 2.24, and he struck out 8.5 batters per 9 innings.
Setup man Joaquin Benoit, after a shaky start to the season, settled in as a consistent 7th- and 8th-inning man. He held 26 games for the Tigers, which was eighth in MLB. The Cardinals top setup man ranked 28th, while Jason Motte, who ended the season as closer, held 18 for the Cardinals.
As for the rest of the bullpen, it's tough to say. Al Albuquerque had a good season, but he lived it entirely base on one pitch. His dominant slider confused hitters all season. His 1.87 ERA seems like a mirage; he struggled at the end of the season and was shaky at best in the postseason.
Phil Coke had a steady season, but it showed nothing of Coke, who many had expected to have a career year. He began the season in the starting rotation, but was effectively demoted and remained in the Tigers' bullpen.
It seemed that the closing job for the Cardinals was open to anyone for the whole season. Fernando Salas began the season as closer, but was often shaky. He saved 25 games. They eventually shuffled around players as to see who would take the role and, right before the playoffs, Jason Motte stepped in.
Motte saved the final nine games for the Cards, finishing with a 2.25 ERA. He was solid throughout the playoffs, as fans eventually witnessed him being mobbed by his teammates as he ended the World Series.
Midseason pickups Marc Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel jump-started the bullpen. Rzepczynski became a solid late-inning man, while Dotel solidified the front end of the bullpen.
Towards the end of the season, though, an average bullpen molded into a great bullpen. They held close leads and helped comebacks throughout September en route to a playoff birth. They became almost unhittable at times, including Game 7 of the World Series, during which four relievers were used.
The Tigers landed in the top five in every offensive category in the MLB. They finished fourth in runs, third with a .277 batting average, fourth in slugging percentage and fourth in on-base percentage.
Tiger Miguel Cabrera and Cardinal Albert Pujols had nearly identical seasons. Pujols slugged 37 home runs to Cabrera's 30. Cabrera drove in 105 runs to Pujols' 99. Cabrera also recorded 24 more hits than Pujols this season. The statistics show that these two players basically canceled themselves out at the plate.
The Tigers had four batters who hit at least .290. Meanwhile, designated hitter Victor Martinez led the league in hitting with runners in scoring position.
The Tigers had productive numbers throughout the lineup through the likes of catcher Alex Avila and shortstop Ramon Santiago.
The hitting of the Cardinals was very consistent throughout the season, and the team received production from a healthy number of players. Six different players hit at least .290, and the team received a pleasant surprise in Lance Berkman, who had a difficult previous season with the Houston Astros and New York Yankees.
Surprisingly, it wasn't Pujols who led the team in batting average, as he usually does. One of the perennial best catchers in baseball, Yadier Molina led the team, hitting.
Advantage: Push, both teams' lineups suit up and match up fairly equally.
The managers of both the Tigers and the Cardinals are highly respected around the league. Jim Leyland of the Tigers has not only won a division, but also has taken this club to the World Series before. Tony La Russa of the Cardinals defeated Leyland's Tigers in that World Series appearance back in 2006.
LaRussa, who announced his retirement earlier this morning, is one of the most successful managers of the modern era. He was won three World Series championships and has the most postseason wins of any manager in the history of the sport. He also is third on the all-time wins list.
He is one of the smartest and best-prepared managers of all time. He is a master of setting his lineups and seemingly magically conducts changes in strategy and approaches throughout every game he manages.
Leyland has won one World Series ring, back in 1997 with the Florida Marlins. He has won three Manager of the Year awards. He was amassed 1,588 victories, three more than his loss total. He is one of the most respected managers in baseball.
Detroit general manager Dave Dombroski recently extended Leyland's contract through the 2012 season. In Detroit, though, he is under constant criticism for some of his managerial decisions in crucial games
Who Would Have Won?
The Tigers and Cardinals would present a very interesting matchup and would most likely be much different than their previous 2006 World Series encounter.
It is difficult to say the Tigers would have actually beat a team that had heated up at the exact perfect time of the season to win the crown, but it's possible.
If this matchup had occurred, I would have made a quite confident prediction. The prediction?
Tigers win in 7.