Blogs > Out of Left Field

A sometimes-irreverent look at Detroit's Boys of Summer, the Tigers, as they try to return to the top of the American League Central.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Tigers interview fourth candidate for manager, Padres bench coach Rick Renteria

Rick Renteria became the fourth man to interview for the Detroit Tigers’ open managerial position the team confirmed Thursday night.

Currently the bench coach for the San Diego Padres, the 51-year-old Renteria has ties to both team general manager Dave Dombrowski and former manager Jim Leyland.

An infielder drafted by the Pirates, Renteria made his debut in 1986, in Leyland’s first year at the helm in Pittsburgh. After a brief, five-year MLB career, which concluded with the expansion Florida Marlins, Renteria began a coaching career in the Marlins’ minor league system, under then-GM Dombrowski.

Since 2003, Renteria has been in the Padres system, culminating in the last three seasons as bench coach for San Diego manager Bud Black.

“Ricky’s a guy that flies underneath the radar. He has a great rapport with the players, lot of experience as a minor-league manager. ... The guy’s kind of stayed out of the spotlight, but very solid credentials, very well thought-of by the players. He’s a hot candidate in a lot of different spots this fall,” Padres vice president of player development Randy Smith said in an interview on Detroit 105.1 (WMGC-FM) on Monday.

“I keep using the word temperament: it’s the right one. He knows when to pat a guy on the back and when to kick them in the butt. ... Good guy, even personality. Not a big ego at all. Just a real solid baseball guy.”

The interview took place in California, as Renteria has recently had hip surgery. The Cubs also made the trek out to interview Renteria at home.

Another San Diego employee, Brad Ausmus, the special assistant to the GM, interviewed with the Tigers on Monday. Ausmus’ only managerial experience was with Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic.

Renteria managed Team Mexico in the tournament, as well, and has managerial experience in the minors.

Before Renteria and Ausmus, the Tigers interviewed Dodgers third base coach Tim Wallach and their own hitting coach Lloyd McClendon.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Tigers have second-best odds to win 2014 World Series in extremely early line

Even with a new manager, the Tigers are expected to be a contender again next season, having gone to the American League Championship Series (or beyond) three straight seasons.

Just minutes after the conclusion of the 2013 World Series, odds for the potential 2014 winners came out.

The Tigers hold 8-to-1 odds to win the World Series, behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers (5-to-1). The defending World Series champion Red Sox are fifth at 12-to-1, while the defending National League pennant-winning St. Louis Cardinals are fourth at 10-to-1.

Last year, the Tigers were installed as 6-to-1 favorites in the immediate aftermath of their World Series loss to the San Francisco Giants. They'd remain the betting favorites until the Los Angeles Dodgers unseated them with their late-season run.

The odds are courtesy of R.J. Bell of and Bovada.

So could the Tigers be right back on the big stage next season?

"Of course. We were as good as anybody in the American League. We had as much talent as anybody. We could add all the facets of the game. It just didn’t work out for us. We should have all of that coming back next year. As long as everybody works hard in the offseason, comes out with the intensity and focus for next year, I don’t see why we can’t be back in the postseason," Max Scherzer said after the team's disappointing loss in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, noting it takes a while to be able to get over a loss like that.
"Probably when the World Series is over. Then you can start appreciating the good things in 2013. Right now, you’re just numb to it. When you lose a game like this, you’re always extremely disappointed. You just replay every play in your mind: ‘What could I have done differently? What could I have done differently?’ That’s where, as professionals here, we try to learn from our mistakes, try to get better. Because hopefully we are in this situation again. Hopefully we can execute next time, and be the ones celebrating because we’re going to the World Series.

The Bovada odds:
Los Angeles Dodgers                            7/1
Detroit Tigers                                        9/1
Boston Red Sox                                   10/1
St. Louis Cardinals                                10/1
Washington Nationals                            10/1
Los Angeles Angels                              14/1
Atlanta Braves                                       16/1
Cincinnati Reds                                     16/1
New York Yankees                                16/1
Oakland Athletics                                  16/1
Tampa Bay Rays                                   16/1
Texas Rangers                                      16/1
San Francisco Giants                            18/1
Cleveland Indians                                  20/1
Baltimore Orioles                                   25/1
Pittsburgh Pirates                                  25/1
Toronto Blue Jays                                 25/1
Kansas City Royals                               33/1
Philadelphia Phillies                               33/1
Arizona Diamondbacks                          40/1
Chicago White Sox                                50/1
Milwaukee Brewers                                50/1
Seattle Mariners                                    50/1
Chicago Cubs                                       66/1
Colorado Rockies                                 66/1
San Diego Padres                                 66/1
Minnesota Twins                                    75/1
New York Mets                                      75/1
Miami Marlins                                        200/1
Houston Astros                                     250/1

The odds:
LA Dodgers5/1
Detroit Tigers8/1
Washington Nationals9/1
St Louis Cardinals10/1
Boston Red Sox12/1
Cincinnati Reds15/1
LL Angels15/1
Oakland Athletics15/1
NY Yankees16/1
Texas Rangers16/1
Atlanta Braves17/1
SF Giants22/1
Pittsburgh Pirates25/1
Baltimore Orioles28/1
Cleveland Indians28/1
Tampa Bay Rays29/1
KC Royals35/1
Chicago White Sox40/1
Philadelphia Phillies40/1
Arizona D'backs45/1
Toronto Blue Jays45/1
Chicago Cubs60/1
Seattle Mariners65/1
Colorado Rockies70/1
San Diego Padres70/1
Milwaukee Brewers75/1
New York Mets115/1
Miami Marlins125/1
Minnesota Twins125/1
Houston Astros250/1

Pena won't be back with Tigers in 2014

Brayan Pena will not be returning to the Detroit Tigers in 2014.

The upbeat backup catcher tweeted Wednesday afternoon that he’d been informed of that fact by the organization.

Pena was signed to a one-year, $875,000 contract on Dec. 10, 2012. He was a free agent after the conclusion of the season.

This decision leaves the Tigers will just one catcher left on what was the 25-man playoff roster — Alex Avila — but there are two more, Bryan Holaday and Ramon Cabrera, on the 40-man roster.

The switch-hitting Pena hit .297 with four home runs, 11 doubles and 22 RBI in 71 games for the Tigers this season, but wasn’t the perfect complement for the left-handed-hitting Avila in a platoon situation, since the majority of his damage came from the left side, as well.

The soon-to-be-25-year-old Holaday, a sixth-round pick in the 2010 draft, was expected to be the backup a season ago, after the departure of Gerald Laird, but was given another year of seasoning at Triple-A when the Tigers picked up Pena.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tigers shut out of Gold Glove Awards for fourth straight season

Four years and counting since the last time the Detroit Tigers had a Rawlings Gold Glove Award recipient.

Pitcher Doug Fister and left fielder Andy Dirks were finalists, but the American League Gold Gloves went to the Blue Jays’ R.A. Dickey and Kansas City’s Alex Gordon at those two positions.

The last current Tigers player to win a Gold Glove was Torii Hunter in 2009. The last player to win one in a Tigers uniform was second baseman Placido Polanco that same year.

The last Tigers pitcher to win a Gold Glove was Kenny Rogers in 2006. The last Tigers outfielder to win one was Gary Pettis in 1989.

Jose Iglesias — who did not play enough games at shortstop to qualify for the Gold Glove — had the No. 1 Web Gem of the year, according to the ESPN “Baseball Tonight” presenters of the Gold Glove Awards. The video of the play is below:

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Dombrowski: Cabrera is 'scheduled to have (surgery) this week'

It was never quite clear what Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera’s injury was at any given time during the second half of the season.

The pain migrated from his hip flexor to his abdominal region, to later into his groin, after severely straining it on a slide.

Now, it’s not entirely clear when — or if — exactly Cabrera will have it fixed.

At the end of the postseason run, Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said that Cabrera had been diagnosed with a Grade 2-3 strain in his groin, and that he’d be going back to see Dr. William Meyers in Philadelphia to see if surgery was needed.

Dombrowski told The Oakland Press via email Sunday night that Cabrera was “scheduled to have it this week,” confirming an earlier report by MLB Network’s Peter Gammons.

Cabrera, however told reporters in St. Louis that he was still undecided. He was there to pick up the Hank Aaron Award for the second straight year, presented to him before Sunday’s Game 4 of the World Series.

[UPDATE: Cabrera later told ESPN Deportes' Enrique Rojas that the surgery is scheduled for Tuesday. "I don't know anything about the operation, I don't want to know the details, I just hope it heals fast. I am trusting that the doctors can fix the problem," he said. "I have a lot left in me."]

All along, the Tigers said that Cabrera’s strain would not heal up by itself, if given time off.

“We checked with doctors,” Cabrera told reporters, including CBS Sports’ Danny Knobler. “We got a lot of different opinions. If somebody had told me that if I rested 15 days, I’d be OK, I’d have rested 15 days. They didn’t tell me that.”

Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera wins Hank Aaron Award for 2nd year in a row

Miguel Cabrera is the recipient of the Hank Aaron Award for the second straight season,, despite finishing the year in immense pain. He was honored before Sunday's Game 4 of the World Series.

Veteran baseball writer Peter Gammons also reported that Cabrera will have surgery next week on his severely strained groin. [UPDATE: Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski later confirmed the report in an email exchange.]

Last season, Cabrera was the American League recipient of the Aaron award, along with San Francisco's Buster Posey in the National League. Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt won the NL award this season.

“I’m very nervous right now,” Cabrera said after being awarded the honor last year. “I want to thank you very much for giving me this opportunity. It’s an honor.”

The Hank Aaron Award is given annually to each league’s top offensive performer, as voted by fans, along with a Hall of Fame panel of Aaron, Tony Gwynn, Paul Molitor, Joe Morgan and Robin Yount.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Tigers managerial search links

In the wee hours of the morning on Sunday, Oct. 20, the Detroit Tigers were eliminated from the American League Championship Series. Moments after the game, manager Jim Leyland told his team that he was stepping down.

A day later, on Monday, Leyland told the rest of us the same thing.

The search for his successor began immediately.

Here are links to the stories as the managerial search has unfolded:

• Tigers manager Jim Leyland steps down: 'It's time to go ... the fuel was getting a little low' 
• Photo gallery of Leyland's time with the Tigers
• Handicapping the Tigers' managerial search
• Tigers begin wide-open search for new manager; Dombrowski: 'That's the goal ... to get the right person in there'
• Could Gene Lamont succeed Leyland again? 'I'd surely like to. But I don't believe I'll probably get the chance'
• Tons of viable candidates for Tigers' managerial search, but no standouts

Talking Tigers managerial search on Detroit 105.1 FM

With interviews taking place left and right for the Tigers' vacant managerial spot, I went on the "Ryan and Rico" show on Detroit 105.1 (WMGC-FM) to talk about the most recent updates.

That includes Friday's reported interview with Dodgers third base coach Tim Wallach. [CLICK HERE for that story.]

Here's the audio from Saturday's radio interview:

Friday, October 25, 2013

REPORT: Talks 'escalating' between Dodgers' Wallach and Tigers for vacant managerial spot

Tim Wallach is going to be a manager sometime, somewhere.

That’s the feeling that those who know the 17-year big-leaguer had about the now 56-year-old Wallach, who was considered a shoo-in for the Los Angeles Dodgers job before Don Mattingly got it, and again once it looked appeared Mattingly might be on his way out.

He was a finalist for the Boston Red Sox job last year, before the club acquired John Farrell.

And now, it appears, he might be one of the key candidates in the Detroit Tigers’ managerial search.

Citing a source, Jonah Keri — an analyst for ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” and a writer for its Grantland site — said that talks are “escalating” between the Tigers and Wallach, the third-base coach for the Dodgers.

The LA Times' Bill Shaikin confirmed that Wallach had spoken with the Tigers about their managerial vacancy. Chris Iott of confirmed from Wallach himself that he interviewed Friday with the Tigers.

“I think everybody knows I want to manage someday,” Wallach told’s Ramona Shelburne earlier this month, before the Dodgers lost in the National League Championship Series.

“But right now my focus is completely on what we’re doing here in L.A. and trying to win a World Series.”

Wallach has history with Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski.

The longtime third baseman was drafted by the Montreal Expos in 1979, and played 13 of his 17 seasons there.

Dombrowski was the youngest GM in baseball when he was named to the post for the Expos in 1988.

A five-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner at third base, Wallach was the hitting coach for the Dodgers in 2004-’05. From 2009-10, hewas the manager of the Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate in Alburquerque, earning Pacific Coast League manager of the year honors. He was considered an insider to get the job as Dodgers manager when Joe Torre retired, and would’ve been a favorite to replace Mattingly, had the current manager of the Dodgers not worked out his issues with management earlier this week.

Wallach was the second candidate interviewed by the Tigers in as many days. Internal candidate Lloyd McClendon, the Tigers' hitting coach, interviewed Thursday.

Fister, Dirks are Tigers' two Gold Glove finalists

The Tigers again have two finalists for Rawlings Gold Glove Awards in the American League this season, in pitcher Doug Fister and outfielder Andy Dirks.

The 18 awards will be announced in a televised presentation on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 29.

Fister is a finalist for the AL pitcher Gold Glove, along with Toronto’s RA Dickey and Mark Buehrle.

Dirks is a finalist for the left field Gold Glove, along with Kansas City’s Alex Gordon and Oakland’s Yoenis Cespedes.

Neither has won a Gold Glove before. [UPDATE: Neither won the Gold Glove at their respective positions. Dickey won the AL pitcher Gold Glove, and Gordon won it for left field.]

There is a new component in this year’s selection process, adding SABR’s Defensive Index to the criteria.

“As we looked to marry ‘The Art of Fielding with the Science of Baseball,’ the composition of the SABR Defensive Index is exactly what we were hoping to achieve,” Mike Thompson, senior vice president of marketing for St. Louis-based Rawlings, said of the change in March. “Since its inception in 1957, the Rawlings Gold Glove Award has relied on the major-league managers and coaches’ invaluable insights and keen understanding of the art of fielding to reward the best defensive players in the game. The new sabermetric component in the selection process is just another example of how the iconic award has evolved throughout history as the industry standard honoring defensive excellence at the highest level of baseball.”

Because he only played 42 games at the position, Jose Iglesias did not make the cut at shortstop, behind the Royals’ Alcides Escobar, Baltimore’s J.J. Hardy and the Rays’ Yunel Escobar.

Tigers catcher Alex Avila and center fielder Austin Jackson were finalists last year, but neither took home the award.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Tigers offseason awards tracker, 2013 edition

Baseball's silly season, the few weeks when the sport — and those who cover it — spend time patting guys on the back, is upon us.

If you find it hard to keep up with the flurry of awards being handed out, don't worry. Just bookmark this list, and come back to check for any additional hardware being handed out to the Tigers.

(all of these will be announced on MLB Network at 6 p.m. on the respective nights)
• Rookie of the Year, Nov. 11
• Manager of the Year, Nov. 12
• Cy Young, Nov. 13
• Most Valuable Player, Nov. 14

MLB Player of the Year — Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
• American League All-Stars — Miguel Cabrera and Max Scherzer
• AL Rookie of the Year — Tampa's Wil Myers, with Detroit's Jose Iglesias 2nd

Miggy, Iggy and Max are all finalists
Jose Iglesias finishes runner-up for AL Rookie of the Year
Max Scherzer wins AL Cy Young Award PHOTO GALLERY
Miguel Cabrera wins back-to-back AL MVP awards

(for the outstanding offensive player in each league)
Miguel Cabrera wins for second straight year

Five Tigers are finalists
Miggy and Max clean up at PC Awards

Miguel Cabrera and Torii Hunter win AL Silver Slugger Awards

• Offensive Player of the Year — Lakeland's Devon Travis

Doug Fister and Andy Dirks are finalists
No Tigers win Gold Glove for fourth straight season

Austin Jackson earns Tigers Wilson Defensive Player of the Year honors 

No Tigers honored

Presented by the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association — Jose Iglesias

2013 Tiger of the Year
Presented by Detroit Chapter of BBWAA — Miguel Cabrera for fourth time

Miggy wins Sporting News MLB Player of the Year again

Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera became the fourth player to win Sporting News MLB Player of the Year in back to back seasons, in voting from his peers.

Chris Davis was second, and Mike Trout — last year’s runner-up — got fewer than 10 votes this time around, the magazine announced on Thursday, saying Cabrera won overwhelmingly. Cabrera was named on 141 ballots, Davis on 35.

Four Tigers players have won the award, but Cabrera is the first to win it twice. He won it by a 108-71 margin last season.

Teammate Justin Verlander was the 2011 honoree, while Denny McLain won in 1968. Both men won the American League Cy Young and MVP honors in those seasons. AL MVP Hal Newhouser won it in 1945.

The magazine has given out the award since 1936.

Hall of Famers Joe Morgan and Ted Williams, along with Albert Pujols, are the only other players to win the award twice in a row.

Voting results:
Miguel Cabrera, 141
Chris Davis, 35
Mike Trout, 9
Clayton Kershaw, 8
Andrew McCutchen, 8
Paul Goldschmidt, 3
Five other players, 1

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Max Scherzer's 'Livin' The Dream' video

Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer was one of five MLB postseason participants to be featured in a video, which takes you through a day in his life.

The video series, which also featured St. Louis' Matt Carpenter and Lance Lynn and Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino, is produced by the Major League Baseball Players Association and distributed by USA Today as a way to provide fans an inside peek at players' lives, as they pursue postseason success.

Here's the video:

Digital First Media 2013 World Series preview and chat

In a rematch of the 2004 World Series, the Boston Red Sox take on the St. Louis Cardinals in this year's World Series. Digital First Media baseball writers will break down the matchup, and examine the Cardinals' wealth of starting pitching, Boston's knack for the dramatic and more.

Chat starts at 2 p.m. (ET).

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Handicapping the Tigers' managerial candidates

How many times have you said, "I bet you they end up hiring so-and-so?" Now that the Detroit Tigers are looking for a new manager for the first time in eight years, following Jim Leyland stepping down Monday, that's what everyone's talking about.

Well, there are odds on that kind of thing.

Here are the Las Vegas odds for the various candidates associated with the Detroit Tigers' opening, courtesy of oddsmaker Bovada.

Brad Ausmus.......................................4/1
Lloyd McClendon...............................9/2
Tom Brookens.....................................5/1
Torey Lovullo......................................5/1
Gene Lamont.....................................11/2
Manny Acta.........................................8/1
Larry Parrish........................................8/1
Tony Pena..........................................15/1
Dusty Baker.......................................15/1

[CLICK HERE for a full list of candidates]

Could Lamont succeed Leyland again? 'I'd surely like to. But I don't believe I'll probably get the chance'

DETROIT — There’s going to be a new sheriff in town.

Could it be much the same as the old sheriff? Like maybe his best friend?

While Gene Lamont succeeded Jim Leyland as manager in Pittsburgh, he doesn’t think history will repeat itself here in Detroit.

Lamont may merit consideration for the top job with the Detroit Tigers, now that Leyland’s stepped down from it, but he told MLB Network Radio he doubted that would happen.

“Well, I’d like to manage again, but I’m going to be 67 next year myself, so I don’t know that some team wants to bring in somebody at my age,” Lamont told hosts Todd Hollandsworth and Jim Memolo on the “First Pitch” show Tuesday morning. “I’d surely like to. But I don’t believe I’ll probably get the chance.”

General manager Dave Dombrowski did not rule out any of the Tigers’ internal candidates — Lamont, Tom Brookens or Lloyd McClendon — from possibly being considered candidates either for the top job, or to remain on staff for a new manager. [CLICK HERE for a full list of candidates]

“With some people, I’d be very happy to have on our staff, for sure,” Dombrowski said at Monday’s press conference. “But you have to make sure that when you (hire a) manager that’s mainly their consideration in that regard.”

And he also said he did not necessarily want to change the culture, by bringing in someone who has vastly different philosophies.

That would make a transition from Leyland to one of his key lieutenants make sense — none of the three would probably deviate too much from the way the organization ran in Leyland’s eight seasons.

It also helps that two of those guys have big-league managerial experience.

Following a four-year span where he left Leyland’s Pittsburgh staff to manage the Chicago White Sox (1992-’95), Lamont followed Leyland in the big seat with the Pirates for four seasons (1997-’00). Returning to his spot as Leyland’s right-hand man in 2006, Lamont was a finalist for the Red Sox job that went to Bobby Valentine before last season.

A player for both Leyland and Lamont in Pittsburgh, McClendon was on the coaching staff there with both men, and followed Lamont as the manager for five seasons (2001-’05).

A former Tigers player, Brookens has never managed at the big-league level, he was a manager at three different levels in the Tigers system — Class A Oneonta (2005-’06), Class A West Michigan (2007), and Double-A Erie (2008) — and had, at times, been considered the heir apparent to Leyland.

While Dombrowski did not rule out going after a less-experienced managerial candidate, Lamont at least feels this Tigers team may need a steadier hand on the reins.

“Myself, I think it would be tough on a first-time manager. There are a lot of, I’ll say personalities. It’s a great team. Great players. Sometimes it doesn’t become the easiest team to manage,” Lamont said. “I think somebody that’s probably managed — it would be beneficial I think, to have somebody that’s at least managed in the big leagues for this team.”

If it was someone with less experience, though, Lamont wouldn’t rule out staying on in his present capacity, to lend some wisdom.

“I’d like to stay here as the bench coach again, but that’ll likely determine on who’s named the manager,” he said.

The contracts of all three men — as well as the rest of the coaching staff — expire at the end of the league season on Oct. 31.

Dombrowski said Monday that he hadn’t had much in the way of discussions with any of them.

“I really haven’t handled it at all, because it just happened. That’s some of the stuff I have to do here coming up,” the GM said. “I would never stand in their way of getting another job somewhere else because I don’t think that’s fair and that’s right. Then we’ll just kind of go from there.”

Matthew B. Mowery covers the Tigers for Digital First Media. Read his “Out of Left Field” blog at


Monday, October 21, 2013

REPORTS: Leyland will announce retirement today at 11:30 a.m. news conference

DETROIT — Jim Leyland led the Detroit Tigers to some of the best times in franchise history, including three straight playoff appearances, and two trips to the World Series.

After this last playoff loss, he apparently decided it would be best for a younger voice to lead the Tigers.

According to published reports by Ken Rosenthal, among others, the 68-year-old Leyland will announce his retirement at a news conference at 11:30 a.m. Monday. [UPDATE: Leyland stepped down, and will stay in the organization in an unspecified role. CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL STORY.]

Leyland led the Tigers for eight seasons, compiling a record of 700-597, and won two American League pennants. He was one of just three managers, joining Sparky Anderson (1,331 wins) and Hughie Jennings (1,131) to register 700 or more wins with the Tigers.

Leyland was the only the second manager, along with Jennings, to lead the franchise to three straight postseason appearances.

He will retire as the 15th winningest manager in MLB history (1,769), and was the winningest active manager at the time of his retirement.

More information will be added to this story as it becomes available.

Tigers could very well be back to 'get another shot,' but know it'll be harder than ever

BOSTON — It’s one thing to open your window of opportunity.

It’s another to keep it open long enough to dive through it.

The Tigers’ window of opportunity did not close with Saturday’s loss in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, but they all know it was an opportunity missed.

And, as much as they hope that they’ll be right back there in 2014, there’s no guarantee of that.

“It’s just frustrating,” Max Scherzer said. “We’re going to move on, and get another shot.”

That’s the understandably common perception of a team that just fell short of its ultimate goal.

“It’s a tough feeling. I came here for the World Series ring, and I still think that, and I have confidence that next year, this team is gonna go that route. I know Dave Dombrowski is going to put some things together. Little pieces, because we don’t need much,” Torii Hunter said.

“I think he’s going to do something special. With that pitching staff, and our ballclub, the offense that we have, there’s no doubt we’ll be back in this position again. And we’re going to learn from our mistakes.”

Can the Tigers be right back in the ALCS? Sure.

They have a core — including Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Austin Jackson — of young talent that’s in, or entering, its prime. Tweak it here or there, and it’s certainly a capable cast.

So, could they?

“Of course. We were as good as anybody in the American League. We had as much talent as anybody. We could add all the facets of the game. It just didn’t work out for us. We should have all of that coming back next year,” Scherzer said. “As long as everybody works hard in the offseason, comes out with the intensity and focus for next year, I don’t see why we can’t be back in the postseason.”

But ... will they?

That’s the hard part.

The Tigers have already made the playoffs three straight seasons, just the second time in franchise history (1907-09) they’d done that.

They made the ALCS three straight years, too.

And became the second team to make three straight ALCS, without winning a World Series, joining he 1976-78 Kansas City Royals.

In the 44 seasons since the institution of divisional play, there have been eight teams to make three straight appearances in the ALCS. Only two of them — the 1971-75 Oakland A’s (five straight) and the 1998-01 New York Yankees (four straight) — continued their run past three.

And those two teams were considered dynasties.

The ultimate goal, though, isn’t just making it to ALCS ... or even just to the playoffs.

It’s winning the World Series, and snapping the 29-year drought since the last title.

This year proved yet again how expectations don’t necessarily lead to success.

“When you get to this point in the year, the expectations are always high. The expectations were high coming into the spring, about as high as they could possibly be. But once you get to the playoffs, it’s a grind,” Verlander said. “You can’t say, ‘OK, we’re going to make it to the World Series.’ You can’t just say that, and end up there. I mean, you gotta play the games.”

Verlander made the World Series as a rookie in 2006. He’s repeatedly said that he did not at the time realize how hard it would be to go back. He admitted as much last year, when he finally made a return trip, six seasons later.

“It was my rookie year and everything was kind of a whirlwind. I don’t think I really appreciated the magnitude of how hard it is to get there. I think I had a rude awakening in the years after that, and I think it allows me to appreciate it all the more that I’m here now,” he said before the 2012 World Series. “I realized how lucky I was to get there in 2006 after a couple more seasons; especially after 2008, you know, I realized how tough it was, but I also knew at the same time that I ... hopefully had many more years to go. If I had a lengthy career, obviously, I would have some more opportunities. So I wasn’t worried that I’d never get back, but I realized how difficult it was looking back at it.”

They didn’t make it again this year.

They know it’s never a given, which is why it’s such shame to waste any chance.

“It was hard to win a World Series. You never take nothing for granted. You have so much fun when you win a World Series. Hopefully we can do that for Detroit. We came up short two times so let’s see what happens,” Miguel Cabrera, who won a title in Florida as a rookie in 2003, said before the playoffs started.

It didn’t happen.

Of course, you have to get there to win it. And you have to make the playoffs to get there.

Even that’s not going to be a given next year.

The American League Central has long been considered among the weakest of the six divisions in baseball.

That might be changing, a bit at least.

“I can honestly tell you, Cleveland was about in as close a second as you can get. They’re very good. And Kansas City is very good. I think a lot of people woke up to the fact that the Central Division wasn’t such a patsy like everyone thought. Kansas City was in it until the last four or five days. Cleveland is in it. Two teams from the Central are in it,” manager Jim Leyland said at the start of the postseason.

“Since 2006, two teams from the Central — us — went to the World Series. So maybe we can lay to rest the fact that the Central is not very good.”

And it’s just going to be better next year, at least at the top, where the Royals and Indians will continue to push the Tigers.

Cleveland finished one game behind Detroit in the standings, while the Royals finished with more wins (86) than all but one other third-place team in baseball.

“It’s going to be tougher next year. I just know the American League Central is getting tougher. The Indians are tough, the Royals are getting older and more experienced. They’re going to be extremely tough,” Scherzer said. “For us, it’s going to be an even harder, uphill battle next year.”

The Tigers, on the other hand, will have to make a number of key decisions, just to maintain the status quo. And, while the Indians and Royals have younger cores, just learning how to win, the Tigers’ core is just another year older.

And another year closer to that window slamming shut.

“I’m an older guy, that door is closing for me and that opportunity just wasn’t there this year,” the 38-year-old Hunter said. “Just rips your heart out. It’s tough.”

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Anatomy of a loss: Tigers made the key mistakes in Game 6, creating their own undoing

BOSTON — There was no margin for error.

Considering how the first five games of the American League Championship Series had gone to date, you almost knew the first team to crack and make the one big mistake might lose Game 6.

Yet, here were the Detroit Tigers, making a number of miscues, and surviving.

• Walks from starter Max Scherzer, one of the things he’d limited so spectacularly in his potential Cy Young season.

• A hanger from Scherzer that Dustin Pedroia blasted just inches wide of being a home run.

• A blunder on the bases by Prince Fielder, running the Tigers out of an inning, right after they’d taken a lead.

• Austin Jackson getting picked off first.

• Then the coup de grace, having the most sure-handed fielder on the team, shortstop Jose Iglesias, boot a ball that might have been a game-changing double play. Instead, it loaded the bases.

You can only dodge so many bullets.

The last one proved to be the one that they couldn’t dodge.

One batter — and three pitches — after Iglesias’ error, set-up man Jose Veras hung a curveball that Shane Victorino banged for a grand slam.

“Your heart just drops. ... It was like a pop-up. The ball just barely getting over the (Green) Monster, in most stadiums that’s probably an out. But here’s it s a homer and he got the job done. He came through when they needed him and got the big hit. That was a crushing blow,” Torii Hunter said. “They made the big pitches when they needed to, and capitalized on our mistakes, in the field, or on the basepaths.

“What can you do?”

It was certainly not the Tigers’ finest hour.

“You work so hard, you work your whole offseason, all the way through your whole season, to be able to pitch well in that moment. Try to execute as a team. We just came up short today,” Scherzer said. “It’s just frustrating.”

And the blame was more than enough to go around.

Start with Scherzer, who shouldered his share of the load.

He walked five in the game, and plunked another, the total of free passes matching his highest of the season. In fact, he only had four starts in the regular season with more than three free passes.

He’d only walked six combined in three postseason appearances before Saturday.

“I was making mistakes by walking guys, and giving them free passes. You just can’t do that. Even though I was able to find my way out of some of those jams, you put yourself in enough of those situations, you’re going to get beat,” Scherzer said.

“For me, I was able to avoid some of the big innings, by pitching out of some jams, but eventually, you just can’t walk as many guys as I did tonight, against a quality team like that. When you’re giving them as many free passes as I did, you’re asking for trouble. I was able to handle some trouble, but I can’t withstand it all.

“That’s my own undoing.”

Hanging a slider to Pedroia almost proved his undoing in the third inning.

One pitch after making a spectacular, sliding play to catch a popped-up bunt by Victorino, Scherzer found his head whiplashing around to follow the flight of the ball off Pedroia’s bat. He grimaced as it flew closer to the foul pole, then tried to will it wide, waving like the iconic image of former Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk trying to wave his homer fair in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series.

Fisk’s homer hit the foul pole, giving the Red Sox a 7-6 win in 12 innings.

Pedroia’s missed that same pole by inches, video review showed.

“I looked over at my bench, and they acknowledged it was a foul ball,” Scherzer said. “I just dodged a bullet, because I hung a slider. I was inches away from giving up a home run.”

Four pitches later, Pedroia grounded into an inning-ending double play.

Bullet dodged.

Fielder’s miscue was a bit harder to swallow.

After walking, and going first-to-third on Victor Martinez’s bases-loaded, two-run single, giving the Tigers the lead, Fielder ran the Tigers out of the sixth-inning rally. He started off third on Jhonny Peralta’s ground ball, but stopped.

After Pedroia tagged Martinez out between first and second, he threw home to keep Fielder from scoring. Fielder turned to retreat to third, then dove, but came up several feet short of the bag.

“I was trying to keep us out of the double play and, once I saw Pedroia tag him, I kind of got stuck there — and it ended up being a double play anyway,” said Fielder, admitting he probably should’ve held up. “Yeah, probably. But it’s over, bro.”

It wasn’t the Tigers’ only out on the bases.

Jackson was picked off first in the top of the seventh inning, after a one-out single. Iglesias beat out on an infield single behind him, then Hunter reached on an error, when pitcher Brandon Workman tried to field his surprising two-out bunt.

The inning — which might have been different, had the bases been loaded — ended when Xander Bogaerts made a spectacular play to get Miguel Cabrera on a groundout back up the middle.

Bogaerts would factor prominently in the rally in the bottom of the inning, too, as he drew a one-out walk on a borderline 3-2 change-up, ending Scherzer’s night.

“Is it a strike? Probably, but it never gets called. Catcher’s setting up inside, he has to reach across his body. Umpires just never call that. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. You gotta give him credit for taking that pitch, because that pitch is in the zone, moving downwards, and he still had the composure not to be aggressive in that situation, and take that pitch. You gotta tip your cap to him, for his selectivity, and not expanding the zone in that situation,” Scherzer said.

“It’s probably a strike, it’s probably in the zone, but it never gets called. I’m not here to criticize (home plate umpire) Dan Iassogna about that pitch. That’s just the way it goes. If you don’t hit your spots, you don’t get calls.

“Even though it might’ve been in the zone, I didn’t hit my spot exactly.

“That’s just the way it goes.”

Catcher Alex Avila saw it the same way.

“It was very close. I’m not sure what it looked like on TV, but I thought it might’ve been a strike. Dan, he’s always been very honest, a very good umpire, and he said he thought it was low,” Avila said. “Live with it. Make another pitch after that.”

Drew Smyly replaced Scherzer, and faced the left-handed Jacoby Ellsbury with one out and two on. He made the pitch he needed to, getting a ground ball up the middle.

Iglesias tracked it down behind the bag, and tried to gather it up to make the flip to start a potential double play.

Instead, he dropped it.

“We probably finish that inning there. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it done. It would be a huge double play if we turn that one but we didn’t,” Iglesias said.

“You turn that double play, the inning will be completely different. Maybe it was over. They just got some momentum and Shane hit a grand slam so that was huge. I feel bad but I gotta continue to turn the page and move forward for next year.”

Jose Veras replaced Smyly, and started Victorino off with a curveball. Called strike.

Then he threw another. Foul.

Then he threw a third. And hung it a bit.

“Well, 0-2, and Victorino hasn’t really looked good on breaking balls this year. He’s gotten out a lot on them. Veras threw a decent breaking ball,” Avila said. “Maybe wanted it a little bit lower, but in the end, he was trying make a great pitch. It was a little up, and he just got it over the wall. Give credit to Victorino for making adjustment.”

Mistakes finally caught up with the Tigers.

All of a sudden, they trailed 5-2. The game would finish that way. And the season.

“Just wish we could’ve played better as a team. We fought so hard to get to this position, and came up short. The Boston Red Sox beat us. That’s how it went down, and that’s how you should write it,” Scherzer said.

“They were the better team in this series.”

Because they made fewer critical mistakes.