By: Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder
There have been years where it’s been difficult to watch the post season when your team is not part of it. It hurts too much sometimes when your team is sitting at home watching.
But this season, with the Tigers far from making the playoffs, it’s been easier to take a glance at what some of these playoff teams have that perhaps the Tigers do not.
So we will delve into what the playoff teams are showing off while the Tigers watch.
One of our readers, Bob, asked us to discuss how this year’s playoff teams were built. Considering this is, after all, Totally Tigers, we’ll take it a step further and compare what we’ve seen in October ballgames vs. what we’ve seen with the Tigers.
There have been three different models of how to build a team in order to qualify for the playoffs. The first is what I call “The Cardinals’ Way” – a uniform and precise way of playing that starts in the lowest levels and is present at the major league level combined with decisions that embrace the present as well as the future.
Then there are the teams who got there through massive suffering – years of cellar-dwelling that resulted in the advantages given to perennial losers allowing them to rebuild more quickly.
And finally, there are the teams who bought their way in either by acquiring multiple stars from other teams to fill their holes or outspending most of the other teams. In both cases, the emphasis has been on the present and risks taken against their futures. Sound familiar? And these teams were the first to exit the playoffs.
But no matter how these final four teams got to the playoffs, they have a number of things in common that make for good, solid baseball. They all possess a lethal combination of talent, not just great pitching or great hitting. They are strong in all the categories and exceptional in 1 or 2.
Yes, there is excellent pitching but there are also solid bullpens to support those starters’ efforts. There are guys who can hit consistently, and don’t care if it’s for extra bases, as long as they can get on base and score. And they all have solid defense and running games – plus an understanding of baseball fundamentals. Gotta love Terry Collins who said the Mets didn’t have a running game and then his team goes out and steals 7 bases in one short series.
As for the Tigers, they have been focused on “big and sexy” – starting pitching and power hitters – for years to the detriment of the less flashy skill sets like bullpens, “small ball”, running – and until this year, defense – that quietly get it done.
This year, our team earned the title of having MLB’s worst bullpen, while base running and situational hitting took the air out their ability to score runs. Add starting pitching, and they have a long way to go.
But the one thing that really stood out to me during the playoffs was not the physical skill sets; it was the intangibles that result from the combined energy of the group. It was the palpable determination to win – a cohesiveness of team, exhibited leadership and remarkable levels of high energy. I never saw those levels in any of the years the Tigers were playing in October.
When it comes to baseball’s most competitive games, opposing teams will always exploit the other’s weaknesses. Other than defense, the Tigers need to up their game in every other category, both physical and mental. They would do well to revisit the blueprint of that ’84 team that was so solid in every way as a good first step.
What strikes me most about the teams in the post season is not the performance of the high-priced “rental” starting pitching, which has been underwhelming, but the performance of the young stud starters.
Even though these veterans may have helped get them to the playoffs, they haven’t necessarily helped them advance with a small exception of a couple starts. From what the Blue Jays and Royals have gotten out of Price and Cueto so far, it’s safe to say they will sign with other teams next season.
Also, it’s been clutch hitting that has excelled in the post season. And wow the home runs, there have been plenty. So it’s been an entertaining playoff season as both offenses and pitching have shined.
The Mets have to be excited about the young talent they have in their rotation with Harvey, Syndergaard and DeGrom, while the Cubs must be ecstatic about their future with all their young and athletic talent sprinkled throughout the lineup.
So it’s been the teams with the young talent that have stood out and yet the Royals may end up taking it all based on what? Experience.
Funny isn’t it? With the Tigers, what they lacked all season was clutch hitting as the team killed an alarming amount of innings with double play balls. And injuries, lots of them, really hurt them. But who got hurt that had the most impact? Their veterans.
The Tigers do have some young talent and they should be excited about guys like McCann and Iglesias and JD Martinez. But the playoff teams are littered with budding superstars. So the hope is that the baseball gods will begin to shine on the Tigers next season when they will pin a lot of hope on the talent they received for Price, Cespedes and Soria.
It seems every season, at least one of the big veterans they count so heavily on are bitten with the injury bug. The Tigers can’t get young enough right now. Because there are teams out there with so much young talent, you are going to know them like that back of your hand every October.