By: Holly Horning
This is the blog I’ve been waiting a long time to write. A blog I’ve been hoping to write. And a blog I couldn’t wait to write.
And I think you know why.
After some hopeful moments throughout the year, we now have more than a couple of games as proof. This team is different. We can see it, we can hear it. And we can feel it.
They look different, they play differently and they are now winning in different ways. And the heroes are different every night.
The entire team, almost every day, appears engaged. The eye contact is back. The body language is confident and stronger. There is more interaction between them in the field and in the dugout. A far cry from earlier in the year when players streamed into the clubhouse in-between innings or sat quietly in the dugout.
There is now a swagger and moxy to this team. A guy who get plunked and then steals second base on the next pitch despite a blowout game. Then, the next guy who tells him “I got you” after swatting a home run and sending a definitive statement to their opponent. Others who get on base and then look back at the dugout, holler and beat their chests. And the three on Wednesday night who stood outside the dugout screaming, waving and thumping each other.
Then there’s the pitchers. JV’s bulldog grimace is back. Pitchers left for dead have stepped it up. And Wednesday night, a rookie with a beard obviously steamed in the dugout that he gave up one measly run.
Players that some fans wanted traded are now winning Player-of-the-Month awards again – and sweeping the awards in the same month. Highlight reels are filling up with fine fielding displays. Competitive fires are running deep again.
And we’ve even seen slower players taking extra bases. Hopefully, not a sign of an impending apocalypse.
Everyone is chipping in – and that’s a big part of it. It’s the secret to consistent play and winning. It’s why the Tigers are now scoring later in the games and pulling out wins.
So why now? Why didn’t they perform this way during the previous 4 months? What was the reason for the flipping of the switch?
As in most things, it’s rarely one factor that does it. This is more likely a spark that caught fire and spread combined with timing and events that all hit at the right time. And the reasons are plentiful. Let’s explore some of them.
Has this team finally gelled? More than half the team is new this year and all the new players came from different places.
Is Ausmus making better decisions on a more consistent basis? It’s clear he’s gotten better but because he doesn’t perform on the field, the only thing we can truly evaluate, unless we are in the clubhouse, is his in-game decisions.
Did the issue of being on the fence regarding buying or selling by the trade deadline finally create that sense of urgency the team needed? Avila did say that if the team didn’t do well up to the deadline, the Tigers would probably be sellers.
Did Al Avila give a vote of confidence to the team by not going out and trading for another player? When you know that Mr. I wants that ring this year, not doing anything is a huge and profound statement about the level of trust you have residing in the roster’s talent.
Did the club find a rallying point after the horrible results from the Twins and White Sox series? Was that the low point that caught everyone’s attention and issued a wake-up call? Did someone in the clubhouse tell the team enough is enough?
Have the players realized that they are responsible for Brad keeping his job – and that time is running out? Two former players-turned-analysts said this week that a team is always aware that their performance is directly responsible for whether a manager stays or goes.
Was the addition of Cameron Maybin the spark plug the team needed? In an interview on Wednesday, Brad did name him the catalyst of the team. And it only takes one spark to make a fire.
Make no mistake – the losses and other setbacks will come. But the mark of a solid team will be how quickly they recover and right the ship. How much fight they continue to have down to the last out. How many guys on the team are “all in” for every game.
Let’s hope the reasons above have staying power – all the way through October.