Sliding doors, closing windows
The Tigers went into this season privately admitting that last year was probably their best chance at the World Series title they’ve been contending to win for four years now. They had their most complete team, despite their limitations in defense and athleticism, and there was no dominant team in either league left to trip them up. Instead, two late-inning home runs in Boston tripped them up, and they followed with a transformative offseason.
If last year was the Tigers’ best chance, then logic follows to wonder if this year was their last good chance. It wasn’t a dominant team, but it was a very good one in a league without a whole lot of team greatness. It was a team that showed an ability to play very good baseball when it had to, and while its weaknesses were glaring at times, it had a Division Series matchup against a team that didn’t seem well equipped to take advantage of them.
Turns out the Orioles had a knack for exploiting the Tigers bullpen. And no matter how much the Tigers insisted that 2011 was in the past, their struggles against Nelson Cruz suggested nothing had changed.
“It was our time to shine in the postseason,” Max Scherzer said. “That’s what we’ve done in the past. Take nothing away from the Orioles, but we had a great team to be able to win this American League Division Series. Unfortunately, they outplayed us. That’s frustrating for everybody. Everybody in this clubhouse. We did not want our season to end. We know how much talent is in here, and for us to lose is very frustrating.”
Every year when I leave the clubhouse for the last time in a season, I wonder how differently the players in it might look next spring. The sense walking around the Tigers after Sunday’s game was a bit stronger, maybe just because of the players involved.
There’s a realistic possibility Scherzer and Victor Martinez end up being the top free-agent pitcher and hitter, respectively. They were the top pitcher and hitter on the Tigers. It’s difficult to envision the Tigers, already bearing the weight of long-term contracts, being able to keep them both. They have a better chance of keeping Martinez.
“We’ve been battling over the last few years with each other,” Scherzer said. “My teammates have been unbelievable. And for this season to come to an end the way it did, just always leaves you with a sour taste in your mouth. But hopefully there’s a way we can continue to keep playing together.”
Assuming they can’t, the Tigers are worse off at a time when the rest of the American League Central is improving with younger, cost-controlled talent. And World Series aspirations can no longer look past the division.
This is before the next test next winter, when David Price and Rick Porcello hit free agency, and the window closes further.