Yes, the Pistons are in the playoffs, with eyes set on another NBA championship. LeBron had a triple-double in Saturday's Game 3
, the kind of performance - making his teammates better for three quarters, then "taking over" in the fourth - that forges superstars. Rasheed Wallace "Guaransheed
" a five-game series victory over the Cavaliers. And it looks like we'll have a Detroit-Miami
rematch in the Eastern Conference Finals.
But it's the other Detroit team that was in Cleveland this weekend that really caught my attention.
A three-game sweep
for the Tigers at Jacobs Field?
That ballpark didn't even exist the last time the Tigers swept the Indians in Cleveland. The Tribe was still playing in "the mistake on the lake
." The baseball team was better in the movies
than they were on the field.
Some Tigers fans are enjoying the ride, basking in the enjoyment of a baseball team that's winning some games, that looks like it knows what it's doing on the diamond. But I get the feeling that plenty of others still think it's too early in the season to get excited. They're anticipating the eight-game losing streak that brings the Tigers back down to Earth. As much as they might want to, they still can't quite embrace this team. They need a sign that these Detroit Tigers are "for real."
For me, sweeping Cleveland on the road is that sign. The Indians were expected to place first or second in the AL Central division. And, of course, they still might. But the Tigers are making such a finish look pretty difficult right now. The pitching - especially Jeremy Bonderman on Saturday
- was outstanding, allowing Detroit to win three close games. They kept Travis Hafner
in check. They're 4-2 so far this season against the Tribe.
And on May 15, the Tigers are a half-game out of first place. (If the Tigers were in any other division right now, as the Daily Fungo
points out, they'd be looking down at everyone else.)
Okay, the Indians were swept by the Royals in Kansas City last week. So they're clearly struggling. Maybe this feat isn't quite as impressive as it first appears.
And the Tigers have won a lot of close games so far, which could easily turn around later in the season. On Friday, Mike Valenti of the "Sports Inferno
" on Detroit's WXYT-AM pointed out that the Washington Nationals followed the same pattern
in the first half of last season. At the All-Star break, the Nats were in first place. But they were walking a tightrope, and started losing those close games. Eventually, they fell to a .500 record and a fifth-place finish.
Are the Tigers this year's Nationals? What if the lineup goes into a protracted slump, and isn't saved by the long ball? What if the starting pitching starts to falter? What if opponents catch up to the bullpen in late innings? What if the young players, like Curtis Granderson and Justin Verlander, are overcome by the grind of a full major-league season?
But what if the lineup can play even better, and score more
runs? Detroit hasn't had full use of a healthy Dmitri Young and Placido Polanco yet. And what if the pitching rotation can
continue to be this good? Maybe Kenny Rogers' wisdom has had that kind of effect on Mike Maroth and Nate Robertson. Maybe Bonderman finally found his slider for good. And even if Todd Jones eventually falters in the bullpen, might the Tigers have enough depth to compensate? (Such a question could also be asked of the rotation, by the way, with Jason Grilli and Roman Colon waiting for their chances.)
Okay, those questions can't be answered for certain until the season plays itself out. So I understand that some trepidation is justified. But the Tigers keep coming up with moments that make you wonder.
Look at what happened late in yesterday's game: In the 8th, Jamie Walker couldn't get Travis Hafner out when he needed to
, but Joel Zumaya came in for a big strikeout and eventually preserved a one-run lead. And in the 9th, Vance Wilson fielded Grady Sizemore's bunt
, and threw what looked like a sure error into the dirt near second base. Except Carlos Guillen did his best Plastic Man
routine, stretching to catch the ball on the hop and get the out.
Lucky? Maybe. On another day, those plays could've gone the other way. But they haven't been.(Photo by Robin Buckson/ Detroit News)
Labels: 2006 Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians