By Christopher Heun
The original title for this post was The Tigers Aren’t That Good, but that would be inaccurate. They are a good team, just not as good as their record.
As impressive as their 35-15 mark on Memorial Day may be, they very well could miss the playoffs. Like the 2005 O’s, their schedule for April and May was easy; only five wins came against teams with a winning record on May 29. They’ve won all of their eight games against Kansas City (14-41) but lost all three versus Chicago (34-22). (They split two games in Baltimore last month.)
Last week the Tigers started a stretch of 13 consecutive games against the Yankees, Red Sox, White Sox and Blue Jays. They lost five of the first seven heading into Tuesday night's game at Chicago.
As well as they’ve played the first two months, Detroit hasn’t run away with the AL Central. With a slim 2.5 game lead over the White Sox heading into their series tonight, the Tigers could slip to second place by next week. If they don’t win their division, they’ll have to win more games than the likely runner-up in the East, Boston or New York, to keep playing in October. What are the chances of that?
Manager Jim Leyland did his best to put his spin on losing before it even happened, like a politician on the Sunday morning chat shows, when he said this to Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated before Memorial Day:
“I disagree with the people who say, ‘Now we’ll find out if they’re for real.’ We’re for real. Are we going to keep up with this torrid pace? No. People will think it’s because of the teams we play. No. We can’t keep up this torrid pace no matter who we play. But we’re legit. We’re not some fluke team.”
Memo to Jim Leyland: nice try, but you’re losing because you’re playing winning teams for a change. Of course, they’re also losing partly because Shelton, who had nine homers by April 17, has only hit two since and managed just three extra base hits in 64 at bats since May 14. (Against New York and Boston pitching he was hitless in 17 ABs). And the starting rotation, often cited as the team’s strength, endured its first injury Friday when Mike Maroth underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove bone chips in his left elbow. The Yankees bombed his replacement, Roman Colon.
The Yankees are another story. Despite running triage in their locker room, they keep winning. First Hideki Matsui is lost to injury, then Gary Sheffield. That doesn’t even count Carl Pavano, who hasn’t even played in a game yet this year, and Shawn Chacon, who will likely come off the 15-day DL later this week.
I’m tired of hearing how every contending team faces a test whenever it plays the Yankees. Crank up the hype machine, the team from the Bronx is in town. Why shouldn’t it have been the other way around, particularly for their series in Detroit, given that the Yankees opened with a lesser record, hobbled by injuries to Matsui; Sheffield, who missed three of the four games; and Johnny Damon and Derek Jeter, who both missed two (although replacing Jeter at short is a blessing in disguise, since he is truly below average defensively, one of the worst fielding shortstops in the game, as Baseball Musings proves.
Regardless, the Yankees came within two outs of a sweep, which should tell us something about their depth. Melky Cabrera has been hitting like Miguel Cabrera and Andy Phillips has turned heads too.