Three Weeks to Live: A Tigers Tale

The American League Central has been baseball’s easiest waltz into October for years now – over three years, to be exact.

Slightly above average has been the barometer for success in the Central, and when it comes to mediocrity, the Tigers have reigned supreme.

This year is different. This year, Detroit needs to rise above the adequacy of the baseball midwest and prove they can compete for months with a team that has the drive to win.

However, is mediocrity exactly what is sinking Detroit’s chances of a World Series? What team has climbed the ranks of the average to sit the throne of the A.L. Central?

Kansas City has been the thorn in the Tiger’s paw since the All-Star break. Their chemistry for success has been the near polar opposite of Detroit’s. Contact hitting, good fielding and great relief out of the bullpen. They lead in almost zero statistical categories as a team. In fact, they rank middle-of-the-road. However, these attributions to their team, along with timely hitting, has given the Royals a chance to win almost every game they play.

Much to the Motor City’s dismay, they have.

It is a frustrating combination. Detroit’s near desperation for a World Series has been highlighted by Dombrowski running out of ink signing one-year contracts. Payroll and cap space has not even been a discussion for the general manager.

If the front office feels they need a seven-plus ERA reliever named Jim Johnson, Dombrowski’s sending a call and an airliner to Oakland that night. The jigsaw-esque method of piecing together a team looks fancy and gets Detroit headlines, but entering September Detroit finds themselves with no significant gain on the Royals.

Take a look at Kansas City’s league ranks. Overall runs scored? They rank 17th in the MLB. Combined home runs as a team? Dead last. Well, how about on base percentage? Maybe they work the count and draw walks? Not exactly, they rank 22nd overall and last in the division in that respect. Detroit graces the top of the MLB in that category.

How can a team so maddeningly average at the plate dominate teams like the Oakland Athletics and take 19 of their first 25 games in August?

Their secret may make Detroit fans sick: relief pitching. Post All-Star break, Kansas City ranks fourth in the MLB in reliever ERA (3.02) and first overall in saves (20).

Kansas City’s closer Greg Holland has 42 saves and two blown saves in 2014. Detroit’s closer Joe Nathan has 29 saves and six blown saves in 2014. Nathan matched Holland’s blown save total in 2014 on April 9.

Detroit has sang this song before. It has walked the fine line between average and postseason in the A.L. Central for years.

September 2014 is when that changes.

Detroit has three weeks to avoid the disastrous one-game playoff in the wild card. Five games remain between the Tigers and the Royals. Currently, Kansas City holds a one-game lead.

Dombrowski, along with every other Tigers fan, is sprouting fresh gray hairs trying to understand what makes Kansas City such a dangerous team, such a lucky team. If he has not figured it out yet, he might need to soon.

Detroit is running on life support in the final weeks of September, and those five games will decide whether Miguel Cabrera is hitting a baseball or a golf ball in October.

Richie Cozzolino is co-host of Tiger Talk for Impact Sports.