A Look Back on the Wonderful 162

In 2014, the usual narrative changed for Detroit. The waltz into the playoffs was no more. The players were traded and released and captured off waivers like no season before. The names changed, the heroes and goats shuffled by the week. The division ended in a fierce battle that lasted nearly two months.

And yet, the Tigers prevailed once again.

The build of Dave Dombrowski’s roster grew and learned from mistakes early in the year. The win-loss graph showing Detroit’s record throughout the season was a nausea-inducing roller-coaster ride, one that the players probably did not enjoy at points. Sure, there were plateaus (27-12 to start the season), but there were also valleys and trenches (losing 20 of 29). High points (David Price, JD Martinez acquisitions) and low (Anibal Sanchez injury, Joe Nathan collapse). Throughout it all, Detroit dealt with a new manager, zubaz that were undoubtedly cursed and an inability to close out games.

It was a lot of the old Detroit problems, just with a new goofball cast. The Joe Nathan saga was one many in Motown, including Nathan himself, would like to forget. August may have been a boo-tiful month in Detroit, but not for the closer or his itchy chin.

But the criticism has passed. The 162 games have been played, each one unknowingly crucial for Detroit, who needed all 162 to clinch their division for the fourth-straight year. And clinch they did. A hungry Baltimore is lurking in the shadows, but before the playoff talk crushes the last six months and the stat sheets are cleared, commendations are necessary. And in some cases, well-deserved.

The Super Martinez Bros.

Victor Martinez’s 2012 was far from a pretty one. His knee surgery knocked him out for the season, and fans wondered if the $50 million contract player sitting on the bench was worth it. Once he returned in 2013, his numbers were not pretty at first. By the end of June, Martinez hit a lowly .232 and lacked power in his swing. Again, disgruntled glances from his knee back to the front office returned. Was he really worth it?

Victor never responded to that question. After his 2014, he does not have to. Hitting .335 with 32 bombs and 103 RBIs batting behind Miguel Cabrera, Martinez was the dream in Detroit everyone hoped Prince Fielder would be. Martinez already knew how to draw walks, but the power numbers returned as he knew they would, and he had a career year just when the Tigers needed him the most. Statistically, Martinez was the best batter for Detroit in 2014. That means a lot for a team with Cabrera in the lineup.

It may have been an injustice to not mention a player as crucial to success in a season as J.D. Martinez. Coming from the Astros off waivers a month into the year, nobody knew or cared about Mr. Julio Daniel when he took his first swing as a Tiger. In September, nobody could forget.

Playing in only 123 games (some with only one plate appearance), Martinez hit 23 homers, 76 RBI’s and had a monstrous .315 average as a 27-year-old. Detroit knew they had someone to protect Cabrera in Victor Martinez. They had no idea someone as un-newsworthy as J.D. would protect Victor the entire year.

J.D. Martinez, from being known by his family to being loved by a city of 800,000 in four months, earns the MVP award for the team. The value of a player determines what you expect out of him. Nobody expected much out of J. D. Martinez.

What may surprise some not paying close attention is his unbelievable ability to hit in the clutch. In the ninth inning of games in 2014, Martinez hit eight home runs and 21 RBI’s. Batting in adversity seems to be his specialty. Detroit can only pray that it continues into October.

The Bullpen’s Best

Wait, Detroit’s bullpen has a best? There is a modicum of stellar in Comerica Park’s left field sewage?

Well… no. Nathan got better, but has pulled in cheers of relief, not confidence.

Joakim Soria battled injury and proved little with the Old English D on his shirt. So who could make this list for great bullpen work?

Enter Phil Coke. After a disastrous April and May, paramedics checked Coke for a pulse. It was faint, but there. Ausmus told Coke he might be going to a lovely little farm called “Toledo” where his childhood dog went.

Ever since, he has pitched good. Maybe even great.

In August and September, Coke only allowed six earned runs and held a 4-0 record. His ERA dropped consistently from July until game 162, and he posted a 2.35 in all of September. Since May, Coke has not had a monthly ERA over 3.00.

They are surprising, quiet numbers. Almost as if they get scared and will spike back up if you talk about them too much. But here we are. The fact that Coke may be the most consistent relief pitcher in Detroit can either be a relief or downright terrifying. Either way, it is fodder for Brad Ausmus to confidently put Coke in pressure situations. His saves allowed Detroit to reach the World Series in 2012. Oh, how he would love doing it again in two weeks.

To… Everyone.

Detroit’s roster has undergone a massive facelift in 2014. While a couple years ago Justin Verlander and Cabrera ruled the headlines, this season has been far from the norm.

Verlander has been average, and Cabrera and that pesky groin injury stopped another MVP run. Sure, they showed up at times, but it was really the daily heroes for Detroit who won them the division race.

A Rajai Davis walk-off grand slam. An Andrew Romine steal of second to put a man in scoring position. An Ian Kinsler two-RBI single in game 162 where a $200 million dollar offense was going quiet.

The stars of the show have shone dimly at times, brightly at others. But it was the combination of all the stars that have lit up the road for another division title for Detroit.

This time, there is no content with reaching the World Series. This time, Detroit goes all the way. They have read the narrative before, now it is their time to write it.

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