Three Up, Three Down: Tigers’ 2014 is Done

Chris Tillman’s first inning started with three strikeouts in Game 1 to a standing ovation. Tillman was on the field two games later, jumping and celebrating to a standing, shocked Detroit.

A sweep. Baltimore over Detroit. Three games to zilch. Barely enough time to order a Detroit postseason shirt before it was over. A Vegas favorite in April tripped up and fell over the orange and black leaves in October….or were those feathers?

The Baltimore Orioles — Nelson Cruz, Buck Showalter and all are headed to the ALCS. The AL East has not been kind to the Tigers in the past two years. Rightfully so, Baltimore earned a spot in the American League’s final two. They outperformed Detroit in every aspect of the game, even where Detroit has reigned for years.

Detroit’s pride rested on its starting pitching. Justin Verlander, David Price and Max Scherzer have all won AL Cy Young awards in their careers. 2011, 2012, and 2013 were the golden years for pitching, and in those years Detroit was supreme. The Tigers fielded all three hardware-laced men in the postseason. All three gave up at least two runs, and all three left the mound to a no-decision or a loss.

Does Verlander deserve criticism for only pitching 5 ⅓ innings with a shaky bullpen? Should Price be blamed for one bad pitch that led to a loss? Is Max really responsible for five earned runs credited to his name?

Of course not. The real loss lies with the bullpen. As it has all year. As it has since 2010. As it has been a trademark of a team unwilling or unprepared for a lengthy postseason stay, whether Dombrowski can buy his way out of it or not.

If 2014 has been “The Year of…” anything, it can be called “The Year where Money Does Not Buy Championships.” Go ahead, put that on a t-shirt. New York and Boston never had a real chance at the postseason behind Derek Jeter gifts and tears obstructing their view. Oakland and Billy Beane acquired players then dropped them like it was a $30 million game of hot potato. I’m relatively sure Philadelphia did not win a game this year. Detroit was…well…Detroit.

The dust settled, and teams ranked 15th in payroll (Baltimore) and 19th (Kansas City) will play for the honor of representing the American League in the World Series.

Detroit paid their first four hitters in their lineup approximately $64 million in 2014. Those four men, Ian Kinsler, Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez went a combined 1-for-15 in Game 3. The singular hit came in the ninth inning, the last at-bat of the season for all four.

Kinsler completed his postseason with a lovely 1-for-12. One hit. That equaled Hernan Perez’s hit total for all of 2014.

Yes, that is correct. Hernan Perez, the pinch hitter Detroit used in the ALDS elimination game, bottom of the ninth, walked up to the plate with one hit in all of 2014.

He walked back to the dugout with one, too.

There is a point in the offseason to scold Brad Ausmus for his questionable decisions in the bullpen, but did anyone expect anything more? He is a new manager. Young, inexperienced on a team where some players have more managerial experience than the skip.

Ron Gardenhire is enjoying his retirement, but if Dombrowski has sense he might be giving the ex-Twin a ring. Detroit may lose some sex appeal in the chiseled chin of Ausmus, but they will gain some sorely needed postseason experience. I think they can afford it.

Analysts told Detroit they would need 90 wins to get to the postseason. Apparently nobody told them they needed to win a couple more after that. Baltimore outhustled, outplayed Detroit. They cared more. Detroit was relieved when they escaped a jam or won a game against a lowly team like Baltimore because, hey, that is what they were expected to do.

Baltimore had nothing to lose and everything to gain. They gained it all, and they earned every win.

2014 certainly was not orthodox, but it also was not boring.

It is said everyone loves an underdog. Everyone is about to be divided, because this year the MLB has two.

Richie Cozzolino is the host of Tiger Talk for Impact Sports