8/9/2013 12:38 P.M. ET
It's World Series or bust for talented Tigers
Individual awards are nice, but squad will be judged by October success
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
Hey, look at these Detroit Tigers. Isn't this just what we expected from them? Talented. Tough-minded. Resilient.
The Tigers have won 16 of 17, including 12 in a row, completely blown open the American League Central, running their lead from 1 1/2 games to seven in a span of 18 days and outscoring the opposition, 100-36, during that span.
And guess what? It doesn't matter, at least not in any larger sense. These Tigers will be judged by how much they win in October. That's their measuring stick. You won't hear them complaining about this.
This is one of those windows franchises sometimes have when the stars and moons are aligned. The Tigers are having a great season. They're entertaining to watch. In a summer in which Detroit could use some good news, the Tigers are doing their part.
Still, it's all about October. Is that fair? Sure, it is.
It's the price for having a club with talent and depth and experience, a club with one of the game's great managers in Jim Leyland and a general manager in Dave Dombrowski who is one of the gold standards for every other.
Detroit has arguably the best rotation in the game, led by 17-1 Max Scherzer The Tigers have the game's best offensive player in third baseman Miguel Cabrera , and a five-time All-Star in first baseman Prince Fielder.
Since Joaquin Benoit slipped comfortably into the closer's role -- converting 10 straight saves and allowing one earned run in 16 appearances -- Detroit is a team without a weakness.
Or so it seems.
Again, though, it's about October.
So here's why this October might be different than last October. And lest we forget, last October wasn't too bad.
The Tigers went a long time before hitting their stride last season. They didn't clear .500 for good until the 85th game of the season and finally climbed alone atop the AL Central to stay in the 155th.
Later, they would say nothing had come easy. They wouldn't say that it was the burden of expectations, not exactly. At least not that they knew. Sometimes, stuff happens.
The 2012 Tigers never played the way they should they should have played. But they persevered and fought through tough times and ended up where they were supposed to be.
The Tigers got by the A's in a thrilling AL Division Series that went the full five games. Then they swept the Yankees in the AL Championship Series for their 11th pennant.
That's no small thing. October baseball in Detroit is a spectacular thing. Cool weather. Packed ballpark. And history.
Every great thing the Tigers do is somehow connected to the past, to Al Kaline or Hank Greenberg. To Denny McClain and 1968. To Sparky Anderson and his "Bless You Boys" in '84.
So the Tigers had plenty of cool moments, and while getting swept out of the World Series by the Giants and watching another team celebrate a championship on the field at Comerica Park was a tough way to end it, they'd had a terrific season.
Fast forward to 2013.
Again, a similar beginning. Yes, those high expectations. As usual, Dombrowski tweaked his roster by adding 37-year-old outfielder Torii Hunter.
Hunter gave the Tigers experience, leadership and a vocal presence in the clubhouse. Oh, by the way, he's hitting .310 and just made his fifth All-Star team.
Detroit also got Victor Martinez back from a knee injury that sidelined him for 2012, and with those two in a lineup that already had Cabrera and Fielder, there was offensive firepower almost from top to bottom.
Still, it all begins with starting pitching, and the Tigers might have the best in the game. During this 16-1 run, Detroit's starters have gone 13-1 with a 1.83 ERA, allowing more than two runs just twice.
This rotation is a tribute to Dombrowski, who did it the old-fashioned baseball way. He put it together a piece at a time, trading here, trading there.
Justin Verlander (12-8, 3.74) was the crown jewel of the Tigers' farm system, a 2004 first-round Draft pick who was critical in Dombrowski's construction of the franchise. Right-hander Rick Porcello (8-6, 4.28) was an '07 first-round pick who made his Major League debut at 20 in '09.
Otherwise, Dombrowski rolled up his sleeves and went to work. He doesn't just make trades. He makes big ones, bold ones.
Dombrowski got Scherzer from the D-backs in a three-team, seven-player deal in 2009. And then Doug Fister (10-5, 3.50) came from the Mariners in '11 as part of a six-player deal. Finally, Dombrowski put the finishing piece in place last summer by getting Anibal Sanchez (9-7, 2.58) from the Marlins in a five-player swap.
Detroit's rotation leads the AL in victories, ERA, innings and strikeouts. Scherzer is second in the AL in strikeouts, followed closely by Verlander (sixth) and Sanchez (11th).
Those starters are a lot like their manager, Leyland. That is, relentless and workmanlike. Having managed 3,450 games over 22 seasons, he long ago learned to roll with the punches.
Is this a special team? It could be. On the other hand, the Pirates, Braves, Dodgers and Rays think it might be their year, too. Parity rules.
Meanwhile, Cabrera (33 home runs, 105 RBIs) seems headed for a second straight AL Most Valuable Player Award and Scherzer can begin clearing shelf space for an AL Cy Young Award.
But the Tigers are all about October. It's the month that will define them.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.