Detroit is not a city accustomed to championship success. Well, we’re not Cleveland, but then again we’re not New York either.
So, when the Detroit baseball team advances to the post-season in consecutive seasons, it’s a big deal. How big? The last time it happened, FDR was President and Iran wasn’t even a country (they called it Persia). It was 1935 – when beer was first sold in cans and Parker Brothers released a new board game called Monopoly.
Mike Ilitch probably did pretty good at Monopoly – he at least did well in the real-life version of it – and now he has a little mini-dynasty. His Tigers have made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, something no owner of the franchise has done since Frank Navin back in the dark days of the Great Depression. Over the last seven seasons, the Tigs have been to the playoffs three times, including two first round victories over the New York Yankees and a pennant in 2006.
Whether the Tigers can deliver an 11th American League Championship remains to be seen. Baseball now has a more complicated, drawn-out path to the Fall Classic, and the best team doesn’t always hoist the trophy. “Best team” isn’t something the Tigers have been described as since spring training anyway. The 2012 season has been a frustrating, two steps forward, three steps back ordeal, that at times has tested even the most ardent Bengal faithful.
But after their win over the Kansas City Royals on Monday evening, the Tigers have risen to the top of the admittedly mediocre group of teams that baseball calls the AL Central. It’s their fifth division crown, and their second AL Central title in a row. Since 2007, four teams have won the AL Central (Detroit and Minnesota twice, and Chicago and Cleveland once apiece). But after hurdling the White Sox to capture the title this season, the Tigers have established that they are the best team of the lot – the team to beat in flyover country in the AL.
The Tigers have the best pitcher and the best hitter in the division, hands down, and possibly in all of baseball. Justin Verlander followed up his MVP season of 2011 by winning 17 more games (despite receiving one run less per game support), leading the league in strikeouts, and finishing second in ERA. Miguel Cabrera is toying with the Triple Crown this season like a tabby with catnip. His 44th homer on Monday puts him alone at the top of all three categories.
Those two superstars give Detroit as good a chance as any team to survive the American Idol-like tournament that is MLB’s playoffs. Even if they don’t get the team’s first World Series title in 28 seasons (and the first for Ilitch), this group of Tigers have a nice chance to get back to the post-season again in 2013.
Three years straight? That hasn’t happened since 1909, when Tyrus Raymond Cobb was roaming the outfield in Detroit.