After the excruciating 2008 season, all 88 losses of it, one can forgive Tigers fans for being a bit paranoid. That club was destined for World Series glory (Remember the Sports Illustrated Baseball Preview from that year? “This is going to be one of the most dominant offenses that any team has fielded in 10 years.”)
This year’s Tigers club never seriously flirted with or took up residence in the A.L. Central basement like that ’08 team but, as the season dragged on, fans grew increasingly anxious over infuriating underachievement that stretched from late April into July, but lingered for much longer.
The Tigers opened the season at home with a three-game sweep of the Red Sox. Then, they took three of four from the Rays. Before we knew it, the Tigers were 9-3 and off to the races.
Except not at all.
After that strong start, they crawled to the end of April with a 2-8 stretch and finished the month 11-11. May was worse, with a series of win-one, lose-one-or-two stretches, and a 13-16 record, putting the Tigers three games under .500 and five games out of first place. In fact, the Tigers were an even 18-18 on May 15 but wouldn’t return to .500 until July 6 when they beat the Royals 4-2. At that point they were 42-42 and in the middle of a five-game winning streak that took them into the All-Star Break.
Meanwhile, Tigers fans waited for the White Sox to fade and make room for Detroit atop the division. But that didn’t happen … for a long time.
In July, the Tigers continued to pile up wins, finishing the month 16-10. But except for five days when they were anywhere from tied for the division lead to, art most, a game-and-a-half up on Chicago, they seemed to be treading water.
August featured some mystifying streaks and series losses. A sweep of the Indians, a split with the Yankees, winning five of six over the Blue Jays and Angels and then getting swept by the Royals. And not for a day in August did the Tigers move into first place. They finished the month 16-12.
Things changed in September. Detroit swept the White Sox in a three-game series that began on Aug. 31, and moved into a tie for first place. But the next day they lost to the Indians, falling a game back. The Tigers were as many as three games back on Sept. 10 and and again on Sept. 18, the latter after a crushing 5-4 loss to the White Sox in a makeup game.
About that same time, though, the White Sox began a swoon that allowed the Tigers to gain ground and eventually overtake Chicago on Sept. 26 – with just seven games to play. Detroit went 5-2 and built a three-game lead on Sept. 30. The next night, in Kansas City, the Tigers clinched the division title.
Reliving the 2012 season today is no more enjoyable than it was watching it unfold the first time: The inexplicable record against the Indians. The one-run losses. Delmon Young.
So, the Tigers winning the Central turned out to be less a coronation and more a war of attrition with the White Sox – and themselves. And the fans, well, if I may speak on their behalf, would much prefer the Tigers’ 2011 division title and its 15-game cushion to the 2012 ulcer-inducing variety.
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