Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 4, 2012

Mike Eckert: Tigers' ride needs to end with title

BY MIKE ECKERT, Sports writer

---- — When the Detroit Tigers clinched their second straight Central Division title on Monday, radio broadcaster Dan Dickerson called it the end of a "roller-coaster ride of a regular season."

Indeed, what a ride.

Tiger-mania couldn't have been higher to start the season with a loaded roster and high expectations. But it took months for the team to realize that potential.

Detroit spent much of the first half of the season under .500 and took way too long to knock off the Chicago White Sox for the division title. But drama makes it interesting, right?

The case could even be made that the Tigers' Central crown has less to do with them and more to do with the White Sox's meltdown — winners of just 11 games in September. Either way, Detroit is the one going to the playoffs.

Detroit struggled early on with consistency at second base and at the corner outfield positions. Don't forget, Brandon Inge was on the opening-day roster as a second baseman. And Tigers fans suffered through more Ryan Raburn than necessary.

But, things came together. Acquiring Omar Infante patched up the glaring void at second base. The starting pitching got strong and the bullpen stabilized. The offense became productive behind Miguel Cabrera's Triple Crown campaign.

For the last few weeks, the Tigers have played like the team everyone envisioned at the start. They won when they needed to and got themselves back into the playoffs.

Now, it has to continue.

If this season truly has been a roller-coaster ride, then a dip is sure to be around the corner. But, that can't happen again.

Team owner Mike Ilitch sent the message when he signed Prince Fielder to a monster contract that he wants to win. And win now.

In previous years, perhaps making the playoffs was a big enough accomplishment. Last year, beating the Yankees and playing Texas for a spot in the World Series seemed like icing on the cake for a good season.

Same thing in 2006, where a poor showing in the World Series didn't really diminish Detroit's arrival back into baseball relevancy.

This is different, though.

Show me another team in the playoffs with a clear advantage over the Tigers. There isn't a dominant team in the game this year, and on paper, Detroit looks just as good as everyone else.

Nobody has a 1-2 punch as good as Cabrera and Fielder. And nobody else in the playoffs has the reigning MVP or Cy Young winner like the Tigers do in Justin Verlander.

In recent years, it seems like the hot team entering the playoffs rides it to the World Series title. It's hard to find another team with more fire behind them than the Tigers right now.

So this has to be Detroit's year. Anything less should be considered a short-coming. The Tigers deserve to have those kinds of lofty expectations, and should be good enough to live up to them.

After all of the ups and downs of 2012, picture Ilitch hoisting the World Series championship at the end of the month.

That would truly be the way to finish this roller-coaster ride of a season.