Of course, it is looking a great deal like 2007…
2008, of course is the modern benchmark for a flop with high expectations. That team that – despite the high payroll and the offseason acquisitions – won only 74 games and finished last in the AL Central. These so far disappointing 2012 Tigers have won 78 games already – which makes them a clear head and shoulders above the 2008 squad. But… they are still three games out of first place in the division with only 15 to play and praying that the White Sox start to lose some games. Even if the Tigers go 10-5 from here on out the odds of winning the division with 88 are not in their favor (a 7-8 record down the stretch for Chicago would still force a tiebreaker). That 88 win mark? That’s what the 2007 Tigers finished with after winning 95 – and making their first World Series in more than 20 years – in 2006.
2007 WAS a disappointment and it wasn’t really a down to the wire finish either, but as a fan you still felt like there was a good team out there that just didn’t get the breaks it needed. When October rolled around and it was Cleveland (Cleveland???) in the playoffs, you felt like “we’ll get ‘em next year” as opposed to “somebody’s got to fix this train wreck”. Because despite the finish, a lot of things did go well for the Tigers in 2007. Justin Verlander won 18 games and threw 200 innings in his second full season. Magglio Ordonez, Placido Polanco and Curtis Granderson had career years. Offseason acquisition Gary Sheffield didn’t contend for the MVP, but he was pretty productive at DH. The team won only 88 despite massive talent because of a bunch of guys that had down years: Jeremy Bonderman and NatE. Robertson, Todd Jones and Fernando Rodney. Craig Monroe and Brandon Inge. Carlos Guillen was still good with the bat, but wasn’t his old self at short. 2006 heroes Joel Zumaya and Kenny Rogers got hurt and didn’t contribute much.
This year? Disappointing seasons abound – but in contrast to 2007 it’s mostly position players and relievers, the rotation has been an all around strength. Despite that we have also seen great seasons from a number of guys. Cabrera, of course, with his first 40 home run season. Austin Jackson and Andy Dirks have greatly outperformed expectations as, you could say, have Max Scherzer and Doug Fister. Even if the Tigers come up short – we do have reasons to see this season in a positive light and have optimism for 2013.
Of course – we all know how our optimism for 2008 turned out, right? We tricked ourselves into believing that the guys who had career years would repeat and the guys who didn’t would rebound. As it turned out, the guys with career years regressed to the mean but the guys with “down years” were in terminal decline. Guillen’s bat started to go the year after his glove went. Rodney and Jones were even worse in 2008. Zumaya emphatically did not get healthy. NatE. Robertson and Jeremy Bonderman never regained their 2006 form. Three of the four big offseason acquisitions (Jacque Jones, Edgar Renteria & Dontrelle Willis) flopped as hard as one can flop. We’ll certainly hope that isn’t a cyclical pattern.