The Detroit Tigers had a great season again in 2013, winning their third straight division title and heading to the ALCS for a third consecutive season, but it was still a very frustrating season at times.
With the win now mindset set by the franchise the last couple of years, failing to get back to the World Series was, of course, the ultimate frustration for the season. However, does anyone remember the most frustrating moment of the 2013 regular season? It may have been on Friday, Aug. 16 when the Tigers played the Kansas City Royals in a day-night doubleheader at Comerica Park.
In that pair of games, the Royals held the Tigers to one run and six hits. Despite only scoring five runs themselves, Kansas City swept the doubleheader.
I mentioned in our staff roundtable last Friday that I think the Royals are the team that will challenge the Tigers in the American League Central in 2014. With all due respect to the pesky Indians, who finished one-game behind the Tigers in 2013, the Royals have been getting better every single year, but have been unable to put it all together.
They still have good speed on the base pads, good defense, now boast improved hitting (adding Omar Infante helps) which better fits their ballpark (they’ve been an awful home team over the years), and a terrific bullpen. The Royals were the kind of team that gave the Tigers fits a year ago. Though the Tigers would ultimately win that series (the only two games KC would win in that series was on Friday), it always seemed like if the Tigers’ bats weren’t hitting the Royals’ weak link, their starting pitching, by the fourth or fifth inning, any small lead KC has built would hold up.
I hated watching Royals-Tigers games because it seemed like the Detroit starters would have a decent outing, but make a mistake and walk or hit a guy. He’d immediately move up to second on a stolen base, and be driven in by a base hit. In other words, the Royals small-balled the Tigers to death.
Though the season series ended up being close (10 to 9 in favor of Kansas City), the games the Tigers won were often offensive games (7-5 on Apr. 24, 16-2 on Sept. 6 for examples) and the games the Tigers lost were mostly low scoring. The Royals held the Tigers scoreless in three games, including two 1-0 losses. There were also a pair of 3-2 losses and a 2-1 loss.
Kansas City represented a style of play that Detroit stuggled with in 2013. A team that had pitching that could silence an inconsistent lineup, speed on the bases, solid defense and timely hitting. It was the same thing with the Miami Marlins (losses of 3-2, 2-1 and 1-0, including a no-hitter in the regular season finale) and the Pittsburgh Pirates (a pair of 1-0 losses and a 5-3 loss).
These mismatches may have been one of the concerns the Tigers had in the off-season. With the hiring of Brad Ausmus, a manager who figures to command a team that will be more active on the bases, better on defense, and less reliant on a three-run home run, the Tigers will matchup better against teams like the Marlins, Pirates and Royals. It is also no coincidence that that is how you win games in the postseason when the reliance on the three-run homer wanes.
While the Marlins are not on the 2013 schedule, the Tigers play the Pirates four times and the Royals the customary 19 games.
So while we may see even more tight games with the Royals, fans may not be as willing to give up in the fifth inning when the offense clearly is having an off-night and are trailing by one or two runs because they’ll know their offense can use speed and small ball to get back in the game.