The Tigers have been nearly perfect over the past two weeks, steamrolling over mediocre Central division foes on their way to a stunning 12 game win streak. They are 22-4 over their last 26 games dating back to August 19th, and their winning percentage of .747 since that date is emphatically better than that of every single other major league club. Over the aforementioned span, they have outscored opponents 166-92.
Before sweeping the Indians at home in mid-August, the Tigers held a slim division lead of 1.5 games. As I type this, they’ve padded their lead in the division to 13.5 games and pushed the White Sox and Indians to the brink of mathematical elimination. For all intents and purposes, the division race is over.
Before their almost month-long stretch of dominance, the Tigers were tied for fifth overall in the American League standings, and sat 10.5 games back of the league-leading Yankees. Now, they’re second in the American League, just 3.5 games back of the Yankees. Only the Phillies and their highly-touted starting rotation have a better record in the National League.
The Tigers’ confidence, and that of their fans, has undoubtedly not been higher for a very long time. There is talk, mostly on a national level, that Detroit may be peaking too early. Whether or not this is a legitimate fear I won’t get into. Even if the Tigers are swept out of the playoffs in the first round, though, this team will not be forgotten; their recent winning ways, and those of Justin Verlander, have made the 2011 Tigers historically significant.
The Tigers’ 12 consecutive wins is the most they’ve had since the 1934 team won 14 straight. That was 77 years ago. The ‘34 team included Tiger greats like Charlie Gehringer and Hank Greenberg (among others), and went as far as the seventh game of the World Series before being eliminated. Their current streak doesn’t yet come close to the major-league record 21-gamer the Chicago Cubs had in 1935, but it will certainly be remembered by Tigers fans. Hey, maybe 77 years from now, the Detroit faithful will compare a win streak to the one the Tigers are riding now and remark on how great it must have been to watch stars like Verlander and Miguel Cabrera.
The next significant number posted by the modern Tigers is their 38-19 record to date in the second half. If they keep up that pace, they would finish with eight or nine wins in their final 13 games. If we assume the low end, they would finish with a 46-24 second-half record. That’s a winning percentage of .657. The last time the Tigers finished with a better second-half winning percentage was 1944, when they posted a .684 by going 52-24. It’s been 67 years since the Tigers had a better second half than they’re having now. To fully understand the significance of that number probably takes an hour or so of sifting through the Tigers’ Franchise Encyclopedia on Baseball Reference, but if you’re reading this, I’m sure you are well aware that a good second half has eluded the Leyland-era Tigers. Until now, that is. We can finally, at least for a while, put away talk of the so-called second-half curse that has plagued this era of Tiger teams.
The historical impact of the team’s success, however, is probably nothing compared to the mark Verlander is leaving on history. Even if he doesn’t win the MVP award, his incredible season has stirred up so much debate, it isn’t likely to be forgotten. Tiger fans will remember this as Verlander’s breakout season, and hopefully the first of many more like it. Baseball fans across the country will remember it for the healthy debate and discussion it sparked, hopefully leading to the end of pitcher snubs like the one BBWAA voters handed to Pedro Martinez in 1999.
In short, even if the Tigers go nowhere in the playoffs, this team and it’s stars will be remembered for a very long time. If they do, how cool would it be to be able to relate the following years: 1935, 1945, 1968, 1984, and 2011. If the Tigers stay this hot, how many would bet against them?