The story of the 2014 Detroit Tigers: Optimism could not trump reality

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Last November, many Detroit Tigers’ fans were in a state of despair.

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The team had just traded Doug Fister and Prince Fielder. They had let several free agents walk, including Joaquin Benoit, Jhonny Peralta, and Omar Infante. Detroit had named a new manager–a rookie manager nonetheless.

At the time, the season appeared to be over before it had even started. Pessimism ruled the day. How could this team win the World Series? They still had a ton of holes in the bullpen, the lineup seemed to be lacking pop, and the defense still appeared to be problematic.

Since its inclusion in the immortal baseball poem, “Casey at the Bat,” the phrase “hope springs eternal” (or as it is written in the poem “hope which springs eternal”) has been a common phrase for baseball fans to utter at the beginning of a long baseball season. That is what happened for most Tigers’ fans.

For hardcore fans, even in the midst of the perennial 100-loss seasons throughout the ’90’s and early ’00’s, hope did spring eternal and was usually snuffed out by the middle of April. So for those same fans, we told ourselves that we still had three great pitchers in the rotation, we had Miguel Cabrera, we had a huge payroll, and we had as great of a chance as anyone.

So the poor bullpen was relegated from “problematic” to ” having potential,” even when Bruce Rondon went down for the season. We knew they were a questionable unit, but hoped for the best.

It worked out for awhile. An early 27-12 record, a rookie manager that looked like a genius, the bullpen was treading water but the starting pitching and hitting were on fire through the first six weeks of the season.

And then reality set in.

The Tigers then went 9-20 and many of the flaws that we worried about in November, and then brushed aside in February with visions of October triumph dancing in our heads, emerged.

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  • There were good stretches (grabbing a 7.5-game divisional lead at the All-Star break). There were bad stretches (falling out of first place for three weeks in August-September). But one thing seemed certain: this was a deeply flawed team.

    They had to limp to the last day of the season to clinch their fourth straight divisional crown, struggling against the AL Central’s last place team.

    We knew they had flaws, but hope colored our eyes (I picked them to win it all). All you have to do is get in we said. The best team in the regular season rarely wins it all (which is true since the Royals swept the Angels in three quick games). They had played well in stretches and just needed to go at least 11-8 to finally win that elusive fifth World Championship–that was very doable.

    Alas it was not. This is the earliest the Tigers season has been over since 2010. Once again another team will celebrate a title while the Tigers’ window at worst slams shut or at best remains slightly open.

    The moral of the story for the 2014 Tigers is that we all should have trusted our instincts. This was not a championship-caliber team even if our desire for a championship-caliber team clouded our judgement. Thus, no one should have been surprised that they were ousted so unceremoniously.

    This will be an important offseason for the Tigers as they look to rebuild or retool on the fly. It will also be an important offseason for the fans, who were so quiet on Sunday afternoon, a funeral would have been livelier. Will pessimism melt away to hope or have we learned our lesson?

    Perhaps the Tigers will have a legitimately solid offseason and address holes that have been left to fester far too long and we can legitimately lose ourselves in hope come March.

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