Detroit Tigers: Thirst for Playoff Oasis a Mirage in the Desert

TOKYO, JAPAN - NOVEMBER 08: Pitcher Daniel Norris #44 of the Detroit Tigers throws in the bottom of 3rd inning during the exhibition game between Yomiuri Giants and the MLB All Stars at Tokyo Dome on November 8, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - NOVEMBER 08: Pitcher Daniel Norris #44 of the Detroit Tigers throws in the bottom of 3rd inning during the exhibition game between Yomiuri Giants and the MLB All Stars at Tokyo Dome on November 8, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Tigers are on a roll. Winners of three straight series, they’ve suddenly given their fans the looming sight for a playoff berth similar to a thirsty man in the desert longing for the lush oasis just a scant distance away.

The question for the Detroit Tigers and GM Al Avila…is the amazing vision in the distance really full of life-sustaining water or is it a shimmering mirage of false hope?

Detroit’s unexpected sweep of the Minnesota Twins over the weekend kept thoughts alive for the Tigers to catch the Toronto Blue Jays for the 8th and final seed in the American League playoffs. Detroit trails Toronto by merely 1.5 games with 28 games remaining.

The sweep comes at a time with the clock ticking for the MLB trade deadline on Monday afternoon at 4 pm Eastern. Avila has given lip service to the media about the calls he’s taken to gauge the market for his players who might be available. It really just boils down to a simple question of two. Do the Tigers value the 8th seed enough to chase it with gusto or do they stick with the long game a bit more and look to add young talent to their system?

It could have been a simple choice if the Twins had come into Detroit and taken care of their business. But the Tigers pitching was sturdy enough to limit the Twins to six runs in three games and suddenly Detroit had a commodity that’s been in short supply among its fans for a few years…hope.

Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire says he was laughed at when he said he wanted to contend this year. It wasn’t a crazy idea once the playoffs were expanded to eight teams. Gardenhire had the Tigers close to .500 near the halfway point in 2018. If that woeful bunch could play break-even baseball then it wasn’t an outlandish thought this club could do it for 60 games.

Now with the countdown on and other teams moving players, the Tigers must decide their course. Assuming there are decent offers to be had will Avila, on the surface, short circuit his club’s playoff chase, or will he agree with growing fan sentiment to allow this collection of players to take their best shot at September glory?

There are reasons to go for it. A playoff run could juice fan interest moving into 2021 when it’s hoped crowds can return to Comerica Park and more young talent could be arriving from the Tigers farm system.

Tigers radio announcer Dan Dickerson opined during Sunday’s victory about how playing meaningful games in September could be instrumental in helping the club’s youngsters along in subsequent years. While it’s easy to see the point, it’s also a fact the Twins themselves went from deep also ran to division champs just last year. This year the White Sox are currently leading the division despite a poor finish in ‘19.  It would seem it’s more about having the true talent on hand to contend rather than having to give some experience to a group not be ready for prime time. The experience Dickerson hopes the Tigers gain could be completely ended by a short losing streak in the next week.

It is quite the dichotomy to see the names around MLB getting most bandied about as potential impact trade targets and realize the Tigers players are rarely if ever, mentioned. Yet the Tigers fans, seeking that elusive playoff oasis, are starting to mainly be of the mind the Tigers should hold their current talent. It probably says something about the talents Detroit would hold. If they can be spun for young players it might the most value they ever provide the Tigers.

Winning is fun. Competing for a flag to fly is the best part of being a part of a baseball team. If the Tigers hold their talent and attempt to make a run, it’s understandable. We’ll all enjoy it for however long it lasts.

But there is an opportunity cost attached. If they pass on any deals that could yield a long term position player or two there will be a void felt if this September ‘20 run comes up empty. This Tigers team has been spunky. There is some talent on board. Casey Mize  Tarik Skubal and Isaac Paredes have arrived and given the team a glimpse at what could be in time. Others will come in due course.

Detroit, from this view, should look to sell. If a club will match Avila’s demands for Daniel Norris, Johnathon Schoop, Austin Romine, Spencer Turnbull, Gregory Soto, or a handful of others…he ought to go for it and add young talent at positions he needs moving forward.

Simply put, this team isn’t good enough yet. Hoping for a run of good cards at the blackjack table to beat the house and spark a miracle playoff push isn’t the move right now.

The flip side is, Avila won’t move all that many players. There really is no reason the Tigers couldn’t move one or two players and still find ways to hover near .500 which is all it may take to capture the 8th seed anyway. That’s very possible.

If the Tigers could find the playoff oasis and still execute a couple of moves designed with the long game in mind, then 2020 could be remembered as the year they started the long road back to respectability. Pushing the “sell” button should be Avila’s move in any case.