Playoff Bound? Don't Bet On It

In 2006, the Tigers rolled through the first three quarters of the season, before having to rebound after a disastrous month long stretch to secure a playoff berth. The 2007 Tigers saw that same slide come earlier, and now with two weeks remaining, are the Tigers poised to make a run, or wondering what could have been?

Just two weeks left, and if the playoffs started today, the Tigers would be on the outside looking in, trailing the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central and the New York Yankees in the wild card race.

Fresh off a sweep of the Minnesota Twins, the Tigers have momentum at their backs, but this time around, the Tigers can't just say "win and they're in" – they're going to need help. And that means either the Indians or the Yankees stumbling against inferior competition.

Bottom line, even if the Tigers go on an incredible run over the final two weeks, without a slip up from one of the aforementioned teams, the Tigers will be heading home come October 1st.

Should the Tigers fall short, what will the root cause be? There's no one culprit, and sometimes, baseball has a funny way of working out.

In '06, the Tigers limped into the playoffs after losing the division lead they held for months on the final day of the season, and were counted out by every baseball pundit. Then the Tigers took game two in New York, returned home to Detroit and a pair of dominating pitching performances moved the Tigers past the Yanks and into the ALCS.

Much like their previous round, the Tigers were expected to be overmatched by the surging Oakland A's, whose time had finally come to those same pundits. Instead, the Tigers swept the A's; with an explanation point three-run, walk-off home run by Magglio Ordonez.

Enter the Tigers into the World Series against a St. Louis Cardinals team that made the playoffs only because of the relative mediocrity of their division, finishing the regular season a pedestrian 83-79. The Tigers were heavy favorites, seemingly having the advantage in every facet of the game.

But what happened? The Tigers were ultimately knocked out in five games because of the inability of their pitchers to complete a simple throw to first base.

Were the Tigers worthy of being World Series champs? Of course. What happened? A problem emerged that no one even thought to consider, a part of the game so miniscule many games will pass without it ever being

Are the Tigers a playoff-caliber team in 2007? Absolutely. They possess one of the best line-ups in baseball. They have arguably the best stable of young arms of any other team in the majors. They have an ace who pitched 23 scoreless innings last October. Their Cy Young contender tossed a no hitter earlier this summer.

But when October 1 rolls around, odds are the Tigers won't be preparing to defend their American League crown. Why? Not because of waiting too long to make a pitching substitution, a hit-and-run gone wrong, or an inability to get a runner home from third with less than two out.

It will have come down to the Tigers using a dozen different starting pitchers due to injuries; a freak ligament injury to their flamethrowing setup man; a streaky designated hitter that couldn't hit the broad side of a barn in April, and then couldn't stay healthy after the All Star break; or a left fielder that spent years earning a reputation for being remarkably consistent only to see the bottom fall out in '07.

But hey, that's baseball. And there's always next year.

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