In a nutshell that’s what can probably be looked to be the down fall of the Detroit Tigers in lieu of their ALCS loss to Texas.
Yes, Texas won in only six games, and yes the last one was a torrential downpour of runs in Game Six, but you have to look at it beyond that.
I’m not blaming the loss on anyone, injuries included, but if certain players were healthy it certainly would have made a difference. The Tigers were dealt a large medical bill in a season in which they were tabbed as a middle of the pack AL Central team that would sit at home and watch the Twins and White Sox duke it out for division prowess.
The first domino fell July 24th 2010 when in one painful game the Tigers not only lost the game, but also lost Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen to ankle and calf injuries respectively. Both missed significant time and neither seemed to be themselves to start the season, seeing as Ordonez got off to a slow start with the ankle still nagging him and Guillen did not return until July 16th.
Then it got worse than a Matt-Millen-run-football team as Brennan Boesch went down with a thumb injury the second week of August and was relocated to cheerleader duty while nursing the thumb. Guillen went down four days later with a wrist injury and prompted the acquisition of soon-to-be-playoff-hero Delmon Young from the rival Twins the very next day. Alex Avila was breaking down behind the plate after a full season and showed that in the postseason with 2 hits in 25 at bats in October. According to Avila he has tendinitis and had a sprained knee in July. He officially wins the tough guy of the year award for playing through that at an All-Star pace. Imagine what he could do at 100 percent.
The playoffs brought a sense of hope to Detroit, but with them they brought long hours for Tigers head trainer Kevin Rand. Delmon Young made some history by becoming the fourth Tiger to hit two homers in one postseason game joining good company in Alan Trammell, Kirk Gibson and Ordonez. Overall Young had 5 bombs in postseason play for the Tigers and made the case for the ALDS MVP if there was such an award. But in the series winning Game 5 victory over the Yankees he went down with a strained oblique and left the game. The ALCS rolled along without Young on the Tigers active roster. Young was added back to the roster after Ordonez’s ankle flared up in one of the lengthy rain delays in Game One. And it was revealed that he had fractured the same ankle as on that dreaded day in the last week of July in 2010.
The Phantom of the Oblique returned in the ALCS with another one of Detroit’s premier middle-of-the-order-bats, Victor Martinez. Oddly enough Martinez sustained his injury on a homerun swing. Yes, that’s right he injured himself on a homerun. Generally oblique strains occur on off-balance swing and misses. While it was a peculiar injury it still affected the Tigers.
On the pitching side the Tigers sorely needed a shutdown relief pitcher, one who could come in with runners on base and get the big strikeout, or the big out to finish off the inning. A devoted Tigers fan will give you the name of relief pitcher Joel Zumaya, who didn’t pitch at all this year because of elbow problems. The Tigers seemed to find an apt replacement if there is one in reliever Al Alburquerque. The king of alliterations (hopefully that catches on, if not oh well) had a 1.87 ERA in 43.1 innings pitched and gave up only 9 runs on the year. Yep, that’s not a typo, he can count the number of runs he gave up on two hands, pretty amazing. He also put up a 13.9 strikeout to walk ratio — a very, very impressive number for a rookie. Alburquerque’s season was altered by a concussion that he sustained in batting practice in a game against Baltimore. This isn’t the wretched game against the Orioles as preluded to in the title, but it was that game for Alburquerque. After the injury and a stint on the 7-Day Disabled list he struggled with his pitching, the lowlight being a grand slam given up to one Robinson Cano in the ALDS. For some reason this keeps popping up again despite the Yankees being out of the playoffs for some time now, weird. I thought there was no East Coast bias….
Now to that terrible, terrible game in Baltimore.At the time I thought of it as one loss in a highly successful season, nothing more nothing less. I thought that with a number of games left Texas would lose at least once and we would pull even again. But alas I was wrong, and Texas ran the gauntlet and won home field advantage in the first round and the second seed. Meaning they would host Detroit if the Tigers beat the Yankees. I knew Detroit would beat the Yankees. I just figured that in a series where Texas has home-field advantage it wouldn’t matter because Texas is downright pitiful in Motown and probably loses all three games. Meaning the Tigers have to win one game in Texas. Again, no big deal if all that plays out. But it didn’t, and Texas won two out of three in Detroit and here we sit. So yes, one wretched little game in Baltimore might have cost the Tigers home field advantage, but had Detroit beat out Texas we would have to play Tampa, and who knows what happens there.
Now to those suspiciously tidy eyebrows of Nelson Cruz. Yes, he won the ALCS MVP award, and I’ll give credit where credit is due because they have no shot in that series without him and his new-found pension for hitting late inning homeruns. If he is out of the lineup in any way, shape or form whether it be injury or last-minute eyebrow checkup, if he’s not in the lineup it’s a borderline sweep that looks like one of the worst series ever by a losing side with no quality starts by Texas starters and a heavy dosage of that over-hyped bullpen in Arlington.
While the what-if game is nice with the injuries, I think it’s better to look forward to the future and how good this Tigers team can be with players like Boesch, Young, Martinez, Alburquerque and Zumaya back up to full speed. Not to mention Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen as well. Who knows, without the injuries to the Tigers outfield maybe they don’t go acquire Delmon Young, who looks like he could be in Detroit for a long time as the Tigers everyday left fielder. Maybe we don’t see the playoff heroics of Young and Don Kelly, maybe we don’t see players like Ordonez and Brandon Inge redeem themselves in a way with strong postseasons. So maybe the injuries weren’t the worst thing possible, but the Tigers fans still have the all-but-locked-up Cy Young win for Justin Verlander to celebrate, plus Miguel Cabrera and Verlander’s MVP candidacy as well.