At a time when everyone wants to talk about the team the Tigers could be, it’s best to focus on the team they are.
Trade talk is fine, fun and, most of the time, pointless. What will happen will happen, and maybe nothing will happen. A new starting pitcher? A new second baseman? Who knows? Right now the Detroit team that played Thursday is the same team that will play today and, the good news is, that team had dirt all over its uniforms and runs all over the scoreboard.
“When you have a good team, at some point, they’re gonna play good,” manager Jim Leyland said. “And right now we’re playing pretty good.”
Who could argue with that? A lot of good took place in this series finale versus the Angels. Alex Avila broke a two-month famine with a home run in the second, then almost hit another in the fourth. Miguel Cabrera clocked one over the fence. Prince Fielder made solid contact from every part of the bat (even when he’s jammed, he’s jamming) and roused the crowd with a belly slide on a double.
Most importantly, Max Scherzer had a Good Max day, three hits and one run in seven innings, and Detroit continued its league-leading tendency of striking out at least eight batters a game.
Oh, and the Tigers won.
That makes three out of four from the Angels, and 12 out of their last 16.
It couldn’t come at a better time.
First-place showdown ahead
Because this is a moment to crank up the heat. The White Sox are in town today. It feels like the Tigers have been chasing them a long time. Now they go head to head. Their last meeting was two months ago, when Detroit was a .500 team and Chicago was 17-20. Here is a chance for the Tigers to grab the wheel, jump into the American League Central front seat. It’s a big series.
But don’t expect any Tiger to admit it.
“It’s July,” Leyland warned. “Whether you do well or don’t do well, it’s not gonna be the end of the world.”
“It’s another series,” echoed Fielder. “I don’t want it to be do or die.”
That’s fine. That’s good. But in sports, when they say it’s not about the money, it’s about the money, and when they say it’s not a big series, it’s usually a big series. Leyland is smart not to put any media expectations on his team. But the fact is these three games can be worth a lot in the standings, you win, they lose, you jump up, they fall down. And it is late July, not mid-May.
“It’s exciting,” Scherzer admitted.
See? Somebody thinks so.
Meanwhile, across the clubhouse, Justin Verlander was getting his game-before-game face on. The fact that his team had just taken three of four from an excellent Angels squad — and he didn’t have to pitch — had him feeling good about today’s start against the Sox.
When I asked about the trade talk, he chuckled and shrugged.
“We talk about it, too,” he said. “But I’ve seen it work, and I’ve seen it not work.”
What happens when it doesn’t work?
A team to root for
The fact is, the Tigers, on paper, have a good enough team to make the postseason without adding a major piece. They just need certain players to live up to potential. That doesn’t always happen. But sometimes the guy you trade for doesn’t live up to potential, either.
“Are you OK with the team as it is?” I asked Leyland.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I’ve never, ever figured that we’re gonna get something at the trading deadline. … I think if you start saying we need this or we need that, then (the players) out there should be saying, ‘Geez, aren’t we good enough?’ I want my team to think they’re good enough.
“I had a team one year where they said, ‘We gotta get this guy, we gotta get that guy.’ I said, ‘What do you mean? We spend all kinds of money to get YOU guys.’ “
The same could be said of these Tigers. Right now, they’re playing like the machine they were built to be, winning more than any team since the end of last month. If they keep that up, a new piece may not be needed. Leyland said his philosophy, until shown otherwise, is simple: “This is our team. Manage it.”
Same goes for fans. Until it changes, this is your team. Root for it. The way it’s playing lately, that’s pretty easy.
Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org.