By: Jamie Samuelsen
It’s been an interesting few days for the Tigers.
They’re as hot as anyone in baseball. Their only loss in the past nine games was the grueling 8-6 thirteen-inning loss to the Orioles on Saturday night. And even that game showed a lot of pluck in this team as they rallied back from three runs down in the ninth inning to force extra-innings. It was not a ‘good’ loss because they had plenty of chances to win. But it was a character loss and showed some things that the team hadn’t shown for most of the first half. Justin Verlander followed that game up with an 8-inning, 3-hit gem as the Tigers moved into second place in the Central ahead of the Indians. Then Monday, the Tigers fell behind the mighty Angels by three runs and then came storming back thanks to the bats (and the bunts) of Quintin Berry, Delmon Young and Brennan Boesch (among others).
All of a sudden, the Tigers are who we thought they were (thanks Dennis Green). They’ve moved within 2 ½ games of the White Sox in the Central. And while they’d love to add a bat or an arm at the trade deadline – it doesn’t seem nearly as vital as it did a few weeks ago.
And to think they did all this without the steady guiding hand of Victor Martinez.
Sure, it would be great to have Martinez nestled in at the #5 hole behind Prince Fielder. His clutch hits were one of the biggest reasons that the Tigers ran away with the Central last season. And by all accounts, he’s a good guy to have in the clubhouse.
But can we please officially bury the lame excuse that the Tigers can’t win without Martinez’s leadership. Wojo and I took a bunch of calls about this before the game last night and it got to the point of absurdity. One caller said that Miguel Cabrera couldn’t be a leader on this team because he didn’t speak clear enough English (cleverly ignoring the fact that English isn’t Martinez’s first language either). Another said that it would take Martinez to clean up the sloppy fielding and the lousy baserunning. I’m surprised that Martinez can’t fix the economy and solve global warming while he’s at it.
Baseball is the most individual sport that there is. It boils down to the pitcher trying to get the batter out and the batter trying to get on base or move the runners along. When Verlander threw a no-hitter last season, he didn’t do it because of the leadership of Victor Martinez. When Cabrera put up another MVP-caliber season, it was thank to Victor’s presence behind him in the lineup, not his presence in the clubhouse.
Chemistry matters. A toxic clubhouse can sap the energy from a contending team. Trust me. This is NOT a toxic clubhouse. This was an underachieving clubhouse that seems to have turned things around over the last few weeks. With winning comes chemistry. So please don’t buy the hype about Martinez and his leadership. This team will win or lose based solely on how the players play. There won’t be some rah-rah speech that gets them over the top.
That’s never worked in baseball. And it never will.