By NOAH TRISTER/AP Sports Writer
DETROIT (AP) – At the start of 2012, three of Detroit’s four major pro teams looked like they might have championship potential.
A year later, only the Tigers have held up their end of the bargain.
The Lions have totally collapsed a season after returning to the playoffs, and the NHL is in the middle of a lockout.
That leaves Motown’s baseball team shouldering the region’s highest expectations entering the new year. The Tigers are coming off their second AL pennant in seven seasons. And though they were swept in the World Series by San Francisco, stars Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander and Prince Fielder remain in their primes.
The Lions have their share of stars too, but that hasn’t been enough in 2012.
Detroit would have been hard-pressed to top its sports success from 2011, when the Lions started 5-0 en route to their first postseason appearance in a dozen years, the Tigers won the AL Central, and Michigan and Michigan State were both strong in football.
But with Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh in the fold, the Lions looked like a rising power in the NFC. Now, with a 4-11 record heading into Sunday’s finale, Detroit faces some offseason soul searching. Johnson has set a single-season NFL record for yards receiving, but injuries have hurt the rest of the receiving corps and Stafford hasn’t always looked sharp.
Throw in some internal turmoil – promising young receiver Titus Young was exiled by the coaching staff last month – and it’s been a humbling experience to say the least.
The Tigers dealt with disappointment of their own for much of the season, but they pulled out of it just in time. Even after signing Fielder to a massive contract, Detroit didn’t overtake the Chicago White Sox in the division until late.
But once in the playoffs, the Tigers dispatched Oakland and swept the New York Yankees behind phenomenal pitching. After losing to the Giants, Detroit’s biggest offseason move so far was to bring back right-hander Anibal Sanchez. The Tigers now have a starting rotation featuring Verlander, Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister and figure to be in good shape for another push into October.
Cabrera, who became baseball’s first Triple Crown winner in 45 years, gave Detroit the American League MVP for the second year in a row.
The Red Wings always seem to be in the mix for the Stanley Cup, but last season ended abruptly with a five-game loss to Nashville in the first round of the playoffs. Now the entire sport is on hold thanks to the lockout, which has already caused the Winter Classic – which was to be played at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor – to be scrapped.
The Pistons, meanwhile, are still struggling. Attendance has been low at the Palace, and a return to the postseason looks unlikely in 2013, barring a major turnaround. Detroit was able to add Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Andre Drummond in the last three drafts, but that hasn’t yet translated into a significant rise up the standings.
The most interesting basketball in the state is probably being played at the college level. Michigan and Michigan State both finished tied with Ohio State for the Big Ten title last season, and the Wolverines are now ranked No. 2 in the country.
And that in-state rivalry is showing no signs of diminishing in football either. Michigan edged the Spartans 12-10 in October, snapping Michigan State’s four-game winning streak in the series. But now, the Wolverines must contemplate a future without star quarterback Denard Robinson, who plays his final college game against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)