By: Eric Thomas
Bats swing, arms warm up, we’ve listened to Dickerson and Price in almost a foot of snow. Tigers season is coming soon, it almost feels like a rescue. When last they left us, they were unable to score at all against the Giants in the World Series.
The only thing left is where the fans land. They started early last year; with Brandon Inge at second base the haters had a fat juicy target to radiate their hate. Fans launched into full-throated anger in amazing time, going zero to livid in less than five games. Will they do the same?
This year, the pressure could be justified. The owner has slapped fistfuls of fat cash onto the masthead. They made the World Series, invested and got better. Victor Martinez injury brought Prince Fielder to the Tigers has healed. The expectations are mammoth, unrealistic outside of a Steinbrenner fever dream.
It’s platitudinal to mention the length of baseball’s regular season, but pertinent nonetheless. Good teams have bad months, maybe more. Tiger fans were quick to cannibalize the team last year; will they do the same in 2013?
When will fans start blaming Leyland? When are the opening salvos? First loss or will the fans lay off for a while? Many of the “hate Leyland” crowd said they would shut it if the team made the World Series. They did, so are you calling off the dogs?
Fans should give it a few months. The Tigers can lose a ton of games before they’re going to be in any trouble. The AL Central got better, but not by much. The improvements to KC are lipstick on a pig; the Indians are a few years away from their Renaissance. The Tigers have margin for error. For all the chatter about the Tigers being soft because they came to a soft division, they were in the World Series.
I criticized the fans last year for turning up the heat as hot as they did. I went as far as calling them, ahem, “Pigs.” This year is different. Last year was anemic at positions 5-9. The Tigers are now a team that boasts an All Star lineup. If they come out shooting blanks, save your strength. The team can falter out of the gate and still have time to improve. If you want your Leyland zapping power to be more effective, you need to not cry wolf at the outset. You hurt your credibility.
Leyland should be under the microscope this year. There has never been a more stacked Tiger club. Jim Leyland has to deliver a championship and while that’s an awfully high bar, he must walk it regardless.
There are going to be ups and downs, left field might still be a question. There’s always the possibility that Miggy becomes a sudden liability at third base. These questions are tertiary, nothing like the team has seen in the past. Let’s face it; the Tigers are solid in every position. Who’s the weak link? Peralta? The same guy who was an All Star alternate year two years ago?
Is it going to happen? No idea, but the bar has never been this high. The field has never been this paved. The AL East is pathetic this year (not buying Toronto… people picked Miami for the World Series last year; Baltimore was last year’s story), the West is beatable. The Angels pitching staff isn’t even close to the Tigers and the Rangers looked human last year before they lost Josh Hamilton. The Tiger’s path to the series is totally doable but they have to do it.
It’s a bit nerve-wracking, because there is no safety net. Championship or fail is a long long way to fall, but everything looks promising this year. If not, we know what you’ll chant. This year, you’ll be right.