illustrations by Samara Pearlstein
When your team reaches the postseason, it is a time of great excitement. Just making the postseason is not the big Win, of course, but it is the first step along the way, and it signifies a year in which at least some things got done properly. The players feel good and you get to watch them feeling good, usually with goggles and plastic sheeting and carbonated alcohol. Your artificially selected tribe has triumphed in some small way, and as your reward, you get to care about baseball for just a little bit longer.
And hey, we’re not just talking about the postseason here– the Tigers won the division! All the other players on all the other AL Central teams must spend the winter on call, catering to the needs and whims of various Tigers, whether that be snow shoveling duties (for that one insane Tiger who lives in the midwest year-round [we still have one of those, right?]) or babysitting duties or taking Astro for really long walks and scooping up all his leavings when David Price is just too dang tired and also it is rainy outside. That is why it is such a big deal, winning the division.
Here is the problem: the Tigers, for much of this year, have just not been that good a baseball team. Obviously they have very good parts, and they have had very good stretches, and these things combined to get them into October employment. But anyone who has watched the team consistently this season has seen that their Dark Side is not so much a couplefew aberrations and bad luck moments, but is instead a constant shadowy companion, always almost perfectly in lockstep with the good bits of the team, ready to leap to the fore at the slightest stumble or hesitation.
And now that the Tigers are in the postseason, without the comforting buffer zone of large sample sizes, this is becoming incredibly obvious and visible to everyone— to casual fans, to normally oblivious national TV broadcasters, to that super annoying dude in your office who like really does not follow baseball but every year come October starts behaving as if he is practically a beat reporter who’s been watching games all year long and pronounces Nick Castellanos’ name some wild kind of inaccurate way.
There have been good things. Miguel Cabrera is Miguel Cabrera. Victor Martinez has been hot. JD Martinez has been the pleasantest surprise named JD this team has ever known. These cats are off and running. Certain other members of the team are having a, uh, let us say harder time keeping up.
And meanwhile, out in the bullpen…
That, quite plainly, is a problem.
Sunday the Tigers will either go on, or they will not. They will stand a chance of advancing to the next stage of ‘won some stuff that’s not the big Win but is still pretty nice’ victory, or they will not. The dual Martinez threat will lead the offense to spectacular victory, or Joba Chamberlain will lose a finger playing with explosives. Comedy or tragedy. Playoff baseball.