Everything in place for Tigers taking it - NBC Sports

Everything in place for Tigers taking it
Detroit features best pitcher, hitter and manager, all looking to cement legacies
Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander and slugger Prince Fielder are just two reasons to expect Detroit to win the World Series, writes Tony DeMarco.
October 23, 2012, 9:10 am

The next 10 days begin a window that will extend two, maybe three more seasons. And nothing less than at least one World Series title is going to be acceptable.

Not for 83-year-old owner Mike Ilitch, who desperately wants to add a World Series trophy to four Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings.

Not for a franchise that hasn't won it all since Sparky Anderson's 'Bless You, Boys' in 1984.

And not for the legacies and Hall of Fame candidacies of Jim Leyland, Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander.

Taking absolutely nothing away from the San Francisco Giants - a talented team riding an emotional high, and one that unexpectedly went all the way only two Octobers ago - it's lined up for the Tigers.

But they must take the final step now, or face mounting pressure to do so before their window of opportunity closes.

"The best manager in baseball,'' is what Tigers' president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said about Leyland amidst the post-ALCS title celebration.

The recent retirements of Bobby Cox, Lou Piniella, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa make the 67-year-old Leyland the game's winningest active manager with 1,676 regular-season victories - 95 more than Dusty Baker.

But Leyland needs that second World Series title to help legitimize his boss' claim. He's just one of a handful of active managers (Mike Scioscia, Ozzie Guillen, Joe Girardi, Bruce Bochy, Charlie Manuel) with one and Leyland's came long before any of the others, with the 1997 Florida Marlins.

Terry Francona, recently hired in Cleveland, where he won't be winning any more soon, is the only active manager with two World Series titles.

Leyland's other shot came in 2006, when the Tigers failed in the favorite's role - upset in five games by the St. Louis Cardinals, and beating themselves with pitchers' fielding errors in the process. They'll carry that same burden favored role again.

But this isn't the playoff-inexperienced bunch Leyland took to the 2006 postseason. It had been 19 seasons since the Tigers' last playoff appearance, and just three seasons prior, the 2003 team lost 119 games.

There were no superstars on that roster, either - just a group of standout veterans such as Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen and a rejuvenated Pudge Rodriguez. Verlander won 17 games as a 23-year-old, but Kenny Rogers was the ace, and 38-year-old closer Todd Jones made too many save opportunities interesting.

In contrast, this Tigers team has become one of the game's priciest at $132-plus million (fifth-highest), is coming off two consecutive division titles, and is in its third postseason in Leyland's seven seasons in Detroit.

The superstars are right in the midst of peak-production seasons, and almost the entire core of position-player regulars and starting rotation members are in the 25-30-year-old range. So if not now, when? Especially when the AL's two traditional financial juggernauts in New York and Boston face uncertain near-futures.

Verlander has made his career goal clear: Cooperstown. Cy Young Awards and MVPs help, but nothing carries as much weight as World Series rings.

There has been no more-dominant pitcher this postseason, and as if he needs any more motivation, don't forget that Verlander cost the Tigers home-field advantage in this series with a terrible first inning in the All-Star Game.

Verlander is lined up for Game 1, while Giants' ace Matt Cain was forced into an NLCS Game 7 start, tilting the rotation match-ups Detroit's way.

In addition to Cain, the Giants received tremendous NLCS starts from Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito. But nobody can match the numbers Tigers' starters put up through the first two rounds:

  • 5-1, 1.02 ERA, .162 opponents batting average, 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings.

Lastly, the Tigers learned the hard way in 2006 that a long layoff after a quick ALCS can lead to problems. This time, Detroit-area weather cooperated enough to allow them to play intrasquad games with their instructional league players. That doesn't come close to matching playoff intensity, of course, but staying sharp and maintaining timing should result.


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