I am officially sick of hearing about how the Detroit Tigers lost one hundred and nineteen games three years ago. I'm having T-shirts made and everything.
The Tigers play the Oakland A's in the American League Championship Series beginning Tuesday night in Oakland. The St. Louis Cardinals play the New York Mets in the NLCS starting Wednesday in New York.
It's a remarkable achievement for Detroit to have won 95 games and a playoff series just three years after having lost -- in case you hadn't heard -- 119 games, one shy of the major league record.
But how remarkable is it? I mean, yeah, it's really something. But is it a bigger achievement than making the playoffs three years after losing, say, 100 games? I don't think it is.
If there's some point between 100 losses and 119 beyond which a comeback in a certain amount of time becomes somehow more remarkable, I'd like to know where that point is and how it was decided upon. Is it 105 losses? 112?
I don't think so. A hundred losses means "lousy team." A hundred nineteen losses? Still a lousy team. Lousier, for sure. But what you have to do when you lose 119 and you want to win is get rid of your lousy players, keep your few good ones, and get a bunch of new ones who can play.
This is also what you have to do when you lose 100. There's a certain point, I don't know where but I'd guess it's around 95 losses, beyond which you're pretty much starting over. You're an expansion team.
Some teams in that situation may have greater disadvantages than others. But those disadvantages have to do with market size, revenue potential, the number of bad contracts the team is saddled with and the management skill present in the front office and the dugout, not with having lost 119 games as opposed to 101.
The last time a team lost 100 games and then even had a winning record three years later was the when the San Diego Padres lost 101 in 1993, then went 91-71 and won the National League West in 1996. After 1993, seven teams lost 100 games in a season through 2003, the last season for which there is a three years later.
So you can see how rare it is to come back from even 100 losses in three years, but you can also see that it does happen.
There were nine guys who played for both the 1993 and the 1996 Padres. Eight of them played in the playoffs. Guess how many men played for both the 2003 and the 2006 Detroit Tigers. Go on, guess.
Did you guess nine?
Good guess but it's 11. Eight made the playoff roster.
In the past 20 years, there have been 18 teams that have played a season three years after having lost 100 or more games. The 2006 Tigers are only the third such team to make the playoffs. A fourth, the 1994 Cleveland Indians, who lost 105 in '91, were holding the wild-card spot when a strike ended the season in August. So again: It's rare, but it happens.
The only other teams to do it were our friends the '96 Padres, who got swept in the first round of the playoffs by the St. Louis Cardinals, and the 1991 Atlanta Braves, who had lost 106 games in 1988, but went 94-68 and won the National League pennant in '91.
Those of us old enough to not know who Paul Wall is will remember the Braves and Minnesota Twins both having gone from last place in 1990 to the World Series in '91, a baseball first. The Braves are the gold standard in rebounding from a 100-loss season in the past 20 years.
I'm willing to anoint the Tigers the new gold standard if they beat the A's and make the World Series, because you have to base it on something and the Tigers lost more in their 100-loss year than the Braves did in theirs, and they won more this year than the Braves did in '91.
And I understand we in the media would be going on at some length about the Tigers' remarkable turnaround even if they'd "only" lost 105 or so in 2003. But I think it would have been talked about not as one of the most jaw-droppingly astounding achievements in the history of history, but as more of a remarkable, rare achievement, something that happens from time to time in baseball, but not terribly often. Once or twice a decade.
That's what I think it is. It's a great thing, absolutely. And I'm officially sick of hearing about it.
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American League Championship Series preview [PERMALINK]
Regular readers will remember that in previewing the first round, I predicted that the Tigers, A's, Cardinals and Mets would all lose. This is the prognosticating equivalent to losing 119 games in a season.
A football season.
Clearly, I need to shake things up. I need to find the typing equivalent to hitting Alex Rodriguez eighth or only using three pitchers to start nine of the last 10 games of the season. We know how well those gambits worked out.
So I'm dragging out of mothballs the modern, quick-hitting, dynamic and, if I may say so, downright snazzy boldface format I used to preview last year's first round. Got three out of four right, so why not.
Detroit Tigers vs. Oakland A's
Credentials: The Tigers blah blah 119 blah blah Leyland Verlander Bonderman blah. A hundred and nineteen! They led the league most of the year, collapsed in mid-August and then really collapsed in the last week, somehow not winning the Central Division but clinging to the wild card. Then they blew the New York Yankees away in the first round.
The A's won the West with solid pitching and an OK offense that was better than OK in the second half. Frank Thomas, returning from two years lost to injury, got off to a slow start, but has looked like Frank Thomas since May. The A's dispatched the Minnesota Twins, the hottest team in baseball in the second half, in three straight in the first round.
The Tigers will win 'cause: They had the best pitching in the league this year, something the Yankees can attest to. Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman, Kenny Rogers and Nate Robertson all struggled down the stretch, but after Robertson got shelled in Game 1 by the Yanks, the others shined. Verlander is one of the best young pitchers in the league. Rogers is one of the best old ones.
The Tigers also have a terrific bullpen, led by 38-year-old closer Todd Jones. Don't be fooled by his 3.94 ERA, high for a closer. Since a bad outing June 14 sent his ERA over 7.00, he has appeared in 37 games and thrown 38 innings with an ERA of 1.66. The Tigers can hit some too, with the fifth best offense in the league by runs scored. Magglio Ordonez hits fourth, but their best hitter is shortstop Carlos Guillen, who should get talked about roughly as much as Derek Jeter does.
The A's will win 'cause: They're a pretty similar team to the Tigers, built around a starting staff led by Barry Zito, but Zito's not a lot better than Dan Haren. When Rich Harden, who missed all but nine games this year with an injury, is healthy and right, he could be better than either. The bullpen, led by Huston Street and Justin Duchscherer, is good but has been shaky at times. If the A's get better outings from their starters than the Tigers get from theirs, which could happen, they'll win.
The A's have a reputation as a light-hitting team, but things got better as the season progressed. Thomas started hitting in May, Milton Bradley got healthy in July and even Eric Chavez shook off a seasonlong slump in September. After Thomas, dreamboat Nick Swisher is Oakland's best hitter. The Tigers averaged 5.07 runs per game this year to the A's 4.76, but since the All-Star break, the A's have outscored Detroit 5.28-4.96 per game.
Unlikely heroes: Brandon Inge, Detroit. And since Marco Scutaro was already an unlikely hero in the last round, I'll say Jay Payton, Oakland.
Random boldface factoid: The only other time these clubs played each other in the playoffs was in the 1972 ALCS. The A's, who would win the first of three straight World Series that year, were defending Western Division champions. The Tigers, with Billy Martin managing, had largely the same team that had won the Series in '68.
Average attendance for the two games at the Oakland Coliseum, capacity 50,000, was 30,312.
Average attendance for the three games at Tiger Stadium, capacity 52,416, was 43,016.
Prediction: Hoo, boy. Palms getting sweaty. Steady now. OK, I'll take the team with the better pitching on paper, even though they were scuffling until last week. Tigers in 7.
We'll have a look at the NLCS Wednesday.
Previous column: Fire Joe Torre?
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