Suddenly everybody's afraid of the Detroit Tigers, who entered Wednesday having won 11 straight.
Well, I shouldn't say everybody is afraid. I'll bet the Yankees aren't. But there's a meme going around that the Tigers, so hot, are the American League team that suddenly nobody wants to play. Because, you know, they're hot. Hot at the right time.
Except it probably doesn't mean anything. Jayson Stark:
• Since the dawn of the wild-card era, 14 postseason-bound teams have finished a season by playing at least .700 baseball (28-12 or better) over their last 40 games. Exactly one of them -- the 2004 Red Sox (28-12) -- wound up winning the World Series. But five of them lost in the first round. And of the 27 postseason series those teams ended up playing, they barely won more series (14) than they lost (13).
• Meanwhile, 22 postseason-bound teams in the same era have finished a season by playing at least .700 baseball (21-9 or better) over their final 30 games. Just two of those 22 went on to win the World Series -- the 2002 Angels (21-9) and 2003 Marlins (21-9). But eight of them lost in the first round. And those teams went just 21-20 in their 41 postseason series.
As Stark also notes, teams that have struggled down the stretch actually fared better than teams that thrived in their last 40 games.
What can explain this? Luck, mostly.
There might be other reasons (there always might be other reasons). Maybe the teams that win a bunch of games down the stretch are winning because they have to, and overtax their pitchers. Maybe they run out of emotional energy.
Of course, Defenders of the Tigers (DotT) will argue that these Tigers aren't the same Tigers who were just five games over .500 when July 31 dawned.
True enough. Again, Stark:
No team has made more impactful midseason deals than the Tigers. They've won six of Doug Fister's eight starts. Delmon Young has hit .324, slugged .481 and transformed their lineup. And Wilson Betemit (.294/.345/.490 in 34 games) has been one of the best under-the-radar pickups of the summer.
Sure. But are Delmon Young and Wilson Betemit really this good? I think the world of Doug Fister, but his 2.28 ERA and 8.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio came from where, exactly?
I don't mean to suggest the Tigers aren't a good team, or that they don't have a chance next month. They are, and they do. But their season has been fueled by one great starting pitcher and one great hitter, and they'll be decided underdogs in every postseason series they play.
Sort of like the Giants last fall.