The 2013 Detroit Tigers finished one game ahead of the 2013 Cleveland Indians.
This was unexpected. Mostly because nobody expected the Indians to win 92 games. The Tigers won 93 games, which is right in line with what everyone did expect. What everyone did not expect was for all five of the Tigers' starters to pitch as well as they did. Detroit's starters finished the season with a 3.44 ERA, easily the best in the American League. And of course the Tigers can also hit; with a 780 team OPS, they were one of only two clubs -- the Red Sox were the other -- with a mark higher than 745. Put another way, there's a lot more space between the No. 2 Tigers and No. 3 A's than between the No. 3 A's and the No. 9 Jays.
The Tigers' starters pitched brilliantly all season, and their hitters raked. Those are the big things. Do the big things really well, and you might win 93 games. Which, in fact, the Tigers exactly did.
But man oh man were they lousy at the little things.
I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I didn't actually start thinking about this seriously until ... well, until this:
That's just one bizarre moment, among many, many moments in a campaign that lasted 173 games. But in the wake of that bizarre baserunning moment, someone had the bright idea of checking the Tigers' baserunning over the course of the entire season ...
Struck by Tigers' baserunning fails, looked it up: 4th-worst baserunning team of the past 50 years. http://t.co/CvjXaKsyw9— Jonah Keri (@jonahkeri) October 20, 2013
Hitting that link, we find only five teams in the last 50 years with more than 19 negative baserunning runs, and the Tigers (-19.4) are one of them. There are, of course, different ways to measure baserunning. Maybe the Tigers are the worst of the last 50 years, or maybe they're the 24th worst. But it seems pretty likely that they're in the conversation.
The Tigers don't field real hot, either. In the fateful seventh inning, rookie shortstop Jose Iglesias -- who made a truly spectacular play in Game 5 -- botched a grounder up the middle that might have made a real difference. Of course it's strange to see Iglesias mess one up ... but the Tigers' defense was generally pretty awful in 2013. No, they weren't historically awful. Not even close. But (again) according to FanGraphs, Detroit's fielders were 43 runs worse than average, which was seventh worst in the majors. According to BaseballProspectus, the Tigers were fourth worst in the majors at turning batted balls into outs. According to John Dewan's Team Runs Saved, the Tigers featured the third-worst fielding in the majors.
Seventh worst, fourth worst, third worst ... they probably weren't the worst. But they're in the conversation.
Now, about the relief pitching. Once the Tigers finally settled on a closer in June, their bullpen was no longer a running joke. Still, Detroit's relievers did finish the season with a 4.01 ERA, fourth worst in the league and the worst among the league's postseason teams. By the end, Jim Leyland didn't seem to have much confidence in any of his relief pitchers, which left him making changes just about as quickly as the rules would allow. I wasn't wild about Leyland's choices in Game 2, and I haven't yet parsed his thinking in Game 6 -- who was going to pitch in the eighth, even if Veras hadn't given up the lead? -- but it's not like the Tigers were blessed with a corps of lights-out firemen. Remember, this is the franchise that brought Jose Valverde back for an encore, just a few months ago.
Ultimately, this was a team that could really pitch (for seven innings) and really hit, but couldn't do much else at all. Which can work. Which did work. It worked for six months, and given a little luck it might have worked for one more month. But the baserunning and the fielding and the relief pitching wasn't likely to improve all of a sudden. Meanwhile, Miguel Cabrera got hurt and stopped hitting fastballs, and Prince Fielder drove in exactly zero runs in 40 postseason at-bats.
When you're built solely on starting pitching and hitting and you take away the hitting ... well, there's just not enough left. Probably not enough.
There have been some questions about Jim Leyland. These last three years, Leyland's Tigers have lost two American League Championship Series and been swept in a World Series. Oh, and seven years ago, Leyland's Tigers lost a World Series in five games.
No manager is perfect. But this team that lost to the Red Sox in a generally close series was exactly the team that general manager Dave Dombrowski designed: long on starters and hitters, short on just about everything else. I've got a hard time blaming Leyland for a team that played exactly like it was supposed to play.
For much more about the disappointed Tigers, please visit SB Nation's Bless You Boys.