x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Weight of recent history weighing heavy on Detroit's hopes for a world championship

Justin Verlander rediscovered his old form just in time to pitch the Detroit Tigers past the Oakland A's and into the American League Championship Series. Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images
Justin Verlander rediscovered his old form just in time to pitch the Detroit Tigers past the Oakland A's and into the American League Championship Series. Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images

The good citizens of Detroit could use the uplifting distraction of some championship baseball after a summer in which their notoriously crime-plagued city went into bankruptcy.

But if the Tigers are to deliver that civic consolation prize, they will have to overcome their own recent record of futility.

Of the four teams left in the post-season, the Tigers have gone the longest without a World Series victory, since 1984.

Their opponent in the American League Championship Series, Boston Red Sox, have won as recently as 2007.

Neither of their National League counterparts, St Louis Cardinals (2011) and Los Angeles Dodgers (1988), have had to wait as long, either.

Strikingly, the Tigers have had plenty of chances. This is the third consecutive ALCS in which Detroit has appeared.

The team, under manager Jim Leyland, reached the World Series in 2006 and 2012, only to lose to St Louis and San Francisco Giants, respectively.

Last year’s loss to the Giants was quite the debacle, a four-game sweep, which Leyland confessed last week felt “a little embarrassing”. The recent disappointments cannot be traced to a lack of talent, though.

The offence has been anchored by Miguel Cabrera, the most dependably productive hitter in Major League Baseball for the past several seasons.

The third baseman from Venezuela, the 2012 AL Most Valuable Player, figures to win the award again this season.

He led a potent offence that scored more runs than any team in MLB except Boston.

The Tigers’ starting rotation features the era’s best right-handed pitcher, Justin Verlander, who has won a Rookie of the Year honour (2006), as well as Cy Young and MVP trophies in 2011.

They have only added stars to the roster, as well, picking up Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter for the offence in recent years.

The starting pitching has become so good that, this year, Verlander (13-12 won-lost record, 3.46 earned-run average) was arguably only the third- or fourth-best pitcher in the rotation. The loaded staff includes Max Scherzer (21-3, 2.90), Anibal Sanchez (14-8, 2.57) and Doug Fister (14-9, 3.67).

Of course, Verlander was still good enough to deliver eight innings of shutout ball during last week’s deciding Game 5 victory over Oakland in the AL Division Series.

That was a nice win, but it still fell well short of what the Tigers want, especially after falling so flat on their faces in last year’s World Series.

“That’s the motivation we’ve had all year,” Verlander said after Game 5. “Everybody ... that was here that had a taste of that, how much it hurts. It’s the main driving factor.”

Getting to the post-season is not the problem for the Tigers. Coming through unscathed is the refreshing change they seek, for themselves and their city.

sports@thenational.ae