Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Don't Look Now, But The Tigers Will Soon Take Center Stage

Time is running out on the Tigers. Their two month rehearsal is over, and in a couple of days they will have to perform for real. The curtain will be raised -- because the Pistons' season will be over with and we will be forced to turn our attention their way. It's one of the few times that an opening act is sure to upstage the headliner.

The Tigers are 34-33, and if they have been over .500 this late in a season, then maybe it is written on a stone tablet somewhere. Okay, maybe it hasn't been quite that long, but it sure hasn't been just yesterday, either. There are 95 games remaining, and even though they probably won't mean a hill of beans as far as qualifying for the playoffs is concerned, the team has a chance to finish north of .500, and that alone should be cause for a parade, much like the one San Antonio planned for tomorrow.

Jeremy "I'm Not Jack Morris, But I Play Him On TV" Bonderman simply went into that House of Baseball Horrors, the Metrodome, and quieted the Twins to the tune of a complete game 7-2 victory. Fitting that the Tigers should win in Minny last night, the very same evening the Pistons snapped their winless drought in San Antonio. Bonderman, with his bulldog toughness, is indeed the closest thing the team has had to an ace starter since Morris, and if you don't think so, just try to approach him on the day he's scheduled to pitch. Apparently he is about as ornery as Morris, and he's just getting started. Bonderman is only 22, which is obscene. No pitcher should be this poised and this focused and this freaking mean that young, unless he's still playing in a Pony League somewhere and is cranky because of it.

The Tigers are not good enough to win the division this year, that much is for sure. They are probably not good enough to contend for a wild card spot. They may not be, frankly, even good enough to win more than they lose -- even with the return of Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez and with a surprisingly effective pitching staff. But they might keep us interested until Lions training camp begins in mid-July. Oh, how easy it is to be satisfied around here nowadays when it comes to baseball. The Tigers have lowered our expectations so much, you need a limbo bar to keep track of them.

It figures that in the season when the pitching is finally legitimate, the hitting goes south. The Tigers traded a pretty good reliever -- Ugie Urbina -- for a pretty good hitter -- Placido Polanco -- and when was the last time that happened? Usually it's hitting for pitching, but the Tigers suddenly find themselves awash with good, young arms in their organization. See what happens when you get rid of Randy Smith and his Mr. Magoo scouts?

It's this maddening absence of a consistent offense -- a surprising void -- that will keep the Tigers shackled to the .500 level. It is too much to ask a pitching staff to keep the other team to two or three runs every game over 162 games. This isn't the late 60's anymore; hitting is the game now, not pitching and defense, like the good old days.

So in two days the Pistons will be finished, the curtain will rise, the baseball season will take front and center, and I have just one thing to say to the Tigers:

You got one month to hold my interest.

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