Saturday, July 30, 2005

I'm Not Wild About These Playoff Chances....

We all have things we’d like to believe.

I’d like to believe, for instance, that hot dogs are made of ingredients that, if revealed, wouldn’t gag a maggot. I’d like to believe that on the day I go to renew my plate tabs, there won’t be a line at the Secretary of State’s office. I’d like to believe that July isn’t almost over with.

And I’d also like to believe that the Tigers are legitimate contenders for a wild card playoff spot.

They’re not, you know, and I’m sorry to burst your bubble, no matter how tiny, even if it is champagne sized. But the Tigers are no more in the hunt for a wild card berth than I am in the hunt for a size 32 waist pant -- and I slip comfortably into a 38, thank you.

I know this to be true because you can’t be a contender for anything except a good draft position unless you’re able to bob above the .500 surface and continue to rise. You can’t be considered a playoff contender when four or five teams, at least, are ahead of you in line, because it’s one thing to leap frog a team or two, but quite another when you need an Evel Knievel-type jump to spring past a logjam.

It’s fun to think that it’s possible, of course. It’s cute and sweet to see the Tigers listed, albeit on the bottom, on ESPN’s wild card standings. It’s encouraging to hear manager Alan Trammell and his players talk bravely of believing they are in the hunt, because what else would you like them to say? That this year is shot? It makes for a nice daydream to imagine the Tigers playing a meaningful series at Comerica in mid-August.

But it’s just not in the (wild) cards, folks. And deep down, you know I’m right.

That the Tigers cannot hoist themselves over the .500 plateau is both puzzling and discouraging. They would appear to have a decent batting lineup. Their pitching, especially the starters and Kyle Farnsworth and Jamie Walker in the bullpen, has been mostly above average. Their defense has been steady if not spectacular. Yet the team continues to treat .500 like a hot potato.

Is it the managing? Is it bad luck? Is it something in the Detroit water? I hate to say it, but it might be the first thing.

Trammell is alright, I suppose, but he makes some curious decisions. It’s hard to put your finger on it, but small things like knowing when to hit and run and when to rest players and when to remove a pitcher -- these things I am not sure he has totally gotten the hang of yet, and it is costing the team some games. The Tigers are pretty good at grounding into double plays, for example, yet the green light has rarely been on for the hit-and-run. Consequently, potential big innings are being killed like bugs under your shoe.

I don’t like to fancy myself as a know-it-all when it comes to coaching and managing, because those types turn me off when they harp on it constantly. But I have a hunch that Alan Trammell is struggling to tread water at this point in his managing career. He finally has the horses to make a go at it, yet the team has failed to put together one of those bad-ass 13-4 runs that can spring you past some teams in the standings. And do you truly think one of those mean streaks is on its way?

There isn’t much more to shout about when it comes to the 2005 Tigers, except maybe to see how some of the youngsters pan out in August and September. There are too many teams, too many far better teams, ahead of them to even remotely entertain the possibility of the Detroit Tigers being a playoff contender.

You see, there are also some things you would like NOT to believe.

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