Only postseason matters for these Tigers

Regular season ups and downs won't matter if Tigers thrive in October

By Rob Parker - Sports Columnist
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A week ago, with a Fenway sweep in hand, Tigers fans were ready to claim the division, and the American League pennant, for that matter.

Now, a four-game losing streak, including the series opener against Texas Thursday at Comerica Park, has dampened enthusiasms.

Just relax.

Nothing happening this weekend, next week or next month really counts. Fair or not, the Tigers regular season is little more than a dress rehearsal for another expected trip to the post-season.

The Tigers are a championship caliber squad, with arguably the best hitter in baseball in Miguel Cabrera and two of the top three or four starters in the game with Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.

Yet, this Tigers (currently 27-16) team hasn't won a World Series. Anything short of October glory is a failure.

The regular season hasn't been the Tigers problem, having won the American League Central three years in a row.

True, they've advanced to the ALCS three years in a row and made it to the World Series in 2012. But the San Francisco Giants swept them in 2012. The Tigers scored just six runs in four games. It was a feeble effort, to say the least.

Last season, they were the heavy favorites to win the title. But they were defeated in the ALCS by the eventual World Series champion Boston Red Sox.

Enter 2014. The Tigers, mostly because of their stud rotation, are once again seen as the team to beat this season.

The Tigers are trying to be the first team since the 1998-2001 New York Yankees to reach their fourth straight ALCS. But the Yankees dominated, winning three World Series titles. The Tigers have floundered.

It's how you finish, not how you start

In 1984, the Tigers got off to a 35-5 start. They were the story of baseball. Still, it was about the postseason for that team. That incredible start wouldn't mean much if the Tigers didn't win the World Series.

It's been 30 years since they raised the championship banner in Motown. Fans have been dying for another title.

The one thing that should scare Tigers' fans about this super team is the bullpen—again.

The Tigers got unbelievable starting pitching against the Red Sox last fall, but the bullpen gave up two huge grand slams late in games. Those blasts effectively crushed the Tigers postseason dreams.

Currently, the Tigers have the second-best starters' ERA in the AL at 3.19. But the bullpen is 11th in the league with a bloated 4.22 ERA.

Fans can't help but be reminded of 2013's disappointments with very bullpen meltdown following a great starts.

And although the bullpen had settled down soon after a disastrous, it remains a concern. Relief pitchers gave up two walk-off wins in Cleveland this past week.

Of all the guys in the pen, Joba Chamberlain appears to be key finishing games strong. He has to hold leads so manager Brad Ausmus can get the ball to closer Joe Nathan. If not, Nathan's talents will be rendered null and void.

Thursday's blown save aside, Nathan has been mostly lights outs after a slow start. You don't want to overreact to a bad outing or two because the pen appeared to have righted itself.

Ausmus is still convinced he has what he needs in the pen to keep winning: "I still have complete faith, especially the back half the way it's been set up since the first 10 games of the season. It's kind of settled down. Guys have settled into roles.

"You're not going to win every game when you have a lead late, but we're going to win the vast majority of them with the way the guys are throwing now."

That may be, but come this fall when playoff teams are separated by the slimmest of margins, the bullpen will decide if the Tigers will be, at long last, champions.

Rob Parker and Mark Wilson co-host Sports Night with Parker and The Man weeknights from 7-10pm on WDFN AM-1130 The Fan.

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