The Tigers give us something to be excited about…again

Tigers' outfielder J.D. Martinez celebrates with fans after the team clinched the division title on Sunday.

Tigers’ outfielder J.D. Martinez celebrates with fans after the team clinched the division title on Sunday.

The Tigers are in…again. Are you excited?

Sunday’s victory set off a massive celebration at Comerica Park as our Detroit Tigers won the division title with a nerve-wracking 3-0 win over the pesky Twinkies. Now, it’s on to the playoffs where anything can happen. But the Tigers have as good a chance as anyone to find their way to being the last team standing.

It was almost as if Game 162 was setup as an experiment to test the biggest weaknesses of this 2014 Detroit Tigers team. The bullpen and defense have been the Achilles heel all season, but on this Sunday they didn’t get in the way.

There was Joe Nathan, who made a rude gesture to these fans a few months ago, who told us his arm was dead a few months before that, and who blew saves after save during all that time. There he was — Old Joe Cool — tossing his breaking ball to the plate and making it bend more than it seems it had all year. The Twins swung and flailed, missed and failed. 1-2-3 save!

There was also Ezequiel Carrera, a rookie outfielder who joined the team just a few weeks ago, making an excellent catch in center field to preserve a 1-0 lead. Does anyone miss Austin Jackson? Probably, but enough to worry about it that much.

And the guy we got for Jackson — Mr. David Price — there he was on the mound, standing in front of more than 40,000 fans who didn’t care a damned bit about him seven weeks ago, but who on on Sunday were nervously cheering the tall lefty on. Price was nasty — fanning seven Twins’ hitters to take over the league strikeout title, but more importantly putting up goose eggs for 7+ innings until the bullpen came in to slam the door shut.

Joba and Joe and Pray for Snow? Is that our philosophy going into October? Is there anyone else in that packed bullpen we can count on? Who knows, but on Sunday those two were superior, halting the Minnesota offense that loves to put crooked numbers on the scoreboard against the Tigers.

The Tigers didn’t need much offense, but Ian Kinsler was key in all three runs. First, the spunky second baseman lofted a home run to left field to make it 1-0 in the third inning. Then, in the 8th inning he lined a single that scored the second run. So, the two key players in this crucial win at 11:59 PM of the season were both acquired via trade in the last 10 months. Pine all you want for Austin Jackson (and his glove would look nice in center) and Drew Smyly, and even Prince Fielder (does anyone remember him?) but the Tigers do not win this fourth consecutive division title without Kinsler and Price. Price was an add-on who won a few big games down the stretch, but Ian was the real sparkplug of this team this year. He won’t win the MVP Award, but he was as valuable to his team as anyone was.

The Detroit Tigers have now done something that they’ve never done before — made it to the postseason in four straight seasons. More than a century ago, Ty Cobb and Wahoo Sam and Wabash George led the Tigs to three straight pennants. That team never won a World Series, getting dispatched each year in the Fall Classic rather easily. The current Tigers “dynasty” has a 4-3 record their postseason series, winning one pennant in 2012. They’ve had spells of dominance, like the four straight wins over the Yankees in the ALCS two years ago and the first game and a half last year against the Red Sox when their starting pitchers were literally almost unhittable.

Still, they’ve come up short each October, much to the consternation of some Detroit rooters who want it all or nothing. But let me tell you something: winning the World Series in 2014 is much more difficult than it was in 1909, or 1968, or even 1984. A team has to survive a 5-game series and then a 7-game series just to capture a pennant. Wild card teams often ride a wave of emotion into the postseason and they usually knock off a a favorite. A hot pitcher or batter can carry a team in a short series, and one bad play (like he made) or pitch (like this one) can doom a team. The World Series tournament is sort of like the Stanley Cup Playoffs — a team has to survive and advance while navigating rounds of games against teams that are well-armed and playing games that are usually lower scoring and more intense.

We shouldn’t lose track of the fact that we are lucky to be alive in an era when the Tigers are champions — even if it’s only division champions. First place in four straight seasons is something we only dreamed about in 2003. Three straight trips to the ALCS is something we could only fantasize about in the 1990s. But here we are, back in the playoff dance again. I for one, am going to enjoy this ride as long as it lasts. We could be mired in a rebuilding project seemingly forever (looking at you, Cubs) or have an over-priced team that misses the playoffs and fizzles when they do make it (Yankees), but we aren’t those people. We’re lucky enough to have a winning team year after year to root for (and to be frustrated by).

So, as we prepare for another round of postseason baseball, I ask you again Tigers’ fans: are you excited?