The best Tigers teams that didn’t make the post-season

The 1924 Detroit Tigers, led by player/manager Ty Cobb (seated center) were one of the best hitting teams in history.

Not every good Tigers team has delivered on their promise. Sometimes, good teams play bad or have bad seasons marred with injury or inconsistency.

In their long history, the Tigers have advanced to the post-season 16 times. But there have been times when the Tigers have had very good seasons and missed out on the post-season altogether. Here are the 10 best Detroit Tiger teams that didn’t make the playoffs:

1911: 89-65 .578, 2nd place

Days in first place: 113
Latest date in first place: August 6

Why they didn’t make the post-season:
It’s pretty shocking how this team just blew it and choked away a big lead. In the first half the Tigers were red-hot, winning 12 of their first 13, 21 of their first 23, and 27  of their first 32. In that regard they were a lot like the ’84 team, roaring out to a big lead. They were sparked by Ty Cobb, who had his best season and one of the best ever by anyone. Cobb hit .420 that season with a record 248 hits while scoring 147 runs. He was a demon on the base paths, stealing 83 bases. He was practically unstoppable. Through the first 45 games of the year he was hitting over .470! Then, in the second half of the season the club took a nosedive. The offense, which amazingly had averaged more than six runs per game through the first 78 games of the season (a remarkable figure for the Deadball Era), cooled off to about 4.7 per game. The pitching staff was exposed and the team went 35-41 in the second half, as the Athletics rolled past them by 13 1/2 games.

What they did the next season:
The pitching got even worse and the Tigers fell to sixth place. It would be two more years before they got back over the .500 mark.

1915: 100-54 .649, 2nd place

Days in first place: 41
Latest date in first place: August 21

Why they didn’t make the post-season:
Because they couldn’t beat the Red Sox. The Tigers had a winning record against every other team in the league and really didn’t have any troubles with any other opponent, but the Red Sox beat them in 14 of 22 meetings. The Sox had better pitching, fueled by Smoky Joe Wood, Ernie Shore, Rube Foster, and a lefty named Babe Ruth. The Sox pitching staff was quite possibly the most aggressive in history – they all pitched inside and threw very hard. In an epic series at Boston’s Fenway Park in mid-September with two game separating them in the standings, the Sox and Tigers battled with brushback pitches, spike-sharpened slides, and verbal outbursts. In the first game, Cobb was thrown at about a dozen times before finally being plunked on the wrist. Fenway faithful pelted the Tiger star with garbage throughout the contest, which was halted several times. When Cobb caught the final out of the Tiger victory, fans swarmed the field to leave the ballpark, but they kept their distance from the fiery Detroit star. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they lost the final three games of the series and were essentially eliminated from the pennant race. The Tigers won 100 games, becoming the first AL club to win 100 and finish in second place.

What they did the next season:
87-67, 3rd place in the AL behind the Red Sox (who repeated as World Series champions) and the White Sox.

1924: 86-68 .558, 3rd place 

Days in first place: 30
Latest date in first place: August 12

Why they didn’t make the post-season:
Because Ty Cobb, Harry Heilmann, and Heinie Manush couldn’t pitch. This team, like all of the teams during the period when Cobb managed the “Ty-gers”, were pitching poor. There was Earl Whitehill and then not much else. In addition to the hard-hitting future Hall of Fame trio mentioned above, the Tigers had .300 hitters first baseman Lu Blue, second baseman Del Pratt, catchers Larry Woodall and Johnny Bassler, and third baseman Fred Haney. The team as a while hit .298 and scored more runs than anyone else, including the Yankees who had Babe Ruth in their lineup. After they clawed their way to a tie atop the AL standings in mid-August, Ty’s team played .500 ball the rest of the way and slid to a third place finish, 10 games behind the Senators.

What they did the next season:
81-73, 4th place. The team kept banging the ball all over the park: Cobb hit .378, Heilmann hit .393, outfielder Al Wingo hit .370, and fourth outfielder Fats Fothergill hit .353. But the pitching was even worse than the previous season, with Whitehill slumping too.

1946: 92-62 .597, 2nd place

Days in first place: 2
Latest date in first place: April 25

Why they didn’t make the post-season:
The Red Sox ran away with the pennant, building a 6 1/2 game lead by the end of May on the strength of a 32-9 record. The Sox were an offensive juggernaut, seemingly putting crooked numbers on the board inning after inning. The Tigers were defending champs and a good hitting club – they finished second in runs scored – but their strength was pitching. The rotation was topped by Hal Newhouser, fresh off back-to-back MVP’s. With all the best hitters back from the war, Prince Hal still dominated,m winning 26 games and leading the league with a 1.94 ERA. He was backed by Dizzy Trout, Virgil Trucks, and Fred Hutchinson in what is the best #1 through #4 the team has ever had in one season. They combined for 18 shutouts to lead the league, and really didn’t need much help from a bullpen at all.

What they did the next season:
Finished a distant second to the Yankees.

1950: 95-59 .617, 2nd place

Days in first place: 110
Latest date in first place: September 21

Why they didn’t make the post-season:
This was the best chance that George Kell had to get to the World Series with the Tigers. The club was atop the standings for much of June, July, and August, holding off the defending champion Yankees and the Cleveland Indians. It was a well balanced club: third in runs scored and third in runs allowed. Kell hit .340 and all three outfielders (Hoot Evers, Johnny Groth, and Vic Wertz) hit .300 as well. Ultimately, the Yanks were just too good – winning 15 of their final 22 games and pulling away. The major difference was that the Yankees got great performances from a veteran rotation of 33-year old Allie Reynolds, 32-year old Eddie Lopat, 31-year old Vic Raschi, and 30-year old Tommy Byrne. The Tigers went 1-7 against the Indians and Red Sox in the final weeks of the season and finished three games out.

What they did the next season:
The veteran Tiger pitching staff grew very old in ’51, as Hal Newhouser was essentially done as an effective starter. Meanwhile, Kell did his part with the bat, but Evers and Groth slumped and the team for virtually nothing out of their double play tandem of Jerry Priddy and Johnny Lipon. They plummeted to fifth place with just 73 victories.

1961: 101-61 .623, 2nd place

Days in first place: 83
Latest date in first place: July 24

Why they didn’t make the post-season:
In just about any other season, the Tigers would have easily won the pennant, but the Yankees were a better team, and one of the best teams of all-time in ’61. Sluggers Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle had monster years, but the Tigers actually scored more runs, with Rocky Colavito, Norm Cash, and Al Kaline in their lineup. Pitching and defense was the difference: the Yankees allowed 60 fewer runs and made 22 fewer errors.Detroit hung with the Bronx Bombers – they were just 1 1/2 games back as September started – but they were a mediocre 15-14 in September and October. The Yankees swept a three-game series against the Tigers at Yankee Stadium to start the final month, vaulting them on a 13-game winning streak. They left the Tigers far back in their rear view mirror. Detroit became the fifth team to win at least 100 games but fail to finish in first place.

What they did the next season:
After 101 victories in ’61, the Tigers fell to 85 wins the following season. The offense was still potent, but the scored about 90 runs less, hampered by the injury suffered by Al Kaline on May 26 when he dove for a ball in a game at Yankee Stadium. At the time, Kaline was hitting .336 and was leading the league in RBI and runs scored. By the time he returned, the team was well back of the Yankees in the standings.

1967: 91-71 .562, 2nd place

Days in first place: 41
Latest date in first place: September 18

Why they didn’t make the post-season:
The ’67 AL Pennant Race was one of the most exciting – maybe the most exciting – in history. In September, four teams (Boston, Detroit, Minnesota, Chicago) were very much in the race, and as late as  the final week, only 1 1/2 games separated them. But rain ultimately played a big role in the way things played out. The Tigers were rained out twice in the final week and had to play doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday. Meanwhile, Boston took care of Minnesota. The Tigers split the Saturday twinbill but needed to sweep the Sunday doubleheader to force a one-game playoff with the Red Sox. Denny McLain and reliever John Hiller both got smacked around in the second game, a late rally fell short, with Dick McAuliffe grounding into a double play – his only one of the year – to end the Tigers chances and their season.

What they did the next season:
The Tigers were the best team in the league in ’67 and they knew it. They let the pennant slip away but they wouldn’t let that happen in ’68, winning a franchise record 103 games on their way to the World Series title. The baseball experts overwhelmingly picked St. Louis in the Series, but Detroit never flinched, riding the arm of Mickey Lolich and the bats of Jim Northrup and Al Kaline to a seven-game triumph.

1981: 60-49 .550, 2nd place in second half of split season

Days in first place: 25
Latest date in first place: September 29

Why they didn’t make the post-season:
Due to a player strike that stretched from mid-June to mid-August, the season was split into two parts. Teams that were in first place on June 10 when the strike commenced were declared first-half champions. The second-half would run from August until the end of the schedule. The Tigers had played well in the 1st half – finishing just 3 1/2 games out. Led by the hitting of young Kirk Gibson (.375 in the 2nd half) and the pitching of Jack Morris and Dan Petry, the Tigers hung around the top of the standings, but unfortunately they were in a log-jam: the Red Sox, Orioles, and Brewers were also in the hunt for the 2nd half title. A 14-0 victory over the Orioles behind Morris on September vaulted the Tigers into a first place tie with Milwaukee, with Baltimore a game back and Boston a 1/2 game further behind. But the Tigers lost the next three games to be eliminated on the final Saturday by Milwaukee in a heart-wrenching 2-1 loss. The Brewers clinched the 2nd half title by plating two runs off Morris in the 8th on two bunts and a sacrifice fly. Veteran closer Rollie Fingers set Detroit down 1-2-3 in the 9th.

What they did the next season:
The young Tigers kept maturing, but they finished 4th in 1982, winning 83 games. Gibson got hurt and missed a few months of the season, Morris had an off-year, and the bullpen was terrible, especially after Aurelio Lopez was shelved with an injury.

1983: 92-70 .568, 2nd place

Days in first place: 15
Latest date in first place: August 14

Why they didn’t make the post-season:
The Baltimore Orioles pulled away from the rest of the AL East, winning 35 of 50 games to end the season, leaving the Tigs six games back. The Tigers were poised to pounce – they even swept the Orioles late in September (admittedly after the O’s had clinched) – but ’83 was a primer for what would come in the magical ’84 season.

What they did the next season:
First place every day of the season, won their first nine games, 18 of their first 20, 26 of their first 30, and 35 of their first 40. They scorched the rest of the league and then coasted to the division title. In the post-season they won seven of eight games to earn the fourth World Series title in franchise history. The ’84 Tigers were one of the very best teams in baseball history for one single season.

2009: 86-77 .528, 2nd place

Days in first place: 164
Latest date in first place: October 4, the last Sunday of the regularly scheduled season.

Why they didn’t make the post-season:
The team had a three-game lead with four games left on the schedule, then they lost the final game of a series against the Twins on Thursday and then the first two games of the weekend series against the White Sox, all at Comerica Park. That left them tied with the surging Twins. On the final Sunday of the season, Justin Verlander came up big, holding the Sox scoreless into the eighth while the scoreboard showed that Minnesota was routing the Royals. Verlander allowed three in the 8th, but the Tigers won the game, 5-3 to force a one-game playoff for the AL Central title. That epic 12-inning battle ended in Minnesota’s favor and Detroit became the first team in baseball history to blow a three-game lead with four games left. But Detroit really shouldn’t have been in that position if they had played more consistent baseball in September. They had a seven-game lead on September 6th, but went 11-16 after that. Starter Edwin Jackson had a 6.41 ERA in September, and late-season pickup Jarrod Washburn was a bust, throwing just 10 innings in two September starts with an ERA over 10.

What they did the next season:
After their disappointing collapse, the Tigers dealt center fielder Curtis Granderson to the Yankees as part of a monster three-team deal that netted Detroit four players: Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson, Phil Coke, and Daniel Schlereth. Three of those four players are still key contributors in 2012. The 2010 team was in first place in July, but collapsed in the second-half, finishing at an even 81-81.