The Kansas City Royals snapped a twenty-nine year streak of regular season futility by making the playoffs this fall. After a Wild Card game for the ages, the Royals went on to sweep the Angels and Orioles to advance to the World Series. The Royals forced a seventh game against the Giants but ultimately lost the series, stranding Alex Gordon, the tying run, on third.
Between 2002 and 2013, ten franchises have made it to the World Series only to come up empty. Each installment of this column will look at one of those franchises to see what has happened in the seasons following their World Series loss. Today’s column features the Detroit Tigers.
2006 was Detroit’s first year under Skipper Jim Leyland. This was Leyland’s fourth managerial job, though he last managed the Rockies a full seven years prior. Ending the season with a 95-67 record, the Tigers won the Wild Card, earning their first playoff berth since 1987 in a season that saw them finish above .500 for the first time since 1993. Although the Tigers trailed the Twins in the standings that year, Leyland edged out Ron Gardenhire for AL manager of the year.
That season also saw the emergence of future ace, Justin Verlander. The young fireballer put up 4.1 WAR on his way to winning the American League Rookie of the Year award. Verlander pitched alongside veteran hurler Kenny Rogers, who at 41 put up his last productive season in the majors logging 204 innings and posting an ERA+ of 118. Carlos Guillen, appearing primarily as the team’s shortstop, led the squad in WAR (6.0) slashing .320/.400/.519 for a career high 136 OPS+.
The 2006 playoffs saw the Tigers cruise past both the Yankees and Athletics, losing just a single game. However, in the World Series they would manage only one win of their own, losing in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals. Verlander lost both the first and last game of the series while allowing 10 runs (7 earned) in 11 innings pitched, despite striking out 12 batters.
The Tigers missed the playoffs the following season and responded by acquiring Miguel Cabrera for the 2008 campaign. Cabrera and Verlander would combine to win three consecutive MVP titles from 2011-2013. Verlander won both the MVP and Cy Young award in 2011, a year that also marked the Tigers first return to the post season since their World Series loss. That year, Verlander led the qualified major league pitchers in strikeouts (250), ERA+ (172), WHIP (0.920), and wins (24) over 251 innings. Cabrera would win the next two MVP awards, edging out phenom Mike Trout both years.
Since joining Detroit, Cabrera has been one of the most feared hitters in the major leagues leading both circuits in HR (252) and RBI (846) while his OPS+ of 161 trails only the aforementioned Mike Trout, for hitters with at least 1000 PA.
Prior to the 2012 season, the Tigers signed free agent Prince Fielder to a nine-year $214 million contract. Fielder and Cabrera powered the Tigers back to the playoffs and all the way to the World Series. Unfortunately they would fall again, this time in four games to the even-year loving San Francisco Giants.
On the heels of that loss, GM Dave Dombrowski inked Verlander to a record extension for a pitcher, despite still having him under contract for two more seasons. Jim Leyland would return for the 2013 season, before retiring to spend more time with his cigarettes.
After failing to advance past the ALCS, the Tigers traded recently acquired slugger Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers for vindictive second baseman Ian Kinsler. When ace Max Scherzer turned down a $144 million six year extension prior to the 2014 season, Dombrowski signed Cabrera to a 8 year extension worth $248 million despite having him under team control for another two years at a reasonable $44 million.
Previously featured in Almost Heroes: Cardinals
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