Brilliant rotation not enough for Tigers
In a scene emblematic of Detroit's postseason downfall, Max Scherzer could only watch.
In fact, there was little any of the Tigers' starting pitchers could have done differently to prevent another disappointing ending to a fine year.
"Normally if you pitch the way we pitched in this series, you would probably think that you had won," manager Jim Leyland said.
The Tigers lost the AL championship series to Boston in six games because the few weaknesses they had all seemed to hurt them at the worst possible time. Whether it was an unreliable bullpen, poor baserunning or shaky fielding, the Red Sox took advantage of every Detroit flaw.
Now the Tigers must look ahead to 2014, with a core of players that has done everything Detroit could ask for -- except win a World Series for the Motor City for the first time since 1984.
The first question -- as it was last offseason -- is whether Leyland will be back. He's been working on one-year contracts the last couple of seasons, and although he's given no indication he plans to leave, nothing is official.
The Tigers have won three straight AL Central titles and reached the ALCS each of those years. The 2012 season ended when Detroit was swept in the World Series by San Francisco, and this year's team nearly won the pennant again on the strength of a stellar starting rotation.
Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister combined for a 2.39 ERA as starters in the postseason, but the Tigers weren't able to take advantage. After beating Oakland in a five-game division series, Detroit blanked Boston 1-0 in Game 1 of the ALCS and had a 5-0 lead in Game 2 - but David Ortiz's series-turning grand slam off closer Joaquin Benoit helped the Red Sox rally to win that game.
In Game 3, Justin Verlander allowed his only run of the postseason, and that was enough for a 1-0 win by Boston. Detroit's once-powerful offense became increasingly limited because of injuries to Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder's inability to hit for power.
A grand slam by Shane Victorino -- again off a Detroit reliever after Scherzer had been pulled -- enabled the Red Sox to end the series with a win in Game 6.
"The difference really, when you look at the series, is they hit a couple of big bombs and we just didn't quite do that," Leyland said. "They hit a couple of timely, two or three really timely home runs."
Of course, the Tigers hurt themselves in other ways. They derailed rallies with poor baserunning and made costly mistakes in the field. Rookie shortstop Jose Iglesias, perhaps the best Detroit fielder, was unable to come up with a grounder in Game 6, immediately before Victorino's grand slam.
The Tigers were never expecting to win the World Series because of their speed and defense, but it was jarring to see their deficiencies in those areas come back to haunt them so starkly.
Benoit, Jhonny Peralta and Omar Infante are eligible for free agency, but the Tigers should return next season with the same core of high-priced stars, including Verlander, Cabrera and Fielder.
Scherzer, however, enters his final year of arbitration eligibility before becoming eligible for free agency after the 2014 World Series. That puts the Tigers in a tough spot. Scherzer could be a candidate for a long-term contract, but it's not clear how much Detroit can afford to keep increasing its payroll. One way or another, the star right-hander can expect a significant pay raise in 2014.
Detroit has six capable starters on its current roster. Left-hander Drew Smyly was the odd man out and did a good job out of the bullpen, but he may have too much potential to remain a reliever for much longer.
Peralta returned from a 50-game drug suspension and provided key hits in the postseason, but he spent some time playing out of position in left field because Iglesias had been acquired in a trade.
"We've got good pitching. Our offense is good," right fielder Torii Hunter said. "I'm pretty sure we can tweak here and there. ... We had chances to win. It just didn't happen."