It's too bad the Tigers have to be judged on wins and losses and not on the incredible odds against what they just accomplished. In a parallel universe, they might be immortalized for pulling off such a remarkable feet. The Tigers blew a seven game lead on September 6. They blew a three game lead with four games remaining. They blew a 3-0 lead in their one-game playoff with the Twins. They also led going into the bottom of the 10th, and squandered two scoring chances in the 9th and 12th innings in which the probabilities for scoring a run were 84.6% and 65.4%, respectively. The Tigers had roughly a 90% chance of winning the AL Central as of early September according to Playoffstatus.com. They also had a 75% chance of beating the Twins in their one-game playoff after taking a 3-0 lead according to ESPN's Gamecast. No team in MLB history had ever lost a three game lead with four games left. For mathematical purposes, let's say the Tigers had a 95% chance of winning the division with three games remaining. The odds that the Tigers could choke all three situations away are roughly .125% or 1 in 800. That doesn't even factor in the probability failures in the 9th, 10th, and 12 innings.
With that in mind, I'm pretty sure that this is the biggest collapse in the history of baseball. The '07 Mets are highly respected for choking away the NL East but whereas the Tigers were up three games with four games remaining, the '07 Mets were tied with four games remaining. Plus, the Mets simply cannot compete with Detroit's bonus choke in Game #163. The '95 Angels are also immortalized for blowing a big lead but their biggest lead in September was 6.5 games and they lost their lead two weeks before the season ended. The Tigers led the division for 149 consecutive days and only needed to do it for one more day to win the division. The '95 Angels only led their division for 79 consecutive days and didn't lead at any point in the last two weeks. Bilfer at the totally awesome Detroit Tigers Weblog hesitates to call this a "collapse." He argues that since the Tigers were 17-16 in September and October that it was the Twins who won the division and not the Tigers who lost it. I understand the sentiment but I cannot agree. I'm just going by the odds and the marshmallow-soft schedule that the Tigers had to work with. Both were heavily in Detroit's favor. They defied the odds in the wrong direction over and over again. I have no problem using the words "major" and "collapse" to describe this.
The worst part about all of this is that the Tigers actually played well against the Twins on Tuesday night. Sure, they made mistakes but they played admirably. In fact, they likely would've won the game if it weren't for a raw deal from the umpires. Placido Polanco was called out on a horrible called-third strike by homeplate umpire Randy Marsh. The Tigers had a guy on first and third with no outs at the time. Brandon Inge was robbed by Marsh again in the 12th inning when he was clearly hit by a pitch that would've given the Tigers a one-run lead. They had the bases loaded with one out at the time. The Tigers had an 84.6% chance of scoring when Polanco stepped to the plate in the 9th and a 65.4% chance of scoring when Inge stepped to the plate in the 12th. It is very likely that Doug Marsh cost the Tigers the game against the Twins.
Unfortunately, it doesn't matter that the Tigers played well on Tuesday. In baseball, teams play well and lose everyday. When the Tigers failed to take advantage of the massively advantageous position they had put themselves in all season by letting Minnesota force a one-game playoff, they had pretty much given up any claim they had to the division. The Tigers weren't going to win on Tuesday. They were 2-7 in Minnesota this season. The Twins are a different team at home as are the Tigers on the road. It's true they lost to Minnesota on Tuesday, but they lost the division long before that. Had they just played .500 baseball against some of the worst teams in the American League over the last three weeks, they wouldn't have needed an extra game. They lost two series to the White Sox, two series to the Royals, and split against the Blue Jays over that span. That's why I won't let the Tigers off easy by giving all the credit to Minnesota.
As you might expect, there is a lot of blame to go around when a team repeatedly collapses over an extended period of time. However, there are also levels of culpability. The most culpable, in my opinion, is the front office. I love the job that Dave Dombrowski has done but his decision to not trade for a major bat at the trade deadline went a long way in making this collapse possible. The Tigers were never going to be able to coast to the division. Anyone who knows anything about the Minnesota Twins knew they would get hot. Heck, I wrote about it repeatedly over the season. By not adding elite offensive production to one of the worst lineups in baseball, Dombrowski all but guaranteed that the Tigers were at the mercy of the Twins. Considering the ineptitude of the offense at the time, that was a dreadful decision. To his credit, Dombrowski could not have known that Jarrod Washburn would turn into the worst pitcher in pitching history when he brought him to Detroit. Even though the lineup needed to be addressed, the rotation was thin and adding a veteran arm was a strong move. Dombrowski's other mistake was not bringing in another arm after the trade deadline when it was obvious that Washburn was washed up. While the Angels traded a bag of doughnuts for Scott Kazmir, the Tigers went with a carnival of questionable arms down the stretch including starts from Eddie Bonine, Nate Robertson, and Alfred Figaro. Kazmir started six games for the Angels and posted a 1.73 ERA. Obviously, even the Angels didn't expect that level of success but it was pretty obvious that he would've been better than what the Tigers were getting down the stretch.
I've never been a big fan of Jim Leyland. His in-game management leaves a lot to be desired. He is way too conservative. His quick hook of Porcello on Tuesday may very well have cost the Tigers the game. Porcello needed to come out at some point but Leyland must have been the only person in the world who felt Zach Miner gave the Tigers a better chance of winning than Porcello at that point. Having said that, I'm not sure there was a lot he could've done in the last month of the season. The Tigers were a flawed team. Once Edwin Jackson decided he was done pitching well, Leyland and the Tigers were done. The offense was brutal and the pitching staff was basically a 2-man show with Porcello and Justin Verlander. Leyland deserves blame and I'm pretty sure he'll get the majority of it from fans and media. I just don't think he was as responsible as it might seem.
The least responsible of the responsible parties, in my opinion, were the players. The Tigers weren't expected to win the AL Central division this year let alone compete for it. They thrived in the first half in large part because Edwin Jackson pitched like a hall of famer. His performance combined with the impressive pitching of JV and Porcello masked the horrible 4th and 5th spots in the rotation. The Tigers started to lose games when they started playing more like the team people expected coming into the season and less like the team that led the Central for four months. Still, they players deserve a considerable amount of criticism for getting owned by the Royals and White Sox to close the season.
Next season isn't likely going to bring such a monumental collapse. It's doubtful that the Tigers will even be in a position to collapse. Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland bought Magglio Ordonez for $15 million next season crippling any chance to drastically improve the lineup. The rotation will be in flux to start the season with the uncertainty of Nate Robertson and Jeremy Bonderman. I can realistically get excited about 2011 since they'll be shedding a boatload of payroll and some of the young pitching prospects like Jacob Turner and Casey Crosby might be ready to join the team. Next season, though, is not going to be pretty. Plus, let's say the Tigers do surprise and contend for the playoffs. After what we saw this season (and in 2006), will anyone be able to take it seriously?