Friday, March 07, 2008

Tigers could coast into playoffs with a strong start

Before the Tigers took the field in 2007 to defend their American League Championship, one could’ve predicted potential disappointment because of the “red herring” that was the second half-schedule. Of course, most Detroiters were still too much in shock that the Tigers weren’t the worst team ever anymore to care about something as trivial as “the second-half schedule.” Unfortunately, said schedule featured 43 games against teams that were above .500 the previous season. There were few breaks in the slate as the Tigers only played 13 games against teams with fewer than 75 wins in ’06. If Detroit was healthy for that part of the schedule, it may have been able to sneak into the playoffs. However, the difficulty of the schedule combined with a number of key injuries (losing Sheffield for that stretch ended up being the deal-breaker, IMO) made for an incredibly disappointing end to 2007.

Contrast that to the 2008 schedule and it appears that the schedule-maker noticed the raw deal that the Tigers were dealt in ’07 and made amends. I would venture to say that the second-half schedule for 2008 is even easier than the 2007 second-half schedule was difficult. In the final 67 games this season, the Tigers only play 17 games against teams that were above .500 last season. That’s 26 fewer than in the second-half of 2007. Even more incredible is that the Tigers play 41 games in the latter half of the season against teams that won fewer than 75 games in 2007. That’s 28 more than last season. The Tigers will see an extreme shift in second-half schedule difficulty from last season and I think that will make this season much more successful. The second-half of the MLB season is notorious for the “grind” of playing through the summer months and mounting injuries. The Tigers had no chance against those factors last season. Even a few key injuries likely wouldn’t be enough to derail the Tigers from finishing strong in 2008.

This is good news for a number of obvious reasons. However, the “best” reason is that it puts the Tigers in a win-win situation for the first-half of 2008. If the Tigers play good baseball and find themselves close to the division lead at the All-Star break, then they will be in excellent position to pull away from the field as they get into the easy part of the schedule. If things fall apart for one reason or another in the first half, the Tigers can rest easy knowing that they will have the opportunity to take advantage of a weak schedule post-All-Star break. The Tigers could also have the luxury of resting their starting pitching near the end of the season if they’re able to pull away from the pack.

Usually the best team wins in baseball but if teams are close enough in talent (i.e. Cleveland and Detroit in ’07), the schedule can play a huge factor in which team moves on to the postseason. It feels good to have that on our side this time around.

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