Tigers have come far

If the Detroit Tigers lose to the Oakland Athletics tonight the season would be considered a failure by most, and understandably so. Detroit was picked by many to win the World Series and on paper they look as good as any team.

After constructing the league’s fifth-highest payroll and winning three straight Central Division championships, the Tigers would appear to be running in neutral if they got bounced by an Oakland team with the fourth lowest payroll.

After getting swept by the Giants in the 2012 World Series, the Tigers re-signed Leyland to a one-year contract. Many believe that anything less than a championship, or at least another World Series appearance would mark the end of his time in Detroit.

If Detroit does fail to win, or make it back to the World Series and Leyland is fired, it would be a sad day for a lot of Tigers fans. The 68 year old manager won his 700th game win the team this season and has led Detroit to four postseason appearances. As a Leyland fan, I hope he is able to return, but the fact that his job is even in question shows how far the organization has come in the last decade.

At this time 10 years ago, the Tigers were wrapping up a 43-119 campaign. They were on the verge of tying the 1962 New York Mets for most losses in a season, before miraculously winning five of their last six games.

Needless to say, expectations weren’t very high for a team that had three starting pitchers with the three highest loss totals in the league.

After that season, general manager Dave Dombrowski starting making moves. In 2004 he signed all-star catcher Ivan Rodriguez, the following season he brought in Magglio Ordonez, and after the 2005 campaign, fired manager Alan Trammell.

Dombrowski hired Leyland in 2006 and in his first year with Detroit the team won the wild card and made a World Series appearance. It was also the Tigers’ first time in the postseason since 1987.

Dombrowski and owner Mike Ilitch have definitely set the bar high since that season. In the last seven years, the Tigers have been in the top 10 for highest payrolls in the league, rubbing elbows with the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels.

They’ve assembled a roster with some of the most powerful arms and bats in the league, made big free agent signings and kept the stadium full.

I guess with big numbers come big expectations, and Detroit is feeling that pressure this year. It’s interesting how things can change in professional sports. Ten years ago Alan Trammell was retained as manager after one of the worst seasons in MLB history. This year, Leyland is in danger of losing his job after a third straight postseason appearance.

After clinching a playoff bid in a late September win against the Minnesota Twins, Leyland spoke of the expectations.

“From day one of spring training I told them don’t get caught up in the expectations, get caught up in how we’re going to live up to those expectations and I think that’s what they’ve done,” Leyland said.

Numbers aside and expectations upfront; I guess it shows how far the Detroit Tigers have come as an organization.