TORONTO - While their opponent in the World Series is going to be formidable, the Detroit Tigers' most dangerous foe right now, is time. To be specific, idle time.
The Tigers, more than most teams should understand this. Back in 2006, when they swept away the Oakland Athletics in a four-game American League Championship Series, they sat around for a week waiting for the Series and their mojo disappeared. This time the wait will be six days until first pitch next Wednesday.
The St. Louis Cardinals, who required seven hard-fought games to eliminate the New York Mets in that 2006 NLCS, strode seamlessly into the Fall Classic and mowed down the Tigers in five games, outscoring the Tigers 22-11. The Tigers didn't hit, didn't field and didn't pitch like a World Series team.
Other teams have suffered the same fate. A year later, the wild-card Colorado Rockies went 7-0 in the first two rounds of the playoffs, then didn't play the opener of the 2007 World Series until nine days later. The Rockies were pummeled four straight by the Boston Red Sox, who outscored them 29-10.
Playoff baseball is about many things, including intensity. Teams and players that stay in the moment, embracing the adrenaline rush can continue to harness their talent. But the passage of time without an immediate reason to maintain that intensity, can undermine a team's spirit.
In that 2006 World Series, the Tigers hit .199 as a team with a .581 OPS. Three players -- Sean Casey, Carlos Guillen and Brandon Inge hit over .350 and nobody else hit over .200. Casey, Inge and Guillen accounted for 21 of Detroit's 32 hits and eight of their 13 extra-base hits. Worse, the Tigers were sloppy afield, committing six errors in the four games.
Manager Jim Leyland and GM Dave Dombrowski know what happened in 2006 and, even before the last champagne bottle had been drained after the Tigers dismissed the moribund New York Yankees Thursday night at Comerica Park, a whole planeload of Tiger minor-leaguers were issued tickets in Lakeland, Fla., the team's minor-league training base, to come to Detroit for scrimmages designed to try to keep the big team thinking baseball and staying sharp.
"We are going to play a couple games," Leyland said "We actually have our instructional league team coming to Detroit and we're going to play a couple of actual games Sunday and Monday and have a workout Saturday, as well. We're going to have our pitchers throw to hitters and we're going to have our hitters face live pitching. So hopefully we'll be a little more prepared this time."
In 2006, cold wet weather sent the Tigers indoors at Ford Field, a football facility across the street from Comerica Park for unsatisfactory makeshift workouts. This year, decent weather is expected over the weekend so the workouts can be staged in a baseball environment.
And while the situations may seem similar, this is a very different Detroit Tiger team, a team with a talented veteran core, a versatile and productive supporting cast and a set of starting pitchers who are blowing people away. This is an outfit that is made for the big stage.
"It's different," said Detroit ace Justin Verlander, a rookie six years ago. "In 2006, things were a whirlwind. It was almost easy. It seemed like we would do that every year. It's been quite the awakening since then. I think I have a better appreciation for how tough it is to get here. That makes it all the sweeter."
There is a pervasive feeling within the Detroit clubhouse that it is time for owner Mike Illitch to get his reward for sinking so much of his personal money into the pursuit of a championship. Illitch is 83 and not in the best of health. As owner of the Detroit Red Wings for the last 30 years, his team made the playoffs 20 years in a row and won four Stanley Cups. The Tigers have yet to win a World Series under his stewardship.
"This is the second time we've done this," Dombrowski said. "What you want to do is win the World Series. This is a big achievement, a big accomplishment. But you want that next step."
Last off-season, when Victor Martinez the foil for now-Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, suffered a season-ending injury in winter ball, Illitch stepped in and signed Prince Fielder to a nine-year $214 million contract without so much as swallowing hard.
The team underachieved most of the season and only took control of the American League Central in the last 10 days of the season. Now they are rolling, behind starters Verlander, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer, a quartet that gave up two runs, total, in 27.1 innings of work against New York.
Were the Yankee hitters that bad? Or the Detroit pitchers that good? A little of both, we suspect. Now it's a matter of keeping that momentum through the long days and nights that will make Wednesday seem an eternity away.
The Tiger faithful were thrilled that Delmon Young won the ALCS MVP award after hitting .353 with two home runs and six RBI. The Tigers' DH drove in the winning run in all four games against the Yankees, something nobody has ever done before.
But even the euphoric Comerica Park crowd squirmed a bit in their collective seats and responded with tepid applause at American League president Jackie Autry's over-the-top tribute to Young.
"There is no question in my mind," said Autry, "that Detroit is a class act and a class club. The man that is winning the MVP award this year is also a class act and that's Delmon Young."
That's not precisely how everybody would have described Young. There's the matter of a 50-game suspension Young incurred for throwing a bat at a minor-league umpire and another seven-gamer imposed by MLB for an alleged anti-Semetic slur.
He's still awaiting a Nov. 7 court date in New York for an April 27 incident outside a Manhattan hotel in which he is alleged to have been involved in an altercation with four men.
But, hey, stay classy Delmon.