The Detroit Tigers sit at the top of the American League Central Division standings. In 2011, the Tigers lost in the American League Championship Series. Last season, they were swept by San Francisco in the World Series. Matthew Mowery of the Oakland Free Press joins Bill Littlefield to discuss the Tigers season and their chances at a World Series title this year.
BL: Next season will mark the 30th anniversary of Detroit's last World Series title. How much pressure is on the team to succeed this year?
MM: I think there's a little pressure, actually a lot of pressure on the team to break that World Series drought, but its not necessarily just the nearly 30 years that have passed since the last one. In part there's a lot of pressure on the team because the owner Mike Ilitch is not getting any younger, and they would really really like to get one in his lifetime. They're certainly in a win-now mentality. You can see that in a lot of the moves they've made in the last two to three years.
BL: This week, Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta returned to the team — at least for workouts. Peralta is serving a 50-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis performance enhancing drug scandal. He will be eligible to play just before the end of the regular season. How will that affect the Tigers?
MM: They've never closed the door on the possibility of bringing him back, but they haven't announced whether or not they will at this point. If they do, they're not going to bring him back as the starting shortstop. They've got that handled with Jose Iglesias, who they traded for. They certainly could bring him back as a pinch hitter and kind of a power source off the bench.
BL: Since 2004, Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera has hit 30 or more home runs each year except one and last year of course he led the American League in batting average, homers, and RBI. He'd be looking at another triple crown if it weren't for Chris Davis — all those home runs he's hit in Baltimore. How has Cabrera managed to get even better more than a decade into his career?
MM: He sincerely has the desire to be one of the best in baseball. You can kind of see that when he goes after one of these personal goals. He did it a couple of years ago when he caught Adrian Gonzalez for the batting title in the last week of the season. He did it last season when he caught Josh Hamilton for the home run leg of the triple crown. He's one of those guys, you can't necessarily explain how he does it. You just kind of marvel at when he does it.
BL: The guy who has starred on the mound, of course, is Max Scherzer. He had a little trouble getting that 20th win so far, but his record is still 19-3 going into the weekend, and he has increased his win total every season since his debut with Arizona back in 2008. Is there a ceiling on this guy?
MM: I don't think so. When they made the trade in that big, blockbuster three-way deal with the Yankees and the Diamondbacks — giving up Curtis Granderson — they got back a lot, and they knew that Max had a lot of potential. I'm not sure that they thought that necessarily he had Cy Young potential, but he's certainly pitched at that level, at least this year. He's been helped a little bit by a tremendous amount of run support from the Tigers, and that's been a little of what's been lacking over the last couple of starts for him, and that's why its been so hard for him to get that 20th win.
BL: Finally, I'm curious about what you think are the keys for a deep Detroit drive in this year's postseason, and, of course, whether you think they can win it all?
MM: If Verlander puts together a Verlanderesque September and October, then it's not a question about it: they have, probably, the best top-four rotation in baseball. I think it comes down to also Miguel Cabrera being healthy for the postseason and also his running mate Prince Fielder, who hasn't had necessarily the same impact year he had last year. The RBI are still there, but the batting average isn't quite what it had been.
But with Victor Martinez hitting right behind him, I think this is a better team than the one that made the World Series last year, and I certainly think they have the capability of getting there, and I certainly think they would like to erase that memory of the sweep last year at the hand of the Giants.
This segment aired on September 14, 2013.