August 10, 2013 at 9:39 pm

Lynn Henning

World Series hardly guaranteed, but these Tigers on par with '68, '84 champs

New York — I suppose the Tigers could blow their lead in the American League Central and never taste a sip of that cheap postseason champagne some winery must make specifically for spraying against clubhouse lockers.

There is a chance ... a good chance, based on the pure peril in trying to win a five-game series — that this same Detroit team could be toppled in the division playoff.

There also is the prospect of the Tigers at some point meet the Red Sox in October. Based on past history and how the Tigers turn into wimps the moment they step into Fenway Park, no series, of any length, against Boston will anoint Detroit as a heavy favorite.

You never know about baseball’s postseason, which, as they say, is a crap shoot that loves to send good teams home as losers.

But it does not require a computer, or even a generational perspective, to see that the 2013 team is closer to those 1968 and ’84 teams than were Tigers units that played in the 2006 and ’12 World Series.

What iced it were the two trades general manager Dave Dombrowski made two weeks ago. He got the bullpen pitcher, Jose Veras, his manager, Jim Leyland, had to have, and then locked up the shortstop, Jose Iglesias, who gave his pitchers an essential upgrade in defense (see: third inning in Saturday’s 9-3 victory over the Yankees, with Iglesias diving, throwing and combining with Victor Martinez on a sensational put-out) at the same time it protected Detroit against the disruption of Jhonny Peralta’s suspension.

Dombrowski and Leyland have the starting rotation to win any series against any team. They have the top and middle of a batting order that can shake down thunder and gut good opposing pitching.

They have a bench. They have a bullpen, including a closer in Joaquin Benoit. They soon will reunite with their important second baseman, Omar Infante, who has not played in almost six weeks. They also could add a steadier, more consistent power bat as Alex Avila moves away from his earlier ills and likely settles into a more reliable back-end weapon.

2013 vs. 1984

The ’84 Tigers did not match Leyland’s present rotation. Jack Morris was their heavyweight, and the supporting cast was good. But it was not in the same class for overall firepower and depth as the 2013 quintet.

The Tigers had a tremendous up-the-middle drive-train in ’84 with Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Lance Parrish and Chet Lemon. The 2013 Tigers counter with Miguel Cabrera, and with Prince Fielder probably providing more punch at first base than was delivered by Darrell Evans.

The ’84 Tigers popped you in the first inning and built leads throughout a game. This year’s Tigers are more selective with their scoring, which works because their pitching is generally so strong that three or four runs is sufficient.

It means, on a straight comparative analysis, this 2013 team has less firepower but an overwhelming edge in power arms that tend to make the biggest difference in postseason baseball.

The ’84 Tigers bullpen was better for the simple fact it had a Cy Young winner and MVP in closer Willie Hernandez. But with the closer’s role now in the palms of Benoit, that advantage isn’t as overwhelming as it might have been.

It’s becoming easier to give this team an edge in terms of its sheer postseason potential. It’s a rougher road than was the case in ’84, when the Tigers needed only to win a single five-game series to crack the World Series. Not only is there a longer postseason in 2013, the competition is better, with vastly stronger pitching than the ’84 Tigers faced.

2013 vs. 1968

As for that ’68 championship team? Too long ago. Too many things have changed. They didn’t have a designated hitter in ’68. They had a higher pitcher’s mound. They had no playoffs ahead of the World Series.

But that team, too, was a pitching-heavy club, with Denny McLain and Mickey Lolich commandeering an otherwise solid staff. Al Kaline, Willie Horton and Jim Northrup pretty much handled the offense, helped by Dick McAuliffe. It was a neat and clean path to the World Series, which the Tigers won against the Cardinals after being down three games to one.

It’s way too early to make projections. But, apart from all the crazy and heartbreaking things that can and do happen to good clubs each year in October, I would rank this team as slightly more formidable, and for one giant reason:

It has more talent. As the manager says: “You give me chemistry, I’ll take talent.”

So will I. This 2013 Tigers team is superior in the ways that most should matter two months from now.

The Tigers' new slick-fielding shortstop, Jose Iglesias, tries to turn a double play in Saturday's 9-3 victory over the Yankees. / Frank Franklin II/Associated Press
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