Henning: Tigers have a long way to go to match AL's best

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

October means football. Or, rather, it means baseball.

OK, it can mean both, in stunning surplus, as last week's Michigan-Michigan State colossus and some landmark ALCS and NLCS games proved.

Some thoughts as the World Series semifinals continue at Rogers Centre in Toronto and Chicago's Wrigley Field:

Royals make a fine-line case for skill over talent.

This is how, for one person, a subtle but defining difference can be seen in the Royals-Blue Jays showdown.

Toronto has more talent in the sense it has a slight edge in elite players: Troy Tulowitzki, Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, David Price, etc.

That's a tremendous amount of celebrity tonnage.

The Royals aren't slackers, not at all. Not with Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, Johnny Cueto, and of course, Wade Davis, among their luminaries.

No one can, or should, dismiss the Jays. Not when they’re playing games this week at Rogers Centre. Not when they came back beautifully to beat the Rangers in their division duel.

And not when they thundered back Monday night to score 11 runs and blast their way back into the series, winning 11-8 to make it a 2-games-to-1 lead for K.C.

But the Royals know what they’re doing. On defense. At the plate. On the mound. Maybe most important, they dealt a year ago with October’s metaphysics. It’s no wonder they got a quick, if not decisive, jump on an imposing team from Toronto.

Mets have something more precious than experience.

Neither the Cubs nor Mets know much about baseball in October. Except that they usually follow it from a sofa. So, the NLCS contestants are a wash when it comes to playoff perspective.

That leaves pitching. Pitching is every team's tiebreaker, particularly during a playoff series.

The Mets have more of it. More velocity. More unhittable pitches.

Even if the Cubs had spent past seasons slaloming through various levels of playoff baseball — as, for example, the Tigers did from 2011-14 — they would have been in trouble against arms as merciless as the Mets' phalanx of fire-ballers.

To put it all into numbers: Paul Hembekides of ESPN Stats/Info disclosed Monday that Cubs hitters have been attacked by 103 pitches at 95 mph or more. The Mets? They've seen all of three from Cubs pitchers.

The Cubs will benefit from having beaten the Pirates and Cardinals and roamed this deeply into October. But they weren't going to whip the Mets and those starters. Not unless some big guys with long hair and jet-engine repertoires stumbled.

And they haven't.

Take a look at this year's playoff cast and conclude: The Tigers have a long way to go.

It's possible the team from Detroit can add some arms, expect better health in 2016, and storm to another playoff run following this season's last-place ordeal.

But it's going to require so many things coming together.

Two starters, whom general manager Al Avila wants to grab via free agency or trade, will need to throw something close to 200 meaningful innings. Justin Verlander should be fine as the probable staff ace. Anibal Sanchez, who isn't as predictable, needs health and an answer for why 2015 was a bizarre experience in polarized performances.

Then, there is the bullpen, which has been a problem child for some years now and at the moment lacks, among other needs, a closer.

Left field could use some reinforcing. And, well, you get the picture: If the Tigers are to beat the whipper-snappers whose arms and defenders have made clear that genuine playoff teams are stocked with youth and shutdown pitchers, serious reconstruction awaits in the coming weeks and months.

It's the opinion of Avila and owner Mike Ilitch that they can reload — or, reboot, to use a famous word from July — ahead of 2016. Take a look at October's playoff elite and you get a hint of the heavy work ahead.