Team Zubaz Tigers tear through league
The Detroit Tigers are making the game look easy — actually, way too easy.
They will arrive in Cleveland for a three-game series with an 11-game road winning streak, having just swept a series in Boston for the first time since 1983. Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Torii Hunter and Ian Kinsler have turned it into a T-ball league, hitting line drives at will.
The Tigers disposed of the defending World Series champion Red Sox decisively — taking three games by a combined 13-3 score.
Perhaps the only thing that can stop Detroit is the fashion police. They had confined their new infatuation with Zubaz clothing to the clubhouse until the entire team wore the Tiger-striped sweat pants and hoodies on a charter flight from Boston to Cleveland, which had to be rescheduled for Monday due to mechanical issues.
"Our Zubaz were too much for the plane to handle," Tigers catcher Bryan Holaday tweeted.
All-Star pitcher Justin Verlander posted an Instagram photo of himself, two-time defending American League MVP Cabrera, All-Star outfielder Hunter, second baseman Kinsler, center fielder Austin Jackson and outfielder J.D. Martinez posing in the clubhouse. They snarled, wearing the orange, blue and white outfits and extending open hands like real tigers sizing up prey.
Was this a scene from "Where the Wild Things Are" or the middle of a pennant race?
"Hey, Zubaz is cool," Hunter told me recently. "And we’re having a lot of fun with this."
Tigers set-up reliever Joba Chamberlain, who bought Zubaz pants for all of his teammates, tweeted a photo of J.D. Martinez and catcher Alex Avila sitting on the runway in Boston.
Avila, who lives near Miami and is a huge Dolphins fan, said Zubaz, which debuted 26 years ago, isn’t as out-of-touch as most think.
— Joba Chamberlain (@Joba_44) May 19, 2014
"Hey," Avila said, "Dolphins fans still actually wear Zubaz to games."
The Tigers are having fun with their success both on and off the field.
Cabrera was about to leave the on-deck circle Sunday night at Fenway Park when he stepped back to shake hands with a young fan who was beckoning, and Hunter was playfully boxing with pitcher Max Scherzer and Jackson in the dugout late in the game. They are loose and confident. And why shouldn’t they be?
But it’s a humbling game, and the Tigers will be tested. You can count on that. However, what they are doing right now is building a lead that provides cushion from any coming skid. Everyone in the Central Division is between 7 and 10 Â½ games behind them.
Detroit is 27-12 (.692) and only one team in franchise history had a better record at this point. The 1984 Tigers were 34-5, and the 1961 Tigers were also 27-12.
Teams that start like this usually end up doing something very special.
The ’84 team won 104 games and the World Series.
The ’61 team won 101 games, but finished second to the 109-win New York Yankees in an era when teams either won the pennant or went home.
Still, getting a big lead and dealing with success can be challenging. The late great Hall of Fame manager of the Tigers, Sparky Anderson, said that managing that ’84 team after the 35-5 start provided one of his least enjoyable managerial experiences. He said the pressures that came with being on such a high pedestal all season long got to him at times. Anderson felt anything short of winning it all would’ve been a disaster.
But this is a Detroit squad built to handle pressure. It has won three consecutive Central Division titles, playing in the ALCS all three times and reaching the 2012 World Series. Hunter and Cabrera keep things loose, and Victor Martinez, closer Joe Nathan, Chamberlain and Kinsler are among those providing strong veteran leadership.
Our Zubaz were too much for the plane to handle
And there is so much to like about this team.
One of the few knocks against the Tigers of recent years is that they couldn’t manufacture runs or run. However, J.D. Martinez on Sunday night stole the team’s 37th base — two more than it had all of last season. Left fielder Rajai Davis is second in the league with 14 steals.
The biggest knock on Detroit in April, before it caught fire, was a bullpen with an earned run average as bloated as a water balloon. Well, the relievers have pitched 17 scoreless innings on the first six games of this road trip. Chamberlain setting up Nathan has become quite a one-two punch. Al Alburquerque, Ian Krol and Evan Reed have all been impressive, too.
They are on a roll. However, the rest of the league should know this: They put their Zubaz pants on one leg at a time.