Tigers no longer underdogs in Series

Tigers no longer underdogs in Series

DETROIT -- There has been considerable discussion about how far the Detroit Tigers have come, from 119 losses to the American League pennant in only three years.

But they have taken another long-distance journey in less than three weeks. They have gone from decided underdogs to prohibitive favorites.

They probably shouldn't have been underdogs in the first place, but they deserve to be favorites now. They come to the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals as winners of seven straight postseason games, one short of the record.

There will be much talk about their "layoff," one week between Game 4 of the American League Championship and Game 1 of the World Series scheduled for Saturday night. But chances are, the Tigers will be merely rested as opposed to rusty.

The Tigers played brilliantly in defeating the New York Yankees, 3-1, in the Division Series, and then in sweeping the Oakland Athletics in the ALCS. Their pitching was their basic strength, just as it must be for a postseason winner. That pitching performance indicated that they probably never should have been underdogs to the Yankees. New York had an All-Star lineup, but the Tigers had indisputably better pitching.

And the Tigers, in this postseason, have had timely hitting and solid defense. Put it all together, and this kind of combination should win the World Series. And chances are, it will.

But don't expect anything like smugness or complacency from the Tigers. If the rest of the world makes them the Series favorites, so what? They will not willingly shed the underdog mentality.

As the Tigers were preparing to work out at Comerica Park on Friday, Justin Verlander, who will be the Game 1 starter, contemplated the change in public perception of the Tigers and decided that it didn't make a difference.

"I think we'll probably still consider ourselves the underdog," Verlander said. "You know, if we like the underdog role so much, as we seem to have, even though people have just now turned around their feelings about us, saying: 'Oh, they're a good team,' if we've been doubted from Day 1 of Spring Training, all the way through until now -- to us, we're still the underdogs. If we've been doubted all year, we're still doubted now."

As far as the Tigers would go on the underdog/favorite issue was a kind of neutrality.

"We don't have a different mentality at all," said Nate Robertson, who will be the Game 3 starting pitcher. "We're not going to go out there thinking we're the favorite or thinking we're the underdog. All we're going to go out there and do is respect the St. Louis Cardinals and play our game."

That respect for the opposition is a key component of a healthy postseason outlook. The Cardinals come here as winners of only 83 games in the regular season. And while the Tigers were gaining some invaluable rest in the last week the Cardinals were going through a physically and emotionally draining seven-game NLCS against the Mets. But that can't be the way the Tigers look at it.

"When you look at it, you can throw the favorite stuff out," said manager Jim Leyland. "We're not going to get lulled to sleep with the favorite stuff.

"In my opinion, this team played so long without [Albert] Pujols, [Jim] Edmonds, [David] Eckstein, [Mark] Mulder was out. They're all healthy, with the exception of Mulder, and so we're not going to get trapped.

"This is a team, by the way, let me remind everybody, that's been in the World Series two out of the last three years. So that's not going to be an issue. We have great respect for the Cardinals, and believe me, I know a lot about the Cardinal organization, their manager and how they go about their business. They'll be ready to play, and they're the best representative from the National League. You can argue all you want, but they've earned their way here and they're a tremendous ballclub."

This World Series may not be the walkover that many people now seem to anticipate. The Cardinals have Jeff Suppan doing the best pitching of his life, and they also have Chris Carpenter, the 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner, in line to pitch at home. Their bullpen rounded into form nicely during the playoffs. They are not a pushover or a fluke.

But the Tigers should be favored, on the strength of their pitching, and on the exceptional quality of their play right here in October. They were the best team in baseball for the first four-plus months of the season. And now they appear to be the best team in baseball again.

The Tigers in six sounds right. This is a Detroit team fully worthy of a World Series championship. The Tigers would be favored over any National League team. When you become this good playing baseball in October, the only thing you deserve to lose is your underdog status.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.