As the Detroit Tigers spiral toward an early off-season, many fans are venting their frustration at another second-half collapse. It's one thing to be bad; it's an entirely different cup of tea to continually self-destruct once the All-Star Break is over. Unfortunately, this is not the only time that we've seen a Detroit team blow a chance at greatness.
So for this week's Top Five it seemed only appropriate that we comfort Tigers fans by reminding them that they aren't alone in their struggle. Many teams that hail from Michigan have had outstanding starts in the past five years, only to be followed by disastrous finishes. Here are five teams from our recent past that have given us hope, only to crush our souls.
5. 2009 Detroit Red Wings
The Good: Took a 3-2 series lead in 2009 Stanley Cup Finals against Pittsburgh and were on the verge of repeating as champions.
The Bad: Lost the last two games, including Game 7 on home ice.
The joy of winning the 2008 Stanley Cup was only bolstered when the Red Wings signed superstar Marian Hossa the following off-season, which immediately made them favorites to defend their title. The Red Wings looked like they would do just that, coasting through the regular season as usual in claiming the second-best record in the Western Conference.
Trouble would start to lurk in the playoffs, although it wasn't visible at first. The team suffered injuries to key players, notably Pavel Datsyuk, who missed seven post-season games and didn't return until Game 5 of the rematch with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals. It looked like the Red Wings would prevail anyways, as they took a 3-2 series lead after dismantling the Pens 5-0 in that very game.
But the Red Wings just didn't have enough left in the tank. After dropping Game 6 in Pittsburgh, the Red Wings fell behind 2-0 in Game 7 and never recovered. Nicklas Lidstrom's last-ditch effort at the buzzer was not enough to pull the Wings even, and the Penguins claimed the Cup on the Wings' home ice. The sight of Sidney Crosby skating the Cup around Joe Louis Arena is one that will haunt Wings fans for a long time.
4. 2006 Detroit Tigers
The Good: Made the playoffs for the first time under Mike Illitch's ownership and won the AL pennant.
The Bad: Lost their last five games to the Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals, finishing 19-31 after going 76-36. Also lost the World Series after a shocking series of throwing errors by Tigers pitchers.
The magical season that was the 2006 Detroit Tigers almost never happened. Jim Leyland has been known more for his second half collapses than his wins during his tenure as the Tigers manager, and 2006 was the first version. The Tigers were by far the best team in baseball for first four months of the season, cruising to a 76-36 record during their first 112 games. But the fun times would be derailed in a heartbeat. An injury to Placido Polanco quickly threw the Tigers off course, and they tumbled to a 19-31 record over their last 50 games. That included a five game losing streak at the end of the season that cost the Tigers a division crown. Even the epic collapse wasn't enough to miss the playoffs however, as the Tigers made it in as a wild card.
Once in the dance, the Tigers quickly became favorites once again. After defeating the Yankees and Athletics on the AL side, the Tigers looked primed for their first World Series title since 1984. Many were predicting an easy win against the St. Louis Cardinals, who owned the second worst record ever for a league champion. As the Tigers quickly learned, looking better on paper does not a World Series champion make. The magic finally wore off for Detroit as the pitching staff committed a shocking five errors in the series, one per game, that basically handed the crown to the Cardinals.
3. 2007 Detroit Lions
The Good: Started the season 6-2 and looked primed for their first playoff appearance in the Matt Millen era.
The Bad: Lost seven of their final eight games and finished 7-9.
Call it the Curse of Kitna.
The Detroit Lions have been one of the worst teams over the past decade, but 2007 hurt the most in the long line of failures. Even the 0-16 season didn't sting as much as this one, which started as the Lions' most promising season of the Matt Millen era and ended just as badly as the rest.
Quarterback Jon Kitna may have doomed this team from the start, predicting the team would win 10 games in 2007. For the first half of the season, he looked like he might be right. Detroit started the season 6-2 and sat atop the NFC's North Division after pummeling the Denver Broncos 44-7 in Week 9.
The Lions then blew a gasket. Detroit committed five turnovers in a 31-21 loss to Arizona in Week 10 and never looked the same, losing seven of their last eight games that included blowout losses to Minnesota, Green Bay and San Diego. Detroit finished the year 7-9, missing the playoffs yet again.
Since the 6-2 start to 2007, the Lions are 3-37. Ouch.
2. 2009 Michigan Football
The Good: Started 4-0, including dramatic comeback wins against Notre Dame and Indiana.
The Bad: Lost seven of their last eight games and didn't beat a FBS team the rest of the year.
After finishing 2008 with the most losses in the 130-year history of the program, there was nowhere to go but up in 2009 for the Michigan Wolverines football team. Coach Rich Rodriguez had his first full recruiting class at his disposal, the highlight of which was new quarterback Tate Forcier.
The Wolverines started the season by destroying Western Michigan 31-7, and then pulled off a miracle comeback in Week 2 against Notre Dame, getting a Forcier touchdown pass with just seconds left to edge the Irish. Michigan played heart-stopper again in Week 4, using a late touchdown and controversial interception by Donovan Warren to seal a victory over Indiana. After the win, the Wolverines were ranked #20 in the country, the highest of the Rodriguez era.
The downturn began immediately the next week. Michigan went on the road to face arch rival Michigan State and lost in overtime after Forcier threw an interception in the end zone after driving the team down to the eight yard line. The Wolverines dropped out of the Top 25 and never returned. The Wolverines lost to Iowa the next week, then roasted FCS Delaware State 63-6 to improve to 5-2, but it was the last time they would taste victory the rest of the season. Michigan lost its next five games by an average of 16 points and finished 5-7, missing a bowl game for the second consecutive year.
1. 2009 Detroit Tigers
The Good: Held the division lead for 146 days.
The Bad: Became the first team to blow a three-game lead with four to play, losing a tie-breaker game to Minnesota.
The epitome of late season collapses, the 2009 version of the Tigers takes the cake easily. After tying for the division lead on May 10 and taking the lead outright on May 16, the Tigers held at least a share of the AL Central lead for the next 146 days. But as has become an all too familiar trend in recent years, the Tigers were unable to hold on when it counted the most.
The Minnesota Twins chased the Tigers all season long and finally caught them on the last day of the season. The Tigers held a three game lead with just four to play, but were unable to get the division under wraps after splitting a four game set with the Twins in early Ocotober. Detroit still held a two game lead, but frittered it away in the final week. The Twins swept the Kansas City Royals while the Tigers dropped two of three to the White Sox, allowing Minnesota to tie for the AL Central crown.
The result was a tie-breaker between the two teams at the Metrodome that lasted an epic 12 innings. Detroit threated to score in the top of the 12th with the bases loaded, but home plate umpire Randy Marsh ruled that a pitch did not hit Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge. Inge grounded out and Gerald Laird struck out to end the frame, allowing the Twins to score the winning run in the bottom of the inning.
Feel any better Tigers fans? Yeah, me neither.