- Gary Gillette, ESPN.com MLB insider contributor
The stunning rise and swift fall of the 2006 Tigers is a well-known story now. How on Aug. 7, Detroit had spent four months thoroughly thumping its opponents on the way to the best record in baseball as well as an enormous 10-game lead in the AL Central. How Detroit was an astonishing 40 games above .500 at 76-36. (That's really 20 games over .500, of course, but who's counting?)
Now, after six weeks of mostly heart-wrenching struggles, the Tigers aren't feeling invincible anymore -- nor are many of their fans so optimistic. Their once-powerful offense, which seemed to specialize in dramatic home runs and walk-off hits, first sputtered, then coughed. Then it finally shut down like a powerful V-8 engine running out of gas as Detroit staggered along, going only 13-24 since its high-water mark.
The proximate cause of Detroit's slump was plain to see. The Tigers' attack, which wasn't known as one of the great lineups of all time but which had been more than good enough when accompanying the league's best pitching and defense, literally disintegrated. Triumphal home run trots were replaced by catchable long flies; sharp singles through the infield were replaced by rally-killing GDPs. Enemy pitchers suddenly found the key to stifling Detroit's offense so thoroughly that the club's hitters looked more like Tabbies than Tigers.
The shrinking of the Tigers' lead in the AL Central has stemmed mostly from their continued offensive struggles.