Monday, April 10, 2006


Welcome to the Monday Morning Manager!

Each Monday, in this space, you'll get my takes on the Tigers: the week just played, the games that lie ahead, and other odds and ends.


Last Week: 5-1
This week: vs. CWS (4/10,12,13); vs. CLE (4/14-16)

If there ever was more of a lock for Player of the Week honors -- in the history of the award -- than Chris Shelton, then that person must be playing slow-pitch softball somewhere.

Shelton started the 2006 season this way: 14-for-20, 5 homers, 2 triples, and a slugging average that looks like the price of gasoline. And the Tigers won their first five games.

A hiccup yesterday in Texas notwithstanding, the team comes home 5-1. Break out the red, white, and blue bunting, Mildred -- these aren't your daddy's Tigers.

Comerica Park and the surrounding areas promise to have some more zip and zing in their air this afternoon for Opening Day -- and this time you truly can capitalize both those words.

The Tigers did so many good things, played such good baseball, that it makes you wonder if the team somehow sold its soul to the devil in order to spend at least one week among the game's elite.

The starting pitchers won their first five decisions. They only walked three batters. The defense was solid. The hitting was overpowering. Manager Jim Leyland surely must have been stowing a crystal ball with him on the trip, because just about every move, every lineup change, every bullpen summons -- worked to a "T" -- for Tigers.

Opening weeks aren't usually much, in the long run. They are, truthfully, just one of some 27 or so weeks that a team will experience during the course of a season. It just happens to not be sandwiched with a week before it, so it stands out.

But no matter when a baseball team has a week that the Tigers had, it should be cause celebre, because this is the way winning teams play the game, man. It was such a good display, even if the Tigers don't have anything close to it for awhile, they should keep it fresh in their minds -- if only to prove to themselves that they are capable of performing as an elite club performs.

Shelton was uneblievable, of course, and it's hard not to get too excited about this kid. He swung the bat with such authority and in such a businesslike manner, that opposing pitchers around the league might be waking up in cold sweats the night before facing Big Red. You just can't pitch to him right now. The other team would have as good of luck -- if not better -- if they just placed the ball on a tee and let him swing away. Chisel him in for .315 or .320 by the end of the year -- easy. No sweat. This young man, I'm convinced, could hit .300 just by showing up at the ballpark.

It'll be interesting to see, as it is with all unheralded teams who get off to fast starts -- how the Tigers react now that they've lost a game. Will it trigger a slide, or can they avoid a losing spell and keep the wins coming?

It's AL Central Varsity this week: the White Sox and the Indians for six at CoPa. None of this JV, Kansas City Royals stuff. The defending champs haven't had their Wheaties yet. I wonder what words of self-proclaimed wisdom manager Ozzie Guillen will utter to his charges before the game today.

Opening Day prediction: Tigers 6, White Sox 4. And a Guillen ejection.


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