Monday, June 23, 2008

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 4-2
This Week: (6/24-26: STL; 6/27-29: COL)

Oh, how easy we are to please nowadays.

A 36-39 record isn't typically one that elicits high fives and hip bumps, but when you were once 24-36 and 11 games out of first place, buried at the bottom of the division...well, 36-39 looks pretty good. What looks even better is being just 5 games out of first place with almost 90 games to play.

That's the Tigers' situation this morning, and with the first-place Chicago White Sox about to start a west coast trip, the Tigers have just completed one -- and a successful one at that. They took four of six from the Giants and the Padres, losing the first game each time and rallying to capture the last two.

The tide is turning, ever so slowly.

"We're not sprinting yet, we're crawling," manager Jim Leyland said of his group, which is 12-3 since falling to 24-36. They've won four straight series.

A good week at home -- where the Tigers have won six straight -- and .500 will be theirs.

Sparky Anderson used to say that a team "couldn't do nothin'" until they reached and surpassed the .500 mark. Hard to argue; even the weakest divisional winners have had records of at least a few games over the break even point. It won't matter, in the end, if it took the Tigers some 80-90 games to climb over .500, if the divisional race remains tight after the All-Star break. Don't forget about the 2005 Houston Astros, who stunk up the joint for much of the first half before making a charge that led them all the way to the World Series. Those Astros were 21-35 as late as June 7, yet finished with 89 wins and the Wild Card (thank you,

The Tigers ought to be thrilled with their situation right now. It's as if they've been given a second chance at life in the '08 season. Not often can you start as horrendously as the Tigers did (0-7, 2-10, 24-36) yet still have a chance to play meaningful games after the All-Star break. You need others in your division to stumble, and the Tigers have gotten that. The White Sox just got swept in Wrigley Field. The Twins are hot, but that's OK. The Indians continue to teeter and totter. The Royals are, once again, irrelevant.

The leader in the AL Central is just seven games above .500, and that's why the below-.500 Tigers have a shot. Five games out at this point is practically nothing. That is, if you continue to play well -- which the Tigers have done now for over two weeks. It's their best stretch since going 12-5 to climb within one game of .500 after they swept the Yankees in New York.

The offense has come alive, and timely hits are now part of the team's makeup. There's a feeling now that the Tigers will come back, or will get that key hit in the late innings. There's not as much of that feeling of "here we go again" when something goes wrong.

The only trouble is that the Tigers dug themselves such a hole that you almost HAVE to go on one of those 21-6 kind of rolls to get yourself back in it. Check it out: if the Tigers make it to .500 this week, they will have gone 15-3, or something similar, just to do it. Then if they lose a few, as will inevitably happen, you have to claw your way back up again. It leaves little margin for error. Nothing says the White Sox won't heat up and before you know it, you could be 8 or 9 games out again.

But that's speculating. All you can do is keep winning as many ballgames as you can and hope that it gets you somewhere.

If nothing else, this current hot streak is serving notice that the Tigers aren't dead yet, despite attempts to bury them -- by know-it-alls like bloggers and such.

How appropriate that one of the symbols of that magical 2006 season -- the St. Louis Cardinals -- come calling this week. They're handing out replicas of the 1968 road jerseys, too. Maybe another good omen.



Blogger Rick said...

Just remember that this streak started with a sweep of the White Sox! Jimmy, keep on keepin' on ....

11:24 AM  

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