Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tigers' Penchant For Bad August Baseball Must End This Year

The good news is the Tigers have been playing their best baseball in the last 40 games or so. The bad news is that this is the time of the year when Jim Leyland's bunch has typically gone into the tank.

The Tigers are 27-13 since bottoming out at 12 games below .500 in early June. It's a quarter that has propelled them back into relevancy in the AL Central -- just 5-1/2 games behind the White Sox as of this morning.

Trouble is, the Tigers have been bitch slapped by the latter part of July and August the past two years, covering Leyland's tenure.

In 2006, after a zenith of 76-36 in early August, the Tigers nosedived, finishing the season 19-31 and losing the division to the Twins.

Last season, the Tigers suffered through an 11-23 valley after the All-Star break, basically shattering their playoff hopes.

Of course, the '06 bunch recovered in time to make it all the way to the World Series, and last year's team dusted itself off to make at least part of September interesting before fading into the sunset altogether. But the facts remain: in each of the last two post-All-Star break stretches, the Tigers have wilted under the summer heat.

Ahh, but what about injuries, you say? In '06, Placido Polanco missed over a month after hurting his shoulder in Boston in August. In 2007, Gary Sheffield also suffered a shoulder injury while making a rare appearance in the outfield. And we all know what that did to Sheff, physically -- and the Tigers, spiritually.

Maybe 2008 will be a 180-degree change from the past two seasons. This time, the Tigers started frigidly and appear ready to make a late-season charge -- literally opposite their formula in '06 and '07. And as far as injuries go, most of those were suffered from April thru June. The Tigers are a much healthier team now, maybe as healthy as they've been all season. So there's that, too.

Still, I'm eager to see how Leyland navigates his team as August approaches, because that hasn't been the manager's best month in Detroit. In 2006, the Tigers were 13-16 in August. In '07, they were 11-18. That's a career August mark of 24-34 for Leyland, in Detroit, in one of any baseball season's most critical months. That's not getting it done.

But if the Tigers can continue this 180 degree thing, then maybe they'll have something.

I know injuries played a key role in the Tigers' last two summer swoons, but that's also when a manager has an opportunity to seize the moment and make do with what he has. Sadly, Polanco and Sheffield's injuries knocked the air out of the Tigers, and that concerns me.

It's early, but the 2008 Tigers are 4-2 since the All-Star break. It's a start.

There almost certainly will be a heretofore mystery player joining the Tigers late next week, courtesy the trading deadline. If nothing else, to make things a little more interesting. But it's up to the manager to not allow any more summer swoons. This time, the Tigers can afford one of those the least since Leyland took over. No big pad of '06 and '07 to sustain such nonsense.


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