Two or Three seasons could be an aberati0n…six seasons of second half collapses had to be a trend. A trend of underper0ming teams in the clutch. Teams that can’t beat a last place team when it mattered. Teams filled with overrated starters who cave into pressure time and time again. The heartache of the 2009 collapse was probably only bested by the unravelling of the World Series favorite 2007 team. The most likely person for fans to blame for over a half decade of disappointments was the Detroit Tigers’ manager, Jim Leyland. Sure maybe General Manager Dave Dombrowski has had a bigger role in the those collapses, attempting to resolve bad contracts with more bad contracts, but Leyland was the guy we saw everyday along the way.
He’s been surly with the media. Questioning reporters qualifications when confronted with hard answers. Presuming that fans don’t know any better than what they’re told by talk radio. His approach and the team’s inability left him with few supporters outside of the locker room and front office. I was willing to give Leyland one last shot but as the dog days of summer hit, and his team continued to flirt with .500 and showed no signs of being able to run away with the division it appeared we would be left with past demons still needing to be exercised. Right at this time…right when it seemed same old story, right when myself (and Detroit Tiger fans everywhere) were about to give up on the skipper, he pulled off their greatest run in nearly a century. It’s becoming obvious as the Tigers added some blue chip talent in Doug Fister and Delmon Young, and as their younger players have developed as hoped, that those collapses might have been due to Leyland keeping those teams in contention that had no right being there in the first place. The talent level caught up to them and the collapse was inevitable as the better teams pulled away. This year, Leyland had that better team.
The Tigers didn’t just pull away in the division. They jetted off, leaving their fraudulant contenders in their vapor trail. On the final day of the regular season, the Tigers have a 14 game lead over the Indians. 14! An incredible number when you think that it was 1 1/2 heading into a mid-August showdown with the Indians. The Tigers are going to finish with 94 or 95 wins when we thought 84 or 85 might be enough. They’re rested and at the top of their game heading into the playoffs.
Now there’s still criticism of Leyland about lineups and perhaps he’s not playing for home field meaning a series with the New York Yankees looming. What I say to that? Bring it. If the Yankees are the best, why not get them out of the way first. Be in the limelight right off the bat and proves what much of America seems to already be accepting, the Detroit Tigers are the better. They’re better thanks in enormous part to an incredible job by Jim Leyland who turned a team of perennial chokers into top contender for the World Series, something everyone reading this thought seemed impossible two months ago.