Tigers' Leyland loves his club's chemistry in 2010

BY foxsports • April 1, 2010

Jim Leyland has been managing in the major leagues for more than two decades and feels better about the vibe he gets from the 2010 Detroit Tigers than any other team.

``The chemistry out here is as good as I've ever had,'' Leyland said.

Leyland hopes wins will let the good times roll.

The Tigers expect to compete for the American League Central title this season after becoming the first team to lose a three-game lead with four games left and miss the playoffs.

Detroit traded or lost Curtis Granderson, Placido Polanco, Edwin Jackson and Fernando Rodney in the offseason. It replaced them with Johnny Damon, rookies Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore along with Max Scherzer and Jose Valverde.

``I think we have a chance to go to the World Series,'' Valverde said.

The Tigers have had disappointing seasons and an awful one since 2006, when they lost to St. Louis in their first World Series since 1984. Detroit followed up the 2006 season with a second-place finish, an 88-loss season and an unprecedented collapse last year capped by an extra-innings loss at Minnesota in the tiebreaking, 163rd game.

``I did think about it for a little while when I got home, wondering why it happened,'' catcher Gerald Laird said. ``But then I got over it because stuff like that happens in baseball.''

But it hadn't.

The Tigers took sole possession of first place in the division on May 16, built a seven-game cushion in early September and blew it by losing four of the last five games. Making matters worse, their $152-million player got so drunk during the final weekend of the season that he created a distraction compounded by his poor performance.

Star slugger Miguel Cabrera had a 0.26 blood-alcohol reading on the last Saturday morning of the season. He got into a fight with his wife that left him with a bruised and cut face and earned him a trip to the police station, where general manager Dave Dombrowski picked him up.

Then, Cabrera went 0 for 4 and stranded six runners in a loss to the Chicago White Sox on a night that Detroit could've won a division title for the first time since 1987.

The 26-year-old first baseman insisted a month ago he hasn't drank alcohol since the infamous night.

``I feel good with what I'm doing right now with my mind and my game,'' Cabrera said Wednesday. ``I want to prove to myself, not anybody else, what I can still do.''

Cabrera had 103 RBIs last season - his lowest total since playing 87 games as rookie in 2003 - despite hitting .324 with 34 homers.

The Tigers are counting on Cabrera and outfielder Magglio Ordonez, who finished strong last season after a poor start, to drive in a lot of runs in a lineup that Leyland acknowledged isn't great.

They also need Damon to do what he's done for much of his 15-year career, and designated hitter Carlos Guillen to produce at the plate after injuries kept him out of the lineup for half of last season.

``If the big boys do well, they'll break in the young guys a little easier,'' Leyland said.

When Detroit dealt Granderson to the New York Yankees and didn't offer Placido Polanco salary arbitration, it created holes the franchise hopes to fill with two players who will make their major league debut Monday in the season opener at Kansas City.

Center fielder Austin Jackson, acquired along with reliever Phil Coke from the Yankees, and second baseman Scott Sizemore, drafted by Detroit four years ago, impressed Leyland during spring training.

``Sizemore has got some juice in his bat and he's gotten better at second base right before our eyes,'' Leyland said. ``Jackson has run the ball down extremely well in spring training and that's hard to do with wind and sun.

``If we don't put the expectations too high on them and after they have a good week every writer doesn't have them in the Hall of Fame, we'll be all right.''

As complicated as baseball can be, good pitching is simply essential to win.

Ace Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, Scherzer, acquired from Arizona for Edwin Jackson, Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis seem to be a solid rotation.

Valverde, who averaged nearly 40 saves the past three seasons in Houston and Arizona, raved about the bullpen that includes Joel Zumaya, Ryan Perry, Fu-Te Ni and Coke.

``This is the best bullpen I've seen in my life,'' Valverde said. ``If my starters can throw 5 or 6 innings, the game is done.''

Willis believes a close-knit team can limit streaks and enjoy the good times even more.

``When you're struggling, it can turn an eight-game skid into a four-game skid,'' Willis said. ``When you're winning, it's easy and it's all good for everybody.''

Detroit's players arrived at their clubhouse in Lakeland, Fla., on Thursday dressed in suits for a road trip to Milwaukee for two exhibition games before the season begins against the Royals.

``It's time to go,'' Leyland said.