Coach takes blame for Tigers’ slump
Vail, CO Colorado
DETROIT ” Jim Leyland was carried off the field on the Detroit Tigers’ shoulders after they eliminated the New York Yankees from the playoffs last year.
When the defending AL champions had the best record in the majors last month, Leyland was hailed as a genius for holding the team together despite a rash of injuries.
Now, he’s ready to take the blame for their slump.
“If you’re going to be there to cut the yellow ribbon, you have to be there when the ship goes down,” Leyland said Monday. “I’ll take any heat there is to pass on.”
There is only one problem with that: Leyland can’t hit or pitch ” two facets of the game dragging Detroit down.
Since having the best record in baseball on July 21, the Tigers had won just three of 12 games entering Monday night’s game against Tampa Bay.
If it wasn’t for solid fielding, Detroit wouldn’t be doing anything well compared to the first 95 games of the season.
Before July 21st the Tigers led the majors in slugging percentage (.471) and doubles (218) while their ERA and opponents’ batting average ranked in the middle of the pack.
Since then, they were 19th in slugging percentage (.409), 25th in doubles (25), next to last with a 6.31 ERA and 28th in opponents batting average (.308) entering Monday’s game.
“We haven’t had quality starting pitching like we did before and our hitting has not been nearly as good as it was before,” general manager Dave Dombrowski acknowledged. “But I don’t think it’s just because of the injuries. I think when you struggle, you put more pressure on yourself to perform and I think that’s happening.”
Leyland, Dombrowski and their players refuse to use injuries as an excuse, but it’s simply a fact that key players are missing on the mound and in the field.
Kenny Rogers (left elbow) is on the disabled list for the second time and will not be healthy enough to be activated later this week, when he hoped to return. Standout rookie Andrew Miller (hamstring) is on the DL. Fireballing setup man Joel Zumaya (finger) has been out since May, and might be ready to return later this month.
Fernando Rodney, a key setup man, recently returned from the DL.
Designated hitter Gary Sheffield (shoulder) and outfielder Marcus Thames (hamstring) have been missing from the lineup. Meanwhile, All-Stars Magglio Ordonez, Ivan Rodriguez and Carlos Guillen have played while hobbled by various ailments.
The Tigers were idle at the trading deadline and Dombrowski doesn’t regret it.
“You don’t make a deal just to make a deal and there were only a couple of players we thought were traded that were significant,” he said. “And rather than make a trade, I like what we have in the rotation with Rogers and Miller healthy; in our bullpen with Zumaya and Rodney; and in the lineup with Sheffield and Thames back.”
Despite the injuries and lack of production, Detroit has stayed at or near the top of the AL Central because the Cleveland Indians also have struggled and started the week just a half-game ahead.
Leyland said the Tigers can’t feel comfortable with that fact.
“That’s the wrong attitude to take because that won’t hold true if you don’t start winning games,” he said.
While fans are getting restless and the media is searching for answers, Guillen and most of his teammates look and sound as confident as ever.
“It’s a long season,” Guillen said, relaxing in a chair in front of his locker. “I’m not concerned. It’s part of the game to have slumps.”
All-Star second baseman Placido Polanco said unlike people outside the clubhouse, the Tigers are not worried.
“When you play 162 games, you just turn the page no matter how good or bad the last game went,” Polanco said. “And, it helps when you know you have a good team like we do. We know we’re going to turn it around and wake up real soon.”
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.