Monday, August 29, 2011

Leyland needs division title to check baggage

Jim Leyland is to the Detroit Tigers as Gene Mauch is to the Philadelphia Phillies.
That's one reason why the final month of the baseball season will be important to the Detroit manager's image, as least as it is perceived by Tigers fans.
Mauch was the Phillies' manager in 1964 .
The Phils had a 6 1/2-game lead in the National League (there were no divisions back then) with 12 games to play.
However, Philadelphia went on an ill-timed 10-game losing streak and, despite winning its final two games of the season, was passed by the St. Louis Cardinals, who won the right to play the New York Yankees in the World Series.
Leyland guided the Tigers to the 2006 A.L. pennant, the only league championship Detroit has won since the 1984 club won the World Series.
Does that put him one up on Mauch?
Well, yes. And no.
Leyland was at the controls when the 2009 Tigers, who led the A.L. Central by seven games on Sept. 6, went into a spin.
Detroit dropped into a tie with Minnesota, and then lost to the Twins in a one-game playoff for the Central Division championship.
No Tigers team had ever taken such a late-season tumble; hence the comparisons between Mauch and Leyland.
And, as any Tigers fan recalls, it wasn't the first time a Leyland team had let a division lead get away.
In 2006, the manager's first season in Motown, the Tigers ended the regular season on a five-game losing streak, dropping from a one-game lead into second place, behind Minnesota, and a wild-card berth in the playoffs.
The 2011 Tigers came home from a trip to Tampa and Minnesota with a six-game lead in the Central and Sept. 1 on the horizon.
They appeared to be in good shape to win their first division title since 1987.
But until the White Sox and Indians are eliminated, and champagne sprays in the Tigers clubhouse, there will be an uneasy feeling among fans.
Fair or not, that's Leyland's lot in life as the Tigers' manager.
Only time will tell whether it changes.

Friday, August 26, 2011

No sugarcoat for MIS repave

NASCAR drivers almost unanimously praise Michigan International Speedway for it racing surface, saying the 2-mile oval has multiple racing “grooves” on which cars can run without fear of spinout, a feature that leads to three- and four-wide racing, even in turns.
That’s why some drivers were less than thrilled to learn in June that the track will be repaved in time for the 2012 season.
New racing surfaces have changed the character of tracks such as Daytona and Bristol.
There was an undercurrent of concern among drivers in June, and when they returned in August, that new asphalt at MIS will be a detriment to what has been a favorite track.
Kevin Harvick, who drives the No. 29 Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, made a disparaging reference to the repave in August.
So did Austin Dillon, who drives in the Camping World truck series.
In June, Sprint Cup drivers Clint Bowyer and Kyle Busch were among drivers who expressed concern about the resurfacing, which began following the Aug. 21 Pure Michigan 400.
Last week, Jimmie Johnson didn’t say whether the repave would be good or bad, only that he expects MIS speeds to climb.
“You’re going to have to bring your big-boy shoes here when the thing is repaved,” the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet said. “We run a really intense lap now, even in race trim, a lot of throttle around this place.
“Depending on the tire they give us, you would assume we could come close to flat-footing it.”
Brad Keselowski, a native of Rochester Hills who considers MIS his “home” track, said he talked to Roger Curtis, president of the facility, about the project.
“I think it’s going to be cool,” Keselowski, who drives the No. 2 Dodge, said of the resurface. “There are a lot of drivers that discouraged the repave. (Curtis) assured us it has to be done in order to make sure we don’t have a (2010) Daytona situation (when the old surface developed a hole). We can’t have that. For our sport, it’s important we get it right when we get (back) here and have fans in the stands.
“I respect his commitment to doing that.”
Pit road at MIS was repaved between the June and August races.