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.


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