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 Tigers compelling despite late-season slide

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PostSubject: Tigers compelling despite late-season slide   Mon Oct 04, 2010 9:00 pm

Tigers compelling despite late-season slide
Youth powers strong start, before injuries drop Detroit in Central
By Jason Beck / MLB.com | 10/03/10 6:00 PM ET

DETROIT -- The Tigers didn't have many fans expecting them to lead the American League Central at the midway point of the schedule. Once they finally had people believing they were for real, fewer fans expected them to fall out of the race as suddenly as they did.

Put the two different halves together, and the Tigers' 2010 season had one common theme: A team that defied expectations, from the infusion of youth that helped carry the team for much of the first half to the struggles in the second. The biggest factor that did go to expectation was their downfall, that the late July spate of injuries that took Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen and Brandon Inge out of the lineup at a key stretch of the season -- and kept Ordonez out for the rest of the season -- would be impossible for them to overcome.

"I think we came into this year thinking we could compete and we did, until we just got blindsided so bad that we just didn't recover," manager Jim Leyland said. "We had a freaky, lousy series in Cleveland after the break, which was a freaky thing, and that combined with some injuries and stuff."

Leyland doesn't like to play the what-if game, imagining what would've happened had the Tigers stayed healthy down the stretch. His players, on the other hand, think about it.

"To be honest, I don't think for a second that we wouldn't have been in this thing, or maybe even wrapped it up, if we wouldn't have had the injuries we had this year," said Inge, who missed two weeks in late July and early August with a broken bone in his left hand.

"When I look back at this year, I look at it as we were championship contenders, without a doubt. And if we have some of the big guns that we lost early and for the year, without a doubt, easily, we'd be in a different spot than we are now."

For the first few months, they were the team that just kept overcoming. Carlos Guillen's calf injury in April opened the spot that allowed Brennan Boesch a chance in Detroit, and he ran with it. Joel Zumaya's injury shifted Phil Coke from left-handed specialist to primary setup man, with solid results. They ran off late-inning comebacks in April and May that left no lead safe against them once they ran starting pitchers out of the game.

All the while, with the lineup in flux around him, Miguel Cabrera hit up a constant storm. After a 2010 season that ended with him taking a serious look at his life and making changes, Cabrera emerged as arguably the most dangerous hitter in the American League. He led the offensive Triple Crown categories -- batting average, home runs and RBIs -- for much of the first three months until Jose Bautista passed him up in homers. He pretty much led wire-to-wire in RBIs.

As Leyland said half-jokingly about Cabrera's value -- without Cabrera, he might not be here.

Even calls that went against Detroit seemed to be rallying points. What should've been an outrage with Jim Joyce's blown call that ruined Armando Galarraga's otherwise perfect game, instead became an example in sportsmanship and forgiveness. It wasn't the springboard to a breakthrough season that Galarraga had hoped, but it made him enough of a household name that he and Joyce were presenters at the ESPY awards in July. (More | )

In the end, they weren't contenders. But they were never quite predictable, and they were never really dull.

Record: 81-81
, third in AL Central

Defining moment: The awkward slide of Ordonez as he tried to make his way around Blue Jays catcher John Buck's tag at home plate July 24. Not only was he out at the plate, he was out for the rest of the season with a broken right ankle. The Tigers could've survived losing Inge and Guillen for a couple weeks each, but losing Ordonez at the same time took away the biggest cog in the Tigers' lineup not named Cabrera. Detroit lost 15 of its next 19 games and fell from 2 1/2 games back in the division to 10 games back. (More | )


What went right: After years of struggling to invigorate the lineup with young talent, the Tigers ended up with a bevy of it. Austin Jackson became just the third rookie in the past 25 years to post 100 runs, 170 hits, 30 doubles, 10 triples and 20 stolen bases, plus a slew of highlight catches in center field (More | ). Boesch was a borderline All-Star slugger for the season's first half. Will Rhymes went from an unknown injury replacement to a potential fit at second base next year, thanks to a late-season run. Casper Wells helped fuel a September stretch that pushed the Tigers back over .500. All that young hitting complemented a pitching rotation that came together around Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello.

What went wrong: Injuries, not just in that late-July stretch but throughout the season. Spring Training arm issues with Bobby Seay and Zach Miner led to season-ending surgeries, leaving both in question for next season. Zumaya's impressive comeback ended with a catastrophic-looking fracture on the mound in Minnesota at the end of June (More | ). Guillen returned from his hip injury for less than two weeks before a hard slide by Brett Gardner caused a bone bruise deep enough that Guillen needed season-ending microfracture surgery on his left knee. ... Jeremy Bonderman remained healthy for the full season, but his transition towards finesse pitching was a rough one at times.

Biggest surprise: Rhymes wasn't on the prospect radar when the Tigers called him up out of necessity to fill in for Guillen in July and again in August. Now, the 5-foot-9 second baseman is a potential sparkplug in the second spot in the order, having boosted Detroit's lineup with timely hitting and speed.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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PostSubject: Re: Tigers compelling despite late-season slide   Tue Oct 05, 2010 10:28 pm

still sad to see Damon and Bondo leave - - hope they find a way...not sure what Dombrowski is thinking; i know he wants wins, but don't we all? Why are there oaches, then? Damon is a veteran player and Bondo's all right...he could be a 20 game winner.still young.
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