The Tigers have a lot to be grateful for. They have the most talented roster, top to bottom, in their division. They have the best pitcher in baseball and they have a four game lead with just over a month left to play.
So why are we such a nervous bunch these days?
Two words: Jim Leyland.
Leyland is the master of worrying the fans. He makes inconceivable moves and he does them often.
ESPN recently ran an article in which one blogger surmised that Leyland costs the Tigers 10 wins a year with his crazy moves. I would be willing to bet it was much more.
The bottom line is that the Tigers have been gift wrapped their division and should be up by 10 games by now, but Leyland is making it interesting.
Here are five things that Leyland does that could significantly trip up the Tigers.
I have been railing about this for months, but it is just starting to get wacky now.
Collectively, Leyland has a lot of weapons at his disposal. So why exactly is it that he continues to set a lineup that requires that some of his worst hitters have the most at-bats?
I have no idea what world Leyland lives in, but his is the only one that has Austin Jackson and Magglio Ordonez batting first and second.
Jackson has an OBP of .310 and is on pace to strike out more than all but two guys in the league. So why does he get the opportunity for more at-bats than anyone else? He obviously isn't doing much with those at bats, so why not put someone like Jhonny Peralta in that spot? Peralta has an OBP of .361 and is hitting .326 with nobody on base.
Why is Ordonez hitting second when his OBP is .283? For that matter, why is it that Leyland sits Brennan Boesch against left-handed hitters when he hits them better than righties (.302-.279)?
Finally, the most maddening Leyland move is his insistence that Miguel Cabrera bats fourth instead of third. Cabrera, with his amazing .426 OBP, is the classic three hitter and Victor Martinez is ideally suited to the cleanup spot.
As the ESPN blogger mentioned, Leyland easily costs his team 10 wins per season due to his lineup mistakes—enough wins to cost the team the division title.
This has got to be one of the most mystifying of Jim Leyland's moves.
Ryan Raburn continues to see playing time over Ramon Santiago at second base despite the fact that Santiago is clearly a better fielder. Also, despite the fact that Santiago is a switch hitter that should never be platooned and that he is hitting over 50 points higher than Raburn.
Santiago should be the starter at second base every day. End of story.
However, if you look at the tonight's lineup Raburn is inexplicably penciled in. I guarantee that if he gets a hit, he will be in there again tomorrow.
The Tigers are at a point in the season where they need to win every game and this is the type of move that could cost them.
One of Dave Dombrowski's most underrated moves this year was bringing over Wilson Betemit, a switch hitting third baseman with pop in his bat.
If you weren't aware of this trade, don't be alarmed. Leyland never plays Betemit, so it is possible you haven't yet seen him play.
Since the trade, Betemit has been sat nine out of 30 games, roughly 30 percent of the time. Why is that?
It's not because he isn't hitting—Betemit has an OBP of .361 since the trade with an average of .313—and it's not because Don Kelly is a better option against right-handers. While his defense isn't great, Don Kelly sure isn't calling to mind Brooks Robinson for anyone.
Add Brandon Inge to this mix and you could go weeks without seeing a steady dose of Betemit.
I'm not mad that Inge is back. He was doing a great job at Toledo and deserved a call up, but against right-handers, Inge has never been stellar. If the Tigers trot anyone but Betemit out against righties then we will know there is a major conspiracy going on here.
Jose Valverde is the prototypical closer. When he comes into a crucial game he is nearly unstoppable. In fact, has not blown a save all year.
However, when he comes into a non-save opportunity, all bets are off.
The other night, the Tigers were tied at five with Minnesota heading into the ninth. This was an important game during a pennant race, and Detroit vs. Minnesota games have a tendency to be all night affairs. The Tigers had a bullpen that was relatively fresh, so why exactly did Leyland bring in his closer?
Honestly, as soon as I saw Valverde trot out I turned off the game. It was a given that he would give up a run, as he did.
Since July 1, Valverde has entered four games when a save was not possible including the game in question. In all but one of those games, Valverde has allowed a run. In that same period of time, Valverde has entered a game 18 times when a save was possible. Of those times, only once has he allowed a run.
So did Leyland learn his lesson? Of course not. Yesterday he trotted Valverde out there again in a non-save opportunity.
The result? An earned run.
At least the Tigers had built up a four run lead.
Jim Leyland likes to rest his starters.
I take that back. Leyland loves to rest his starters. He particularly loves to rest his starters in day games at the end of the series.
In my opinion, the Tigers basically concede at least one game a week, sometimes two.
The Tigers are 27-20 in day games. That doesn't sound bad, but there are still 11 day games remaining and the Tigers need to win more than half of them.
Look at the last five day games. Only once did they trot out their regular lineup and only twice did they win.
Look at the lineup any particular day. I guarantee there will be at least one regular with a day off. I can't remember the last time the Tigers played three straight games with all of their regulars.
I understand that players need some time off, but the Tigers are primarily a very young team. Brennan Boesch doesn't need two days off a week. Neither does Austin Jackson or Wilson Betemit. These are young guys in their prime during a pennant race. They can take it.
I just don't want Tigers looking back on this season in October and saying "Man, we could have used our best nine players out there more often."