Tigers Off To A Good Start

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    380pxOpening-Day-shot

    Opening Day is always a time for hope and optimism. So the start of the 2010 Major League Baseball season in Detroit was a celebration of what could be and what most hope will be.

    COMMENTARY

    Detroit came into Comerica Park with a 2-1 record after contesting the Kansas City Royals on the road and left the home cooking with a noteworthy 6-3 overall record.

    The euphoria of opening day and the start of Major League Baseball back in the Motor City is still fresh on the minds of many as the Tigers head out of town for a trying 11-game road trip against Seattle, Los Angels and Texas. If that was not tasking enough, when they return home they have to face rival Minnesota starting on April 27.

    “We’re going to find out about mental toughness,” Jim Leyland said, “because (on this) trip we have as brutal a schedule as you’ve got in baseball coming up in the next however many days.”

    I still would like to just hold on to the past few days at Comerica Park and reminisce about walking throughout the downtown area over the three-game home stand and seeing Detroit come together. Who can forget the largest opening day crowd in franchise history — 45,010. In fact, the huge gathering was the second largest audience overall for this storied organization.

    I still think back to the Elmwood. There were more revelers than the grill could house packed in. At the Detroit Athletic Club they set up tents outside that featured first-class food and a live band. At the parking lots that face Woodard there was family after family outside grilling every food one could imagine, and then I finally made my way over to the Fox Theatre where a private VIP function was being held.

    Well, that was then and this is now. The great start to the season is wonderful, but the next 11 days will go a long way in defining if this collection of Tigers is for real.

    It is kind of hyperbole to state that this early season road trip could make or break a season. That may not be entirely true, but how the Tigers perform on this grueling and demanding road trip will tell us a lot about this team and where it is headed.

    The way they have been winning thus far has been exciting with all the come-from-behind victories; however, all know that they cannot continue to fall behind, especially against teams that have a strong starting rotation.

    The fact of the matter is Detroit’s next 30 games, 27 of the opponents had wining records last season. So it is safe to say that being outscored by a startling 26-16 margin in the first five innings, including 11-4 in the first two innings, will not bode well for the Tigers’ future efforts on this road trip. It will be almost impossible to match their 33-18 advantage from the sixth inning on.

    “It’s been great getting the comeback wins,” Leyland said, “but I know we cannot continue to win like that. We have to get in the game early and make it easier for our starting pitchers.”

    Concurred outfielder Carlos Guillen: “Good teams win ballgames when they come from behind, but it’s not going to happen every game. We have to produce better, score some runs in the early innings.”

    All still remember last year when our beloved Tigers led the Central Division all year until the last days of the season where they lost a one-game playoff to rival Minnesota, which knocked them out the MLB Playoffs.

    Will the Tigers close the deal they could not last season? The solid 6-3 start is encouraging, but over the next three weeks the reality of what this team is going to become will be in our faces.

    “I know some people may disagree,” relief pitcher Joel Zumaya said. “This team is much better than our ’06 team.”

    That is a bold proclamation, especially when one considers the 2006 team had Curtis Granderson, Placido Polanco and future Hall of Famer Pudge Rodriguez. This team has rookie starters at centerfield and second.

    Zumaya said the reason he feels good about this group is that they have a relief corps loaded with power arms: “Our whole bullpen throws 90 and above,” he said. “So you get us in the 7th inning with a lead, it’s gonna be kinda tough for the teams that come across us.” The men Zumaya is referring to are new closer Jose Valverde, Phil Coke and himself.

    I say it is better to believe than not believe!

    Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com.

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