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Published: Monday, 5/12/2008

Tigers playing badly, yet only 4 games back

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Manager Jim Leyland has kept faith in his team, but insists the Tigers have to get hot soon to stay in the race.
Manager Jim Leyland has kept faith in his team, but insists the Tigers have to get hot soon to stay in the race.
JIM MONE / AP Enlarge

DETROIT Ask thoseassociated with the Detroit Tigers and they will all say something similar to this: the 2008 season, to this point, has been a disappointment.

Flop, drag, and downer also come to mind.

But on a dreary, rain-dominated day at Comerica Park in which the series finale against the Yankees was washed out yesterday, there was reason for optimism in Detroit s clubhouse.

As surprisingly poor as the Tigers have played through 38 games, they re still within striking distance in the American League Central.

We re just fortunate nobody s run away with it, said pitcher Nate Robertson, who was supposed to start yesterday s game but will now pitch tomorrow night in Kansas City.

The Tigers have lost five of seven overall and went 2-4 last week at home against the Red Sox and Yankees, yet they only trail the Twins by four games for first place in the division.

A rallying cry for the Tigers and their apologists has been that no other AL Central team has sustained a charge this year and that s true. But the Indians, who were also rained out yesterday, have won four of their last five and are getting great pitching almost every night.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland said regardless of what division rivals are doing, the time for his team to get hot is now.

We ve got to take care of our own business, Leyland said. We ve got to get on a roll and win four out of five, three out of four, split a series, three out of four.

Leyland was then asked if any AL Central team has surprised him this year.

We ve surprised me, he said.

The Tigers pitching staff is the worst in the league with a 5.09 ERA. Starters Justin Verlander, Nate Robertson, and Dontrelle Willis have two wins between them. The staff s best starter statistically, Armando Galarraga, is ticketed for the bullpen or Toledo when Willis comes off the disabled list.

Detroit has recovered somewhat offensively and was tied for fourth in team batting average through Saturday at .264, but inconsistencies still abound.

Leyland said he is still confident the Tigers will be a dominant offensive club and will pitch better, but: At some point it s got to happen.

Tigers second baseman Placido Polanco has already gotten it together. He s batting .403 (25-for-62) with two homers, nine RBIs, and 13 runs scored in his last 14 games, and entered yesterday leading the league since April 25 in hits and runs.

Polanco said he believes the rest of the Tigers will follow suit, maybe as soon as they hit the field tomorrow night.

When you re not playing as well as you hoped and you get a couple days off, it can refresh your body, Polanco said. We just need to hang in there tough.

No make-up date has been announced for yesterday s postponement. With no more games scheduled between the Tigers and Yankees, the clubs will have to play in Detroit on a day when both were supposed to be off.

The teams share off days on May 19 and 29, June 23, July 7 and 24, and Sept. 1 and 11.

Contact Joe Vardon at:jvardon@theblade.com or 419-410-5055.



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