Jim Leyland hadn't managed in the big leagues since 1999, when by his own admission he did a "poor" job with the Colorado Rockies. Prior to that, Leyland won a World Series with the 1997 Florida Marlins, and managed the Pittsburgh Pirates to three straight NL East titles (1990-92).
So now he was in Detroit, hired just weeks after another disappointing Tigers season of 2005. It would be his first managerial job in the American League. Leyland and Tigers President/GM Dave Dombrowski worked together in Florida, and it was speculated that Leyland was the only serious candidate for the Tigers job.
Prior to being hired by the Tigers, Leyland spent several seasons as a scout and adviser for the St. Louis Cardinals, working with his close friend, Cards manager Tony LaRussa, who had given Leyland his first big league job as a third base coach with the Chicago White Sox in 1984.
The Tigers would at least have RF Magglio Ordonez healthy from the beginning of the season, unlike in 2005. The job in CF was won by Curtis Granderson, who beat out Nook Logan. The first baseman would be young redhead Chris Shelton, who impressed during a stint in 2005 and in 2006's spring training.
In the off-season, the Tigers signed 41-year-old lefty Kenny Rogers to help solidify their young rotation.
But the biggest news out of camp was the emergence of rookie pitchers Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya, righthanded starter and reliever, respectively.
Verlander, 23, and Zumaya, 21, made the team in the final days of spring training. No one knew how much impact the two would have on the team's fate.
The Tigers started strong, but Shelton was the strongest of them all. In the season's first two weeks, Big Red slammed nine home runs and was batting .471. He was white hot.
Shelton slowed down, but the Tigers didn't. By the end of May, the Tigers were 35-18 and in first place. At the All-Star break they sat at 59-29, but only two games in front of the White Sox.
By the end of July, Shelton, his average down to .277 and looking lost at the plate, was sent to Toledo. To replace him, the Tigers acquired veteran, lefty-swinging Sean Casey from Pittsburgh, who'd made his mark with the Cincinnati Reds for some eight years.
As the season neared the end, the Minnesota Twins made a furious push for first place as the Tigers faded. But thanks to their hot start, the Tigers could qualify for the playoffs as a Wild Card without winning the division. Still, for a team that hadn't won a divisional title since 1987, the Wild Card wasn't what the Tigers, or their fans, wanted.
It all boiled down to the final weekend. All the Tigers needed was one win over the lowly Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park. But the Royals swept the Tigers while the Twins won one of three against the White Sox, giving the division to the Twins.
But the Tigers had already clinched the Wild Card, so the disappointment was overshadowed by the spectre of the Tigers' first post-season appearance in 19 years.
Verlander and Zumaya both validated Leyland's decision to include them on the 25-man roster. Verlander made 30 starts and won 17 games. Zumaya's wicked fastball---often clocked at 100+ MPH---thrilled Tigers fans as he became the go-to guy in the 7th and 8th innings.
Rogers didn't disappoint, either. The wily veteran won 17 games while tossing over 200 innings. Todd Jones saved 37 games. The Tigers' team ERA of 3.84 led the American League.
Offensively, LF Craig Monroe led the team with 28 homers, followed closely by 3B Brandon Inge (27) and Ordonez (24), whose first healthy season in Detroit included 104 RBI and a .298 BA. SS Carlos Guillen led the team in hitting with a .320 BA. C Ivan Rodriguez hit an even .300 and was backed up capably by veteran Vance Wilson (.283-5-18 in 56 games).
Leyland became the first Tigers manager to lead his team to the playoffs in his first year in Detroit since Mickey Cochrane in 1934.
Now it was on to the ALDS and a date with the vaunted New York Yankees.By GregEno
- Brandon Inge, Carlos Guillen, Chris Shelton, Craig Monroe, Curtis Granderson, Dave Dombrowski, Detroit Tigers, Ivan Rodriguez, Jim Leyland, Joel Zumaya, Justin Verlander, Kenny Rogers, Magglio Ordonez, Mickey Cochrane, Nook Logan, Sean Casey, Vance Wilson