Make no mistake, I admire Jim Leyland. He’s old school, colorful, a winner, and one of the best managers in the game today. I was ecstatic when Detroit signed him to manage the Tigers. He took them to the Promised Land in 2006 after years of embarrassment and 100-loss seasons. Yet I’m wondering if this might be Leyland’s last season in a Tigers uniform.

Leyland said, at the beginning of last season, “We have to do better against the clubs in our own division.”

But the bottom line is the Tigers haven’t done better against their division rivals.

Since Kansas City swept Detroit at the end of the 2006 campaign, leaving the Tigers the wildcard berth instead of a division title, the Royals, perennially one of the worst teams in baseball, take the field against the Tigers (whether home or away) with the swagger of the Yankees, and it often translates into a win.

The Twins have had our number for nearly two decades and it looks as if a new stadium in Minneapolis has done little to level the playing field, with Detroit dropping two of three this week (after getting swept there earlier in the year). At times the Tigers looked as if they were playing to not lose, which is not the way to win ballgames.

Frustratingly, the Twins were 2 and 7 before Detroit came to town. Apparently the Tigers were just what the doctor ordered to get the Twins back on track and winning.

The White Sox, too, have a distinct edge in wins under Leyland’s reign.

When Detroit last visited U.S. Cellular Field, in early June, the Sox were in a funk, having dropped four of their previous six games; but the Tigers were just the ticket to get them out of their doldrums. The Sox scored 20 runs while yielding 10 to take two of three, the final game a 3-0 shutout. After Detroit left town, the Sox went 14-4 for the remainder of the month.

The only team in the Central Detroit seems able to beat the past few seasons is Cleveland. Sadly, the Tigers don’t play the Indians 62 games a season.

This team continues to confound. Earlier in the season they took three of four games at home against the Yankees and two of three from Boston after the Yanks left town. In those series they looked like world beaters—good pitching, timely hitting, great defense; but then they dropped a two-game set in Seattle, looking mediocre in the process.

Managers don’t win ballgames, but they put their team in a position to win them. Leyland has managed to do that against some of the best teams in baseball—upsetting the Yankees in the 2006 playoffs in the process and racking up an impressive record against National League teams in interleague play. But against teams in the Central Division, as well as against teams with losing records, Leyland just doesn’t seem to be getting it done.

Why the Tigers can’t seem to compete in their own division is beyond me, and apparently it’s beyond Jim Leyland, too.

The last thing I want is to see Leyland fired, but in situations such as this, management often looks for a scapegoat, which is the manager.

Sure it’s a long season, and all teams go through slumps; but the Tigers have been slumping against three of their four division rivals for too many years.

Are they underachievers, or simply not as good as they appear on paper?

Granted, this last road trip was grueling, with stops in New York, against the Mets, and Atlanta (two of the better teams on the senior circuit), before finishing up in Minneapolis. But three wins in nine games against teams with winning records isn’t going to translate to a playoff berth come October. Detroit simply has to start beating Minnesota, Chicago and Kansas City.

After six games at home against Seattle and Baltimore—two teams Detroit must beat—Minnesota comes to play in our yard before the All Star break.

Will the Tigers be able to even the score against the Twins? Detroit is overdue to turn the tables against their division nemesis, but can they? Will they?

I want to believe they can and will, because the season is not so young anymore; but based on past years, it’s difficult to be optimistic. I was optimistic when Detroit arrived in Minneapolis this week—the Twins’ starters had been getting shelled the last 10 games—twice they hadn’t gone more than five hitters. But true to form, they managed to find their form against Tigers hitters.

So with Chicago coming on strong as of late to make it a three-team race, and with the midsummer classic right around the corner, it’s not too early to say that, come September, we may look back on these next nine games as the games on which Detroit’s season, and Leyland’s job, rested.

Does it make me an optimist if I say I hope I’m wrong?

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