History not on Detroit's side

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

You have to lose before you can win.

Usually in heart-breaking, extra-inning fashion on the final day of the season.

We've always thought that was the case with young contenders and a near-miss often begets a post-season appearance.

Such as the Seattle Mariners watching the Cleveland Indians celebrate at the Kingdome in 1995. Mariners manager Lou Piniella told his team to sit in the dugout to watch the celebrations. Seattle was in the post-season two of the next four years.

Or the 1980 Montreal Expos losing in extras on the next-to-last day of the season and making the playoffs in 1981.

We thought in July the Detroit Tigers would back up to the rest of the field. We thought the same in August. Now, it is finally happening. Can the Tigers hold off both the Minnesota Twins and the Chicago White Sox?

After losing three of four to the Twins, the Tigers had lost seven consecutive series before opening a two-game set with a 3-2 win last night against the Texas Rangers.

FALLING FAST

On Aug. 7 the Tigers were 40 games over .500 with a 76-36 record. They sat 10 games in front in the American League Central race. Since then, the Tigers have gone 11-22.

Detroit had a 1 1/2-game lead -- one in the loss column -- on the Twins going into last night. The White Sox were three games behind.

Originally, we figured the Tigers' problem would be their starters.

Kenny Rogers is Kenny Rogers. He had logged 184 1/3 innings going into last night. In six other seasons he has logged more than 200 innings, although the 41-year-old has not done so since 2004. He'll be fine.

But other Tigers starters and their arms are headed into unchartered waters. Not good.

Justin Verlander, who is scheduled to start tonight against Texas, has pitched 172 innings. The most he had thrown before this season was 120 innings last season when he spent time at single-A Lakeland, double-A Erie and Detroit.

Nate Robertson worked 199 2/3 innings in 2003 with triple-A Toledo and the Tigers. In 2004 and 2005, he had 196 2/3 innings. He has pitched 190 innings, so he will throw more pitches than he ever has before this season.

Jeremy Bonderman, who did not pitch in excess of 189 innings in 2005, surpassed that working 191 2/3 innings. Bonderman has not won since July 24, covering nine starts.

Wil Ledezma is in the rotation after Zach Miner was bumped because of three consecutive losses. The most Miner pitched was 140 1/3 in 2005 in the minors. He's at 138 innings at Toledo and with the Tigers.

Ledezma pitched 165 innings with Erie and Detroit in 2004. He has made four starts and pitched 121 1/3 innings.

Couple the overextended Tigers starters arms and an offence averaging the fewest runs in the American League with the fact Francisco Liriano returns to the Twins tonight and the Sox staff has been through a September run, you can see why those working the assembly line are anxiously slamming lugnuts.

The Tigers also released Dimitri Young Saturday. He was 1-for-15 when he was cut, but if we are to believe anything we heard, in the first four months he was an excellent clubhouse presence. Young was hitting .293 with seven homers and 23 RBIs in 48 games.

Since wild-card play began 11 years ago, no team with fewer than 95 victories has failed to advance to the playoffs. Applying that barometer means the Tigers must play .500 ball the rest of the year.

Easy when you have 10 of 17 remaining games at home? Not when you have lost seven series in a row.

Will the Tigers be like the White Sox, who a year ago frittered away a big lead and rebounded in the final week and eventually won the World Series? Or will their collapse be similar to the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies and the 1987 Blue Jays?

We see the Twins winning the division, the Sox the wild card and the Tigers being like the 1967 Tigers.

Those Motown Cats missed a chance to win the final weekend and finished a game behind the Boston Red Sox. A year later, the Tigers won the World Series.


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