Don't count out Tigers

BOB ELLIOTT -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:39 AM ET

Two members of the Detroit Tigers alumni association watched the off-season transactions general manager David Dombrowski made.

"I said at the time of the trades how they were the best team in baseball," said Texas Rangers left fielder Frank Catalanotto before facing Roy Halladay and the Blue Jays last night at the Rogers Centre.

The Tigers' GM rocked a winter meetings dominated by news of the future destination of Johan Santana.

Dombrowski acquired third baseman Miguel Cabrera and lefty Dontrelle Willis from the Florida Marlins in exchange for six prospects, led by lefty Andrew Miller and outfielder Cameron Maybin.

"I figured that the Tigers would be in the World Series against the New York Mets," said Catalanotto, who spent his first three seasons (1997-99) with the Tigers.

Things haven't worked out quite as expected. Catalanotto's old team opened this season March 31 and did not register its first win until April 9.

A major-league team has never started 0-7 and gone on to make the post-season.

"They have so much talent they can start off crappy and still win," said Jays outfielder Matt Stairs, a ring-wearer from the class of 2006. "They'll win three or four series in a row and they'll be right back in it."

After being swept by the Kansas City Royals and the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park, the Tigers lost in the Red Sox home-opener at Fenway Park to fall to 0-7. They beat Boston the next day for their only win of the three-game series.

Detroit dropped two of three to Chicago, swept a two-game series against the Minnesota Twins and won the opener of their series against the Cleveland Indians.

But the Indians bounced back last night, pounding the Tigers 11-1. Detroit's record now stands at 5-11.

"I read how no one had ever come all the way back from an 0-7 start," Catalanotto said. "If any team can rebound from that kind of start, it's the Tigers. Look around the diamond, they have all-stars at every position."

Two major-league teams have bounced back from 0-6 starts to play in October: The 1974 Pittsburgh Pirates and the 1995 Cincinnati Reds.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland comes across as a grandfatherly type most days. After the Tigers were blanked 11-0 on Sunday -- the second consecutive time they were shut out and the fourth time they have been shut out this season -- Leyland was like the disillusioned grandpa who discovered Johnny had been throwing his Babe Ruth-autographed ball against the stucco wall.

"I'm to the point where I didn't hold it in very good, and I meant what I said," Leyland told reporters. "There was one thing that sticks out to me right now that's going on and that was the straw that broke the camel's back."

That may have triggered three straight wins, but another important talk came when Leyland went one-on-one with Cabrera the next day. Cabrera was hitting .175 with two RBIs in the first two weeks. Now, he has eight RBIs in three games since talking with the manager.

In 2003, when Cabrera was a rookie with the Marlins, broadcaster Cookie Rojas compared his abilities to Vladimir Guerrero.

Cabrera knocked in the first five runs for the Mo-Town Cats in their 13-2 win in Cleveland on Wednesday.

He also hit an eighth-inning homer in a comeback win over Minnesota on Tuesday.

It hasn't helped that Willis, one of the most exciting pitchers to watch, hyper-extended a knee. Armando Galarraga, released by the Rangers in spring training, took Willis' place Wednesday and earned his first big-league win, retiring 17 in a row.

He faces the Jays on Monday afternoon in the finale of their four-game series.

If centre fielder Curtis Granderson did well yesterday in his third straight day of batting practice, he may start a rehab assignment this weekend on his way back from a broken hand.

"The guy who impressed me the most when I was there was Granderson," Stairs said. "Everyone talks about how valuable Jason Varitek is to the Red Sox. Well, Granderson is Detroit's Varitek.

"Curtis sets the tone for the whole team. He's so positive and he listens to criticism."

You knocked the way he played centre field?

"No, I talked to him about hitting," Stairs said. "He's a good listener."

After four games here the Tigers play the Rangers.

"It might not be the best time to be playing the Tigers," Catanalotto said.


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