May 28th, 2006

Playing the trap

Sunday mornings are usually good times for managers to have longer pregame talks with the media. A lot of teams won’t take batting practice before day games, so there’s more time. Plus, it generally feels like a laid-back day. So Leyland took the time and talked about his team’s hot start. He talked about taking advantage of opportunities, about winning games in different ways, about getting the fans in Detroit excited again and about beating the teams they’ve played.

In many ways, he sees this coming week against the Yankees and Red Sox as a potential trap. No team can keep up the pace they’ve put up so far this season. If that pace falls off this week, the headlines will go back to this team not being for real because of the teams they just lost to.

"I’m sure that there’s still a lot of Doubting Thomases," he said. "I don’t blame them. I can understand that. But what do you want me to do about it?"

The national media didn’t pay much attention to this team, he said, until their hot start. Now he sees experts saying they knew guys like Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya would make immediate impacts. Part of that, of course, is the view of a manager whose hiring one publication rated as the worst move of the offseason. But Leyland sees a bandwagon that’s starting to get a little crowded for a team whose expectations seem to be spiraling. Nobody, of course, knew this team would go on this kind of run, including Leyland. But Leyland talked in Spring Training about this team having talent.

"This has been unbelievable, this pace," he said. "I don’t know what the ****’s going on. But I know this: I think we’ve got a pretty good team. I think they’re having fun, I think they’re enjoying playing, and I think they’re getting better. But we’ve still got a long way to go."

Is all that progress wasted if they can’t beat up on the Yankees and Red Sox this week? Of course not. But because it’s the Yankees and Red Sox, it’ll get a lot more attention than losing two of three at the Angels last month or splitting two-game sets with the Angels and Royals. Leyland’s rant is a way to relieve some pressure that’s awfully hard to endure over an extended stretch like this, since it’ll go beyond this weekend and through the next road trip to the White Sox and Blue Jays.