Jim Leyland Has Detroit Tigers In First Place as Midway Point of Season Approaches

June 29, 2011 – 11:10 am by Michael Bean

It took several months to catch up after the Cleveland Indians hot start, but the Detroit Tigers are now one game clear of the Tribe in the AL Central through 80 games.  After a seven-game losing streak early in the season, the Tigers have steadied the ship and are now seven games above .500 with the All Star Game approaching. Jim Leyland’s squad looks to be in great position if they don’t get bit by the injury bug. Perhaps though they’re due for some bad luck in that regard as all Leyland has been able to roll out the same starting five pitchers so far this season.

Leyland joined WFAN in New York to talk about the solid play of late by the first place Tigers, how so many teams (Detroit included)  have seemingly been extremely streaky this year, the importance and benefit of being able to lean on the same starting five pitchers so far this season, Justin Verlander is pitching as well as any of the more recognizable pitchers in baseball, the solid play of Alex Aliva so far this season, his ejection Monday night, the importance of Detroit’s stars like Verlander and Miguel Cabrera coming up big, and how he thinks the Cleveland Indians will hang tough in the AL Central in the second half of the season.

On the solid play of late by the now first place Tigers:

“Yeah we’re doing okay. We have our moments. We had a seven game losing streak early on, then we turn it around and have a seven game winning streak. That’s not good. But a little more consistent lately.”

On so many teams seemingly going on long winning and losing streaks this year, including the Tigers:

“You know what? Gene Lamont and I talk about this all the time, and I thought he made a good point. He said ‘in the Big Leagues, it’s not who you’re playing, it’s when you’re playing ‘em.’ I think that’s what happens a lot. If you’re a good team playing bad, and you play a bad team playing bad, you get beat. That’s just the way it is.”

On being able to run the same starting five pitchers out there in Detroit’s lineup all season:

“I believe that. I’ve always believed that. I found that out in the Minor Leagues. It’s not always the best pitching staff, it’s a lot of the times the healthiest. So if you can keep your guys healthy and keep your rotation in tact for the better part of the year, that’s certainly a big advantage.”

On Justin Verlander being as good a pitcher as anybody right now:

“Probably not right now. He’s as good as it gets right now. He’s got three above average pitches with one average pitch. He’s a very versatile pitcher who can throw any of them over the plate at any time for the most part. There’s been times this year when he’s had the best changeup I’ve ever saw him have. The other night in the eighth inning he was throwing 100 miles an hour — that’s pretty tough. He’s the real deal obviously and he’s had a pretty good mindset. I think to sum it up best: he’s a real good pitcher on a real good roll right now.”

On just how solid Detroit’s young catcher, Alex Aliva, has been this season:

“Yeah he’s done a tremendous job. Last year he didn’t hit very well, but he was just a real young player. My favorite expression is ‘you can’t make a senior out of a freshman.’ And that’s just what he went through last year. And this year he’s really come on, and he’s going to the All Star game I hope. We think he’s deserved so we’ll have to wait and see. But he’s just done a tremendous job.”

On the entertaining show he put on Monday night that led to him getting ejected from Monday night’s game:

“I normally don’t even go out, but every once in a while you lose it a little bit. That’s just part of it. That’s the competitor in you, that’s just the nature of the business. And like I said, I don’t really enjoy arguing with umpires to be honest with you because in most cases it’s a waste of time, just like it was last night. But, you know, it’s all part of it.”

On needing his two primary stars — Verlander and Miguel Cabrera — to come up big in the second half of the season if Detroit is to win its division:

“Yeah, that’s always the big part. The big boys have to do it, and the little guys have to make their contributions. When it’s all said and done, your big boys have to carry you at the right time — when they little guys aren’t doing much, the big boys kinda have to carry you a little bit. And that’s important each and every year.”

If he thinks the Cleveland Indians will find a way to keep things competitive in the AL Central:

“I think their offense is good. It’s just a question…they’re like everybody else — is their pitching going to hold up? So far they’ve done a great job, and their closer Chris Perez, he’s been tremendous. So I don’t think there’s any question about it. They’ve got some guys back, they’ve had some health issues in the past — last year it was Sizemore and Haffner and a little bit last year and this year. But yeah, they can hit, and they’ll be like everyone else — if their pitching holds up, they’ll stay tight.”

Listen here to Leyland with Mike Francesa on WFAN in New York

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