Time To Start Drawing Inspiration From Jim Leyland (4/9 in MLB)

The Detroit Tigers won their first game today, improving from winless to just very bad with a 7-2 win over the Boston Red Sox.

The Tigers, my pick to win the World Series (well, of course), have had a nightmarish start to their season, with injuries sidelining Curtis Granderson, Gary Sheffield, Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney for some or all of the team’s first eight games.

It’s easy to pin the team’s struggles on its weakened bullpen, but that hasn’t been its only issue. The Tigers, predicted by some to score 1,000 runs this season, had produced only 15 in the seven games prior to tonight’s victory. After tonight’s seven run outburst, the Tigers will have to average roughly 6.35 runs per game the rest of the way to meet that unrealistic expectation.

But enough pessimism. There can only be one reason why the Tigers won tonight, and that’s because they stayed positive. While 2006 American League manager of the year Jim Leyland couldn’t have been pleased with his team’s performance, he didn’t flip out about it. Every time he was asked about the losing streak, he took it in stride, pointing out how it’s a long season. He would note that, while the pitiful start was very much surprising, he had a lot of faith in his veteran team, and knew it would bounce back. Stage one of that process started tonight, obviously.

Still, it’s quite a testament to Leyland’s patience to be able to withstand the barbs of the media, and the ridiculous comparisons of his team to teams like the 2003 Tigers that won just 43 games. (Useless info department: there are four holdovers from that team on the 2008 roster: Brandon Inge, Jeremy Bonderman [Wednesday’s winning pitcher], Nate Robertson and Rodney.) I like to think of myself as someone who can handle stressful situations with some aplomb, but even I’m not so sure that I wouldn’t have wigged out at some point during the losing string, especially given the expectations for the team.

In fact, I’ve become rather testy in recent days as my crusade against the top teams of the National League Central has taken a turn for the worst. And this isn’t even my livelihood! It’s something I do as a hobby. And I’m letting it affect my every day life. It’s just unhealthy.

So, as I sat back and watched Jon Lester blow the 2-0 lead the Sox had built for him in the second inning and then witnessed Bonderman and the Tigers bullpen make the 4-2 lead they’d been given stick (while their offense would eventually extend the margin), I wondered to myself what, exactly, kept Leyland going in these tough times. Was it all his time in baseball? Was it his coaching staff? Maybe he got his strength from his family?

Finally it hit me. It’s the smokes! The calming effects of chain smoking had to have been Leyland’s anchor, his source of stability in this time where doubt may have otherwise surfaced.

This discovery eventually led to a life-changing decision. I went back and forth, arguing the pros and cons of my choice. But when Dan Ortmeier doubled in Rajai Davis to give the San Francisco Giants a 1-0 lead and to drop my personal picks record for the day to 5-9 and my overall season record below .500, I finally gave in to temptation.

Yes, I’ve decided to take up smoking.

I don’t know if this is going to be a permanent thing or not. I understand the risks associated with it — lung cancer, emphysema, and so on. But I also understand the risks associated with not doing it — I might lose my mind if I continue to make shitty picks and get embarrassed on my own blog by the pitiful National League Central.

I’m not sure I could afford not to at least give it a try.

Look, I haven’t played much in the way of organized sports since my shoulder blew out. But I’m still an athlete at heart. And the fact of the matter is that if you’re an athlete and you learn about something new — it can be it a study, a product, anything — that can help your performance, you’re going to have to think about giving it a shot. It may not always be the smartest move for the long-term, but the competitive athlete should be focused on the here and now, not what could be. We’ve seen this happen in Major League Baseball with widespread steroid use in the game (while they were “OK” to use for a while because there was no testing for anabolics) which has evolved into a reliance upon human growth hormone (which is “OK” to use because there is no reliable test for it yet). It was only a matter of time before it spread into blogging.

So, what you will find at the end of this post is the final set of picks that I will make without the aid of cigarettes. First thing tomorrow, I’m going to walk up to the convenience store and buy myself a carton of Marlboro Reds (they’re Leyland’s favorite). I can only pray that the new habit will instill in me the same enviable temperance that it has instilled in the Tigers manager.

Wednesday Box Scores and Notes:

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 9, Cleveland Indians 5

  • Home runs by Mike Napoli (grand slam), Vladimir Guerrero (3-run), Garret Anderson and Casey Kotchman did all the damage for the Angels.
  • Paul Byrd is an impossibly bad Major League pitcher.

Arizona Diamondbacks 4, Los Angeles Dodgers 3

  • Hiroki Kuroda’s first Big League loss. Also featured: Chan Ho Park

Detroit Tigers 7, Boston Red Sox 2

  • The Tigers won, but you knew that already.
  • Gary Sheffield and Magglio Ordonez have yet to score a single run between them this season. Carlos Guillen, Edgar Renteria and Marcus Thames did most of the damage out of the 6, 7 and 8 spots in the Detroit lineup.
  • Placido Polanco has been charged with errors in back-to-back games after going 186 games without a miscue.

Chicago Cubs 6, Pittsburgh Pirates 4 (15 innings)

  • Kerry Wood picked up his first blown save of the season by allowing a game-tying solo home run to Jason Bay in the bottom of the ninth.
  • The remnants of the Cubs bullpen was unable to protect a 2-run lead in the 14th inning. Kevin Hart served up a 2-run homer to Adam LaRoche that sent to the game to extra extra innings.
  • Phil Dumatrait took the loss for the Pirates in lieu of Evan Meek.
  • The two teams are on pace to play 18 innings in the series finale on Thursday night.

Oakland Athletics 6, Toronto Blue Jays 3

  • People who hailed themselves as geniuses for drafting Jeremy Accardo as a source of cheap saves look pretty stupid right about now. How’s that 10.38 ERA treating you, fellas?
  • Oakland relief pitcher Fernando Hernandez picked up a win in his Major League debut after pitching a scoreless 8th inning. Greg Smith also made his Big League debut for the A’s, recovering from what someone at the Associated Press clearly believed to be a shaky first inning to limit the Jays to two hits in six frames.

Seattle Mariners 7, Tampa Bay Rays 1

  • Brad Wilkerson extended his hitting streak to two games with a sixth-inning double against Andy Sonnanstine in Seattle’s rout of the Rays. The double, which boosted the outfielder’s batting average to .125, was his first extra-base hit of the season.

Florida Marlins 10, Washington Nationals 4

  • The first-place Marlins blew past the Nationals on the strength of a 7-run fifth inning and now hold a 1.5 game lead in the National League East. Their magic number stands at 154.

New York Mets 8, Philadelphia Phillies 2

  • Kyle Kendrick, SP (PHI): 2.1 IP, 4 H, 7 R, 1 ER, 6 BB, 0 K, L

Cincinnati Reds 12, Milwaukee Brewers 4

  • Rickie Weeks extended his games-without-a-run streak to four in the loss.

St. Louis Cardinals 6, Houston Astros 4

  • Brandon Backe pissed Albert Pujols off before the game, confronting him about Pujols’ slide against J.R. Towles in Tuesday’s game.
  • Albert Pujols provided St. Louis’s 5th and 6th runs of the game with solo home runs in the seventh and ninth innings.
  • Advantage: A-Jols

Kansas City Royals 4, New York Yankees 0

  • The Yankees were thwarted by nature yet again when Joe Girardi played meteorologist and held scheduled starter Ian Kennedy out of the game until the sixth inning.
  • The Yankees were thwarted by Kyle Farnsworth yet again when Joe Girardi played Russian Roulette in the fourth inning and started to feel lucky about the fifth.

Minnesota Twins 12, Chicago White Sox 5

  • Jason Kubel knocked in six runs, four on a grand slam, to lead Minnesota to a blowout win over the White Sox.

Colorado Rockies 12, Atlanta Braves 6

  • Chuck James and Chris Resop were severely beaten by the Rockies, combining to allow 11 runs in five innings in the blowout.

San Francisco Giants 1, San Diego Padres 0

  • Jonathan Sanchez struck out 10 Padres in 6+ innings, but finished with a no-decision in what may have been the game of the night. Justin Germano went toe-to-toe with Sanchez, scattering four hits over seven scoreless innings.
  • The aforementioned Ortmeier game-winner dealt Padres reliever Heath Bell his first loss of the season.

THURSDAY PICKS:
Seattle Mariners over Tampa Bay Rays
Cincinnati Reds over Milwaukee Brewers
Colorado Rockies over Atlanta Braves
Texas Rangers over Baltimore Orioles (Game 1)
Chicago Cubs over Pittsburgh Pirates
Detroit Tigers over Boston Red Sox
Oakland Athletics over Toronto Blue Jays
Florida Marlins over Washington Nationals
New York Mets over Philadelphia Phillies
Texas Rangers over Baltimore Orioles (Game 2)
New York Yankees over Kansas City Royals
Chicago White Sox over Minnesota Twins
St. Louis Cardinals over San Francisco Giants

Merrill Park Superstar vs. the National League Central (Updated Standings)
St. Louis Cardinals (7-2) .777
Milwaukee Brewers (6-2) .750
Chicago Cubs (5-3) .625
Cincinnati Reds (5-4) .556
Merrill Park Superstar (64-65 overall, 5-9 Wednesday) .496
Pittsburgh Pirates (3-5) .375
Houston Astros (3-7) .300

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