AL Champion Tigers Ready To Prove '06 Was Not A Fluke

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LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) -- The Detroit Tigers shocked the baseball world, and woke up slumbering fans in the Motor City, by advancing to the World Series last year for the first time since 1984.
Now what?
Manager Jim Leyland isn't making predictions, but he likes the Tigers' chances of competing again with the best if they stay healthy.
"We will not be a flash in the pan -- I can tell you that," the AL Manager of the Year said.
But playing for a title in back-to-back seasons isn't easy. It hasn't happened since 2001, when the New York Yankees went to their fourth straight World Series.
Leyland said teams such as Minnesota, Cleveland, the Chicago White Sox and the Yankees are talented enough to beat the Tigers on any given day, or over the course of the season.
"But none of those guys can keep us from being a good team," he said. "The only way we'll screw this up is if we self-destruct by not going about your business, listening to how good you were last year and taking pats on the back from last year in July.
"It was wonderful, but it's history."
And Leyland's club has done the best it could to give itself an opportunity to repeat history.
In the first major move of the offseason, Detroit added nine-time All-Star Gary Sheffield to a team that is missing only left-handed reliever Jamie Walker from last year.
"On paper, we look like we should be a force, and the sky's the limit," center fielder Curtis Granderson said. "And, we have a little bit of an edge because some people are going to believe that 2006 was a fluke and that we're done with."
The Tigers took care of their biggest and perhaps only void by acquiring Sheffield, for three pitching prospects, to be their designated hitter.
Sheffield, who was the AL MVP runner-up just three years ago, is a career .297 hitter with 455 home runs and 1,501 RBIs.
"He has an intimidating presence at the plate, so I'm glad he's on our side now," pitcher Mike Maroth said.
But Sheffield played just 39 games last season because of wrist problems and had six homers and 25 RBIs, his lowest totals since 1991.
"In this situation, I don't have to prove anything. That's the beauty of it," Sheffield said. "I'm asked to play another role, and I'm trying to grasp that the best that I can.
"It's going to take time. I'm not going to say I know a routine to get ready to hit."
Granderson will lead off against right-handed pitchers, and All-Star catcher Ivan Rodriguez will bat first against left-handers.
AL championship series MVP Placido Polanco, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Sean Casey, Craig Monroe and Brandon Inge along with Granderson and Rodriguez give Detroit one of baseball's best lineups from top to bottom.
"I think we'll score enough runs," Tigers president Dave Dombrowski said. "But the key for us is to pitch well, and if we're healthy, I think we will."
The Tigers' 3.84 ERA was the best in the majors last season, and their entire rotation is back along with key relievers Todd Jones, Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya.
Jeremy Bonderman will start Monday on opening day at home against Toronto. The other Detroit starters are AL Rookie of the Year Justin Verlander, Nate Robertson and Maroth.
Kenny Rogers was penciled in to start the second game, but he has been placed on the 15-day disabled list with a tired arm. Chad Durbin will take Rogers' spot in the rotation.
"We've done nothing but get better, so doing at least what we did last year is realistic," Verlander said. "Last year, we believed we could win it, but now there's more people outside of this clubhouse that think we can."
Leyland agreed.
"Obviously, we've gained a little respect in the baseball world," he said. "But one of the challenges is to maintain that respect."
Remembering the hard work that helped the Tigers last year while forgetting about the accomplishments will be one of the keys over the next six months.
"You can't chew yesterday's breakfast," Leyland said.
The previous time Leyland was in the World Series, when he led Florida to a title in 1997, he was disheartened the following year because the Marlins broke up the team.
"Obviously, this is a totally different situation," he said, entering his second season with the Tigers. "It's nice to come back and see everybody here.
"A year ago, I knew we had good players. This year, I know we have a good team. That's nice, but we have to go out and prove that again."

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