OAKLAND -- Two of the Tigers' top picks from last year's Draft were rewarded for making an immediate impression in their first pro seasons.
Class A West Michigan third baseman Nick Castellanos and Double-A Erie left-hander Drew Smyly were named the Tigers Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year, respectively.
For Castellanos, it was a validation of the high regard he inherited as soon as he signed as Detroit's top selection last summer. He became the organization's top position prospect upon arrival, and his numbers didn't disappoint. After a slow start with the Whitecaps, Castellanos heated up in May and never cooled. The 19-year-old batted .312 with 36 doubles, seven home runs and 76 RBIs.
Smyly's award was a little different scenario. Though he was Detroit's second-round selection in that same Draft out of the University of Arkansas, he was further down the line among pitching prospects in an organization that includes Jacob Turner and Andy Oliver, among others. Statistically, Smyly topped them all.
The 22-year-old proved stingy in the Florida State League, going 7-3 with a 2.58 ERA and 77 strikeouts over 80 1/3 innings, before taking Turner's spot at Erie at the end of July.
Smyly went just 4-3 with the SeaWolves, but his 1.18 ERA in seven starts and a relief appearance made his case. Add up the totals at two different levels, and he allowed just two home runs over 126 innings with 130 strikeouts.
Detroit's streak, superstitions go by wayside
OAKLAND -- For virtually every game of the Tigers' 12-game winning streak, manager Jim Leyland preached about taking each one as it comes and not looking too far ahead. And to a remarkable degree, his team did that. But that doesn't mean Leyland and others didn't have their superstitions.
In Leyland's case, Thursday's 6-1 loss to the A's meant the superstitions were finally over, including a much-needed break for the clothes off his back -- or some other places.
"I will wear these underwear until we lose," Leyland declared before the game. "I can tell you that right now. And they will not be washed. And I don't give a care who knows it."
It's unclear whether the skipper had been wearing the underwear throughout the winning streak, or if he started the trend at some point when the wins started racking up. It was clear after the game, though, that it was over.
"This is kind of one of those good news/bad news [games]," Leyland said. "The bad news is we lost. The good news is I can change my underwear."
Asked how that will feel, Leyland smiled.
"It'll be wonderful," he joked. "It'll be a celebration."
Not all players were superstitious about the streak. Utility man Don Kelly said he has more routines than he does superstitions, and he doesn't freak out if he forgets to do something on a given day.
More than worrying about a jinx, Kelly said, guys were trying to enjoy the winning streak and the race in a way they didn't in 2009, when they were terrified about blowing their September lead.
"I think these guys have really grasped this moment," Kelly said. "It's not like you get a chance to do this every year. When you go through things -- and nobody wanted to go through that in '09 -- I think a lot of guys who were on the team then have learned from it."
But then, there are guys like Ramon Santiago, who has been looking a little shaggy lately for a reason. He said he hasn't cut his hair since they started winning, which is a pretty long time for him. Originally, he wasn't going to cut his hair until the Tigers clinched the division. Now, he's thinking beyond that, taking it into October. If it worked for Magglio Ordonez in 2006, it could work for him.
Alburquerque to miss A's series as precaution
OAKLAND -- A day after Tigers reliever Al Alburquerque had a mid-inning visit from head athletic trainer Kevin Rand to attend to tightness in his right quadriceps, manager Jim Leyland said he's shelving the hard-throwing reliever for a few days.
With multiple mound visits this week, Leyland doesn't want to take the chance that Alburquerque aggravates the quad -- or worse, suffers another injury trying to compensate for it.
Leyland said Alburquerque won't pitch in this series against the A's. He hopes to have him ready for next week's two-game set at Kansas City.
"It is a concern of mine," Leyland said. "It isn't as big of a concern for some other people, but it's a concern of mine.
Considering it's Leyland's job to put together a middle relief corps to carry leads to his late-inning duo of Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde, it's an understandable concern. Alburquerque has been a big part of that.
Leyland ardent in support of AL Central
OAKLAND -- Just because Tigers manager Jim Leyland doesn't want to talk about the looming American League Central title, that doesn't mean he won't talk about the race. As was discovered Thursday, the skipper is more than willing to defend the division against its critics.
The combination of the Tigers' September winning streak -- which ended with Thursday's 6-1 loss to the A's -- and a late-season schedule heavy on divisional matchups has left much of the Central in ruins south of Detroit. What just a few weeks ago was a race that featured three teams within a handful of games of each other now has the Tigers as the only team above .500.
Some look at it as the downturn of the AL Central. Leyland takes the opposite view.
"The thing that impressed me about the streak," he said, "is the fact that a lot of streak was the White Sox and Indians at a critical time in the season. The two teams that were right behind us, we stepped up to the plate in that period of time. That, to me, makes it a pretty impressive streak.
"That's the way I look at it. We're all kind of bunched up there together, and to play the Indians [three] times and the White Sox six times during this stretch, that's pretty impressive, I think. To beat those two teams involved, that's pretty good."
Detroit owns a 46-21 record against the rest of the division; none of the other teams has a winning record in the Central. The Tigers have played .500 ball outside of the division, but they haven't lost a series against a non-division opponent since early July, including victories over the Rangers and Rays, and a split with the Angels.
When a reporter, playing devil's advocate, asked Leyland if that took anything away from the streak the Tigers were on, Leyland strongly disagreed.
"Let me remind you of something: It was two months ago, three months ago that the Cleveland Indians were the talk of baseball," Leyland said. "Everybody was saying they were pretty good. Now all of a sudden, because we beat them, they're terrible? That's not fair. That's unfair."
Leyland pointed to the Tigers' winning records against the Rangers (6-3), Yankees (4-3) and Rays (6-1) this season as evidence in his favor.
"When they had to step it up, they stepped it up," Leyland said. "And nobody can take that away from us. Nobody can put a damper on what those guys have done, because they deserve it. I can't help what happened with the White Sox and Cleveland. I can't help that. ...
"I'll guarantee you one thing: It's not everybody's lining up to play the Tigers, either."
According to SABR home run expert David Vincent, the pinch-hit home runs from Ryan Raburn and Alex Avila on Wednesday marked the first time the Tigers connected for two pinch-hit homers in the same inning.
The only other time Detroit cracked two pinch-hit homers in the same game was on Aug. 11, 1968, when Wayne Comer and Gates Brown did it in the first game of a doubleheader.
Wednesday's win also marked the first time since August 1993 that the Tigers won a road game after trailing by three or more runs in the ninth inning or later. They had lost 518 straight games in such situations.
Three home runs Max Scherzer allowed in Thursday's loss to the A's moved his total to 29 on the season, second highest among American League starters. Former Tiger and current Ranger Colby Lewis has 33. Cincinnati's Bronson Arroyo leads the Majors with 40.
Magglio Ordonez's first-inning single stretched his hitting streak to 13 games. The veteran is batting 17-for-46 (.370) over that stretch.
Ramon Santiago went 0-for-3 on Thursday to end a nine-game hitting streak, during which he batted .409 (11-for-27).