Tigers bring Leyland back for eighth year

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Tigers bring Leyland back for eighth year

DETROIT -- Jim Leyland is returning next year as manager of the Detroit Tigers.

The team and its manager quickly ended any remaining speculation about his status by announcing Tuesday that Leyland's contract was extended through 2013. He managed on a one-year deal this year and led the Tigers to the World Series, where they were swept by the San Francisco Giants.

"Detroit is a tremendous baseball town and I couldn't dream of a better place to manage," Leyland said in a statement. "Tigers fans and the people of Michigan have supported us so well during my time here, I can't even begin to express how much that means to me."

The team said Leyland's coaching staff also has been invited to return.

Next season will be Leyland's 22nd as a major league manager and his eighth in Detroit. He's led the Tigers to the postseason three times and the World Series twice.

The 67-year-old Leyland leads all active managers with 1,676 wins, a total that puts him 15th on the career list.

"Jim is as fine a manager as there is in baseball, he has done a fantastic job for the organization and we are thrilled to have him back managing the Tigers in 2013," general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for Jim and his ability to lead our club on the field. I am confident that you will not find a harder working or better prepared manager in the game."

Detroit faced high expectations this year after signing slugger Prince Fielder in the offseason. By mid-September, Leyland's future seemed uncertain as the Tigers struggled to keep pace in the AL Central, but they overtook the Chicago White Sox to win the division and then beat Oakland and the New York Yankees in the American League playoffs.

By the time the World Series started, Dombrowski had indicated Leyland would be welcome back in 2013, but both the manager and GM sought to postpone any public discussion of his status until after the season.

NOTES: The Tigers exercised a 6 million option on 2B Jhonny Peralta and a 3.5 million on RHP Octavio Dotel. Each had carried a 500,000 buyout.

Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Todd Frazier out with left oblique strain

Todd Frazier out with left oblique strain

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- White Sox third baseman Todd Frazier has been sidelined with what he's describing as a left oblique strain.  

Frazier — who produced a career high 40 home runs and 98 RBIs last season — said he injured himself swinging on Monday. White Sox manager Rick Renteria said Frazier is day-to-day and the club would take advantage of the extra time on the spring training calendar this season.
 
The veteran also said he expects to be cautious with the injury and thorough.

"Just felt a little tightness in my left side," Frazier said. "That's what spring training is for, you've got to just be careful. (Athletic trainer Herm Schneider has) been working with me the past day and a half. I don't feel like it's anything that serious, but we have so much time. Let's take a break, take a few days off and hopefully it keeps getting better and better.

"It's something I've dealt with before. But at the same time, from what I've heard they're not anything to mess with. So let's take a couple days and see how it is after a couple days and go from there."

[MORE: Lighter Avisail Garcia wants to show White Sox his best]

The White Sox begin their exhibition season on Saturday with a contest against the Los Angeles Dodgers. But the team's regular season opener isn't for another 5 1/2 weeks, which should give Frazier ample time to rest, rehab and prepare. The White Sox open the 2017 campaign at home on April 3 against the Detroit Tigers. 

"He's been working good," Renteria said. "I just saw him, he's smiling. He's day to day and we'll re-evaluate and see where he's at.

"We'll back him up. We're taking it day to day. We'll see where he's at before I can determine how far back we can push him back."

Could a late-season surge miraculously get Illini into NCAA tournament?

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USA TODAY

Could a late-season surge miraculously get Illini into NCAA tournament?

Could a late-season surge get Illinois into the NCAA tournament?

As recently as a couple days ago, that question seemed pretty ridiculous. After all, the Illini have played poorly the majority of the campaign, are light on quality wins and sit near the bottom of the Big Ten standings, something that's especially damning in a year when the conference is nowhere near the strongest in the sport.

But John Groce's team has won three of its last four, a stretch that includes two wins over Northwestern, the in-state rival that seems destined to reach the Big Dance for the first time in its history.

The three recent wins — the other came at Iowa — have featured much better play than Illinois has turned in throughout the season, particularly on the defensive end. For the first half of the conference schedule, the Illini were among the worst defensive teams in the conference, allowing opponents to shoot better than 50 percent from the field for a long stretch. But that's changed recently. Granted, both Northwestern and Iowa have seen their own rough patches, but Illinois held those teams to an average of 59 points in three wins, letting them shoot a combined 34.9 percent from the field, a stellar number. And the Illini forced a total of 40 turnovers in those three games.

Plus, two freshman — Te'Jon Lucas and Kipper Nichols — have taken on expanded roles of late and had major impacts on both ends of the floor.

That's all well and good, but hasn't the damage already been done to stretch the program's streak to four years without an NCAA tournament appearance?

Well, that's where the mediocrity of the Big Ten comes in. After sitting firmly in the bottom four of the conference standings for the majority of this season — and seemingly barnstorming toward a spot in one of the league tournament's two Wednesday-night games — Illinois jumped all the way up to No. 10 after Tuesday night's win. Tenth in the standings is nothing to crow about, but considering the Illini were recently 13th, that's an improvement worth noting.

The interesting part of this is what happens if this relative hot streak continues? The three remaining games on the regular-season schedule come against Nebraska, Michigan State and Rutgers, with the first and third of those coming on the road. The bout with the Spartans stands out, though Tom Izzo's team is hardly what it typically is and could be on shaky tournament ground itself. So that makes for three winnable games, assuming Illinois doesn't revert to the poor play from earlier this season.

Let's say, for the purpose of this exercise, the Illini win out, ending the regular season on a five-game winning streak with wins in six of their last seven. They'd surely be freed from the Wednesday-night spot in the conference tournament and could manage a win in Washington. With the standings so bunched together, there's really no telling who their opponent would be, but again thanks to that league-wide mediocrity, it'd figure to be someone they could beat.

Seriously, with the Big Ten what it is this season, how much separation is there, really, between an Illinois team given three (or even four) more wins and teams like Michigan State or Michigan, teams that have been locked into bracket projections for months?

It's true that Illinois' resume isn't great. It has four good wins on the season: a non-conference, neutral-site victory over VCU, two wins against Northwestern and a home win against Michigan. It does have "good" losses in drubbings against highly ranked teams like Florida State, West Virginia, Purdue, Wisconsin and Maryland. The Illini are the No. 59 team in the country in the RPI rankings. KenPom has them at No. 66, which is behind Indiana and Ohio State, for some reason.

There is no good answer to the question, really, of whether Illinois miraculously gets on the right side of the tourney bubble. "Maybe" is the best that can be offered with some things left to play out. The point is this wouldn't have been a discussion a week ago. Now, if the chips fall the right way, Groce might be looking at snapping that drought — and keeping his job.