Monday, October 29, 2007

Renteria Deal Could Go Either Way

It's funny. The last line of the Associated Press' story on the Tigers trade Monday with Atlanta for shortstop Edgar Renteria lists Gorkys Hernandez's statistics at Class A West Michigan in 2007. It made it appear as if he was almost a throw-in in the trade when, in truth, this trade was all about him from Atlanta's standpoint. It had to be.
Jair Jurrgens, the pitcher the Tigers also sent to the Braves in the deal, had some success in the major leagues this season, but probably projects out as a fourth or fifth starter. He throws relatively hard, but doesn't have much late life on his fastball nor real good off-speed offerings. His margin for error is limited.
Hernandez is an outstanding prospect. He is one of the fastest players in organized baseball, has good tools otherwise and power potential as he grows. Sure, he was caught in a numbers game behind Curtis Granderson and Cameron Maybin in the Tigers organization, but this deal could come back to haunt the Tigers. The kid was just 19 last season playing against virtually all older and more mature players. Renteria remains a very solid player, but is not the Gold Glove shortstop he was five years ago. His range is lacking compared to then. He hit for high average last season, but drove in just 57 runs. I was on the Tigers trip to Atlanta and he was decidedly underwhelming in that series.
I like the trade from the standpoint it does help the Tigers for next season. Renteria at short, with Carlos Guillen at first, is an upgrade from Guillen at short and Sean Casey at first. It is definitely a"win now" deal - and the Tigers should be thinking that way.
But they gave up a lot in this deal. Time will tell if Hernandez pans out and whether the Tigers win a title the next year or two.
It was a risk, albeit a calculated one by the Tigers, to the degree not that many people seem to understand.

Random Thoughts

- The Lions’ MVP on offense is obvious. It is quarterback Jon Kitna. Not only is he having a productive season and has cut down on turnovers, but he possesses obvious leadership qualities. If Kitna were to get injured, the Lions would be in serious trouble.
But what about defense? The Lions 5-2 start has been built as much on their defense as their offense. Particularly the last two weeks, the Lions defense has been very strong.
In my opinion, the Lions defensive MVP is defensive end Dewayne White. He has played brilliantly in three of the Lions’ wins - at Oakland, vs. Tampa Bay and at Chicago.
I’d say the next best candidate is Shaun Rogers. He is very disruptive in the middle of the line, often taking away the opposition’s running game. He has played better than anyone could have reasonably expected after the troubles he has had in recent years.
I have been most surprised by the Lions’ secondary. I had anticipated it would be a weak link, but rather it has been a strength. Matt Millen gets pounded for his bad drafts. And mostly it is justified. But rookie safety Gerald Alexander, a second-round pick, has played surprisingly well. So has veteran cornerback Fernando Bryant, who was brutal his first couple seasons with the Lions.

- My favorite major sporting event is the World Series. I can’t begin to explain how disappointed I am how it played out this year. I have no vested interest in it, but was rooting for a lengthy and close series. Instead, the Red Sox routed the Rockies - and it was boring.

- I’d still take Jason Hanson over any other kicker in the NFL. He still has excellent leg strength and he handled his special assignments on kickoffs Sunday to combat Devin Hester very well.

- All this Kobe Bryant to Chicago talk can’t be doing too much good for the Bulls’ team chemistry. Good for the Pistons

Friday, October 26, 2007

Lions Face A Difficult Task In The Windy City

The Bears are healthier than they were the first time they played the Lions. They are coming off an impressive win at Philadelphia - a place where the Lions were absolutely routed.
To be honest with you, I look at Sunday’s game as one that will be difficult for the Lions to win.
But that’s all right. To me, it almost puts the Lions in a no-lose situation. A win over the Bears on the road, and the Lions will gain respect from what is still a large contingent of skeptics. If the Lions lose, it will be expected.
The key will be protecting Jon Kitna and running the ball with at least some degree of effectiveness. That could be difficult because the Bears defensive line is considerably better than the Lions offensive line.

Random Thoughts

- The Little Brown Jug has to be the most overrated trophy in college football history. It might have meant something long ago when both Michigan and Minnesota were powerhouse programs (we’re talking the 1930s here), but the Wolverines pretty much crush the not-so-Golden Gophers like clockwork these days. The annual rout is coming up Saturday.

- The best college football player I have seen this season is Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. I don’t believe I have ever seen a player quite like him. Not only is he among the best quarterbacks in the nation, but he would rank among the best running backs, too - if that were his position.

- The Rodney Stuckey injury does hurt the Pistons. He has energy and would have given the Pistons a lift off the bench.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

And It Will Be...The Red Sox In Six

I think it is terrific this World Series is going to open up in Boston. I love Fenway Park. I don’t believe it is overrated. It is a true baseball shrine.
Nothing against new ball parks. Many are spectacular. But to know all the great players that played at the exact location of Fenway Park makes it truly special.
Want a prediction? I say the Red Sox in six games. But if the Rockies beat Josh Beckett tonight, they will win the series. Wouldn’t that be something? The Colorado Rockies, world champs. Who could have predicted that in April?

Random Thoughts

- I can wait for the World Series to be completed from this standpoint: The hot stove action will begin in earnest. Wonder what the Tigers have up their sleeve? I have a feeling they will do something major, but am not sure what that will be.

- I like the Big Ten Network. The programming has been pretty good. Now if they just resolve their petty problems with Comcast. That stuff is silly and doesn’t benefit either party. Frankly, I am sick of hearing about it. It will hit a head around these parts if the Michigan-Michigan State game is on BTN.

- Hockey Night in Canada remains the standard for hockey programming. I like the TSN coverage, too, but some reason haven’t been able to get into the Versus coverage, although it is improved.

Monday, October 22, 2007

If Only The Tigers Had Won Game 5...

Granted, this is playing revisionist history, but I couldn’t help but think while watching Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, what would have transpired if the Tigers had only won Game 5 of last season’s World Series. In my mind, all the Tigers had to do was get the series back to Detroit. The long layoff, and all the rain delays, obviously hurt the Tigers. They would have had their collective feet back underneath themselves and probably beaten the worst team ever to win the World Series.
And I can’t help but wonder if it would have been a different story if Jim Leyland had started Kenny Rogers in that Game 5. He was on such a roll.
I had a number of people ask me who I thought was going to win Game 7 while at the Lions game and I’d just laugh. If there was ever a team doomed in a Game 7 it was the Indians. That series was essentially decided when the Red Sox forced it back to Boston. But in a way, justice is being served. The Red Sox, in my opinion, have the better team. I don’t believe justice was served last fall. The Tigers had the better team. What a wasted opportunity.

Random Thoughts

- Michael Hart is the heart and soul of Michigan’s football team. Winning on the road at Illinois Saturday without him was yet another reflection of the character of Michigan’s football program.

- I was in Columbus for the Michigan State-Ohio State game Saturday and I do believe the Buckeyes have a legitimate chance of winning the national title because of their defense. It is exceptional - probably the best in the nation. It’s been overlooked because the Buckeyes’ inconsistency offensively. But the cliche is true - defense wins championships.

- It doesn’t get mentioned much, but the Lions’ best free agent signing in years has been defensive end Dewayne White. He has been a difference maker in two of their four wins - at Oakland to open the season and Sunday vs. Tampa Bay when he had three sacks.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Now The ALCS Gets Very Interesting

The way the Red Sox-Indians series is developing is fascinating, particularly the Game 6 pitching matchup with Cleveland’s Fausto Carmona pitted against the Red Sox Curt Schilling. It’s the classic match between the upcoming youngster in Carmona vs. the wily veteran in Schilling.
I have to admit to being surprised by Carmona’s success this season. His stuff, obviously, is electrifying, but I didn’t like the way he reacted during pressure situations as a closer last season. His failings, more than any other factor, took the Indians out of contention. I kept waiting for the same fold up job this season after Carmona started out so well as a starter. It never happened. He just kept, in fact, getting better. However, he didn’t pitch particularly well in his last outing. Neither, by the way, did Schilling. He did pitch well in the ALDS, but the Angels don’t exactly feature a power-laden lineup. It seems to me that Schilling is moving quickly onto the downside of his career. But he has been such a great clutch pitcher in the past, I still like him over Carmona in this game - particularly at Fenway Park. It seemed to me like the momentum in the series shifted Thursday when the Red Sox won. It wouldn’t surprise me now if the Red Sox win it. Saturday’s game will be especially important for the Indians. I don’t see them winning a Game 7 at Fenway.

Random Thoughts

- Most of the time, when active ball players step into the commentating role during the post season, they don’t do too well. Not the Tigers’ Curtis Granderson on ESPN. He has been terrific.

- The best sign of the preseason for the Pistons was the 25-point, 12-rebound performance by Jason Maxiell the other night against Denver in Grand Rapids. His emergence is a necessary ingredient for the Pistons to be successful this season. They need a strong inside presence off the bench.

- Maybe it is just me, but Dominik Hasek hasn’t look too sharp for the Red Wings early this season. I know he is a veteran and his health is the main issue, but he is going to slow down some day. All athletes do, and Hasek is getting up there in age. The Red Wings better hope it is not this season.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

It's About Brains, Not Bucks

There goes the theory in baseball you have to spend money to win. I mean real money. The kind the Yankees and the Red Sox fork out on their player payrolls.
Barring a comeback from a three games to one deficit by the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series - which seems unlikely because of the pitching matchups - it will be the Colorado Rockies and the Cleveland Indians in the World Series.
And it will be refreshing because both organizations did it the old-fashioned way by developing their own players and making astute deals.
There are many reasons I love baseball. One is a minor league system that is unique to professional sports. I pay considerable attention to the baseball draft. I find the player procurement aspect of baseball to be fascinating. Sometimes, though, I find it discouraging that teams like the Yankees and the Red Sox will draft well, and then let their prospects go in grab-at-title deals that tend to haunt them later. Both franchises have actually done less of that in recent years. Based on the results of this postseason it is understandable as to why.
It’s not about money. It’s about being smart and evaluating talent and piecing together a roster. To me, that makes this probable World Series match up fitting.

Random Thoughts

- The best quarterback in the Big Ten? I think it’s Kellen Lewis from Indiana - despite his subpar performance at MSU. Saturday night.

- The Lions’ draft is not panning out. A sign of a good draft is depth. The Lions certainly did not get value out of the draft beyond the second round. And the first two rounds aren’t looking good to this point, although that could change if Calvin Johnson emerges and Drew Stanton performs well in the future. Both are capable.

- I like the fact the Red Wings have added some toughness in Dallas Drake and Aaron Downey. Never hurts to have a couple tough guys around, especially considering how physical the Anaheim Ducks are. And fans do like to see a good scrap one in awhile. I know I do.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Henrik Zetterberg: From Very Good To Great

The Red Wings were leading the Los Angeles Kings Sunday night. It was 3-1 during the third period. Henrik Zetterberg got the puck behind the Kings’ net, pulled away from the Kings’ defense in a tight circle, while he carried the puck on his forehand as if it were on a string. Then he sniped a goal from the high slot into the upper right corner. It was a breathtaking play. And it is not all that unusual. For Zetterberg is becoming a great player.
The numbers speak for themselves. He leads the NHL in points with 12 in just six games, and he is plus 5. But his actual play has been even more impressive than his statistics suggest. Zetterberg has been unrelenting. You don’t see it very often at the NHL level where one player can control the puck for the extended periods of time like Zetterberg does. He is not only fast and quick, but extremely strong on his skates. I have always thought a lot of Zetterberg. Everyone in this town has, but I have never really thought he would develop into one of the top four or five players in the league. I always figured he was more of a Top 15 type of player. Early this season, it seems like he has become an elite player, one of the NHL’s best. That bodes well for the Red Wings.

Random Thoughts

- I know the Rockies are an incredible story, but to be truthful, I just don’t get the Arizona Diamondbacks. Even during the regular season, when they were winning all those games, I didn’t understand how. I do understand the value of a solid bullpen, but the D-backs lineup is underwhelming and their starting pitching just average after Brandon Webb. Winning the NLCS seems like stealing candy from a baby for the Rockies.

- The Lions should trade Tatum Bell. They have had a major problem with the sour attitude of selfish players in the past, and seem to have made strides in cleaning that up. Too bad they play Tampa Bay this week. After losing their top two running backs because of injuries, the Bucs would be the ideal trade partner for Bell.

- Randy Moss is a tremendous player, but the Patriots brilliance is more evident by the acquistion of Wes Welker. Talk about the perfect player for their system, especially after acquiring Moss.

Friday, October 12, 2007

When The Going Gets Tough, The Lions...Fold

There have been more than a few eyebrows raised over Washington tight end Chris Cooley’s comments that the Lions quit during the second half of their loss Sunday to the Redskins.
There shouldn’t be. Wasn’t it evident to anybody who watched the game? That was, to say the least, an uninspired effort. It was the second time this year the Lions turned in one like it. The other was, obviously, at Philadelphia.
Of course, that is an indictment of Lions head coach Rod Marinelli. Such a performance flies in the face of his message, which is, above all else, to play hard every snap.
I have no issue with Marinelli not calling out his team publicly. Bobby Ross used to do that and it was a disaster. But his message isn’t getting through to his players. Not when the going gets really tough. And it is, to say the least, disappointing.

Random Thoughts

- Two things factors would really help the Lions when they return from the bye week. One is incorporating Kevin Jones more into the offense. The other would be throwing Calvin Johnson the football at least a half-dozen times per game.

- With all due respect to Michigan’s Michael Hart and Michigan State’s Javon Ringer, the best running back in the Big Ten is Illinois’ Rashard Mendenhall. He is vastly underrated and easily the biggest factor in his team’s surprising success. Illini quarterback Juice Williams, however, is overrated. He isn’t as mobile as advertised nor is he an accurate passer.

- What the Colorado Rockies are accomplishing is one of the greatest stories in baseball history. Has anybody noticed? Does anybody care? If it were happening in New York, what do you think the response would be?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Don't Let The Door Hit You On The Way Out, Todd

There have been a number of times, throughout the years, when I have defended Tigers reliever Todd Jones.
He has been a good, if not outstanding, closer during both his stints with the Tigers. Like I told people during this just-completed season, when they’d get on Todd after he blew a couple saves, the Tigers were lucky to have him under the circumstances. Their bullpen was bad when Joel Zumaya was out and Fernando Rodney was scuffling, but it would have been even worse if it weren’t for Jones.
And I have always liked Todd personally. I was still on the Tigers’ beat during his first stint in town and had several long talks with him. He is an overly sensitive person at times, but a pretty decent guy.
But I have to admit, his act is getting tiresome. I figured Todd questioning members of the media wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. We can’t be overly sensitive, either. And if there was anybody who needed a chip on his shoulder, it was Todd. His biggest problem early in his career was not standing up for himself.
But it seems like lately, he has taken it to the point where he figures he can bully people, and he has gained an overblown impression of his self-worth.
The column he wrote in the Free Press belittling the media was laughable. Like Todd reminds anybody of Bo Jackson or Kirk Gibson. Then I was reading a column by The Oakland Press’ outstanding baseball writer and columnist Jim Hawkins on Sunday during which Todd claimed Detroit has been good to him, but he has been good to Detroit, too.
Please. He has had, by far, his greatest success here. The fans and media have been more than fair to him. Any issues Todd has in this town have been self-inflicted. It’s either been because of poor performance and he was criticized for it - which comes with the territory for a job that pays him millions upon millions of dollars. Or it’s because he has sought out this petty role as the self-appointed policeman of the media.
I was told Todd told his buddies at The Sporting News, where he writes a column, that he’d prefer to sign with his hometown Atlanta Braves. And if the Braves do sign Jones, I only have one thing to say to Todd based on his recent boorish deportment.
Good riddance, pal.
A return home would be a good thing for Todd.
He needs a reminder of where he came from.

Random Thoughts

- The most significant game of the weekend was the Bears beating Green Bay. The Packers had the Bears right where they wanted them during the first half and let them off the hook. That likely will change the entire complexion of the NFC North this season.

- I was shocked, I admit, by Michigan State’s shoddy performance vs. Northwestern Saturday. Seems like I made a mistake and overestimated Mark Dantonio’s immediate impact on Sparty. I still believe, however, he is the long-term solution.

- The Rockies and Diamondbacks were able to rise quickly with youth movements. But that will only work in the National League. In the American League, because of the win-at-all-costs nature of the Yankees and Red Sox, teams have to step up financially and field veteran-laden rosters or they are doomed.

Friday, October 05, 2007

When Will It Be Time To Buy Into The Lions?

There is a funny dynamic about the Lions I have never been able to figure out. During the off season, and at the start of training camp, it seems like their fans are overly optimistic about the upcoming season. But when the season actually begins, and even if the Lions do get off to a fast start, their fans tend to be overly cautious.
You know what I sense? It’s that people aren’t buying into the Lions just yet. It doesn’t matter if they are 3-1. They don’t want to invest emotionally. Maybe it’s their checkered past. Or people look at the Lions’ roster and realize it is not very deep.
I don’t know if the Lions are that good. I honestly don’t. What I do know is that the rest of the league, particularly the NFC, isn’t much - if any - better. Indianapolis and New England are clearly the best teams. Dallas has played like the best team in the NFC so far this season, but I remain uncertain about the Cowboys.
People are underestimating the Packers. They have put together a tremendous defense, which has given Brett Favre’s career new life. I think the Packers are better than the Lions, but not the Bears and Vikings. The Bears can’t win without better quarterbacking - although I wouldn’t be all that surprised if it is Kyle Orton who ultimately gives it to them.
If the Lions win Sunday at Washington - and granted, that’s a big "if" - it just might be the beginning of an improbable roll.
Stranger things have happened in the past, and more will happen in the future, as long as the NFL remains this even team-to-team.

Random Thoughts

- The best pitcher in baseball is easily Boston’s Josh Beckett. His performance in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Angels ranks up there among the best postseason pitching performances I have ever seen. The best, though, was Jack Morris’ 10-inning, 1-0 shutout in Game 7 of the World Series.

- It will be interesting to see how Purdue does Saturday hosting Ohio State. If there is a sleeper team in the Big Ten this season, it is the Boilermakers. This week and the next at Michigan will make or break Purdue’s season.

- The Red Wings lack of attendance is disturbing, but rest assured they will win this town back if they advance to the Stanley Cup finals. So much - too much - rests on Dominik Hasek. But this is still an elite team.

Monday, October 01, 2007

And It Will Be Curse Vs. Curse In The World Series

The lesson learned last year is that once the baseball playoffs begin, everything that happened during the regular season is pulled off the table.
For example, the two clubs, more than any others, that backed into the playoffs last season were the Cardinals and the Tigers. And they met in the World Series.
During the regular season, the Yankees mostly dominated the Tigers. Then the Yanks won Game One of the American League Division Series, too. But the Tigers won the next three - and the champagne flowed at Comerica Park.
That’s why, I don’t care if the Yankees won all six games from the Indians during the regular season. I still feel like The Tribe will win that series. I like their starting pitching better. Period. As for the other ALDS, I haven’t quite figured out how the Angels won all those games this season with so little power throughout their lineup. Seems like if you stop Vladimir Guerrero, you stop the Angels. The Red Sox have the pitching to be able to pull it off - and beat the Indians.
The National League is just nutty. The best team, the Mets, aren’t even in it. Call me goofy, but I see the Cubs winning it. Wouldn’t that be something. A Red Sox-Cubs World Series. Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. The Curse of the Bambino vs. Da Curse of Da Billy Goat. It would be fun.

Random Thoughts

- Brandon Graham is the best edge pass rusher Michigan has ever had. He has played dominant football the last two games and is biggest reason the Wolverines defense has been much better of late.

- Of all the losses by Top 10 teams this past weekend, the one that surprised me the most was Colorado beating Oklahoma. I was beginning to think the Sooners were the best team in the country. Obviously, I was wrong.

- I wrote in my column about Sunday’s victory over the Bears that the Lions’ 3-1 record is built on a house of cards. I am not sure, in retrospect, if that is a fair assessment. It does seem to me that their two home wins, over the Bears and Vikings, were more the result of implosions by the opposition than anything else. But then again, in the past, it was the Lions that were doing the imploding.