Monday, August 31, 2009

Polanco Underappreciated, Underrated And A Very Good Player

It has been a foregone conclusion Placido Polanco, in the last year of his contract, will be gone after this season.
I’m not sure that would be the wise move by the Tigers, even if they have prospect Scott Sizemore in the waiting.
Polanco is an extremely valuable player. It come to the forefront Sunday because he hit a game-winning home run, but it’s more on a day-to-day basis that he excels with persistent consistency.
It’s the two-out hits with runners in scoring position late in games. It’s his fielding. Polanco just doesn’t make errors, turns the double play exceptionally well and has decent range. His batting average has been down this season, but it’s been misleading. He has gotten as many key hits as ever, and is the prototypical No. 2 hitter.

Random Thoughts

- Michigan’s alleged football practice violations, as they stand alone, I don’t think are that big a deal. The NCAA will do something, but I’d be surprised if it amounts to more than a slap on the wrist. The bigger issue is the accumulation of things that have been happening to Michigan’s football program under Rich Rodriguez.
His haggling with West Virginia made the school look bad. The number of disgruntled players leaving the program made the school look bad. The Justin Feagin situation made the school look bad. Last year’s 3-9 record made the school look bad.
And the University of Michigan is not used to looking bad when it comes to football. To the contrary.

- Good for Bill Laimbeer landing a job with Minnesota as an assistant coach. Memories are long in the NBA. Laimbeer was not popular as a player, and even with his success as Shock coach, he was having trouble getting any interest from teams as an assistant. The Pistons did help him in this regard. It is possible he could someday return as the Pistons coach.

My column in Monday's Oakland Press on the Lions:


Sunday, August 30, 2009

My column Sunday on Culpepper-Stafford

Friday, August 28, 2009

Manning Visit Not Exactly Recipe For Confidence Boost

There is an uneasy feeling for the Lions heading into their preseason game Saturday against Indianapolis at Ford Field.
Peyton Manning is coming to town. He will play a half because it is the third preseason game. And he has lit up the Lions’ defense like a pinball machine in the past.
If the Lions have made any improvement defensively, it is not noticeable. Their defense was awful in their first two preseason games. The fact they won the first preseason game late only masked just how bad they were defensively against Atlanta. If anything, it was worse last week at Cleveland.
Maybe Jim Schwartz can come up with a little something to derail Manning and the Colts - even if it is the preseason. He did see the Colts a couple times per year when he was Tennessee’s defensive coordinator. Running vanilla defenses is normally just fine in the preseason, but the Lions have to do something to gain cohesiveness and confidence defensively. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees posts numbers that are just as impressive as Peyton Manning, and literally toyed with the Lions’ defense last season. The Lions will face him in the regular season opener.
Everybody talks about the Lions run defense - and it is the major concern. But they have to start doing something to stop elite-level passers, too. With Brett Favre back in the NFC North, and the Bears acquiring Jay Cutler, more of a premium will be put on secondary play and the pass rush.
While the Lions’ run defense has been, as expected, dreadful in the preseason so far, their pass rush and secondary play hasn’t been any better, either. That part has been disappointing. Saturday will present the stiffest test so far. Doesn’t seem like the defense is up to passing it.

Random Thoughts

- Keep waiting for Aubrey Huff to break loose and pay dividends for the Tigers? Me, too.
But the odd part, it hasn’t really been needed. Huff has two singles and one RBI in 24 at bats since joining the Tigers. His batting average is .083 and his on-base percentage .154. Yet, the Tigers are 5-3 with Huff in the lineup.

- Team I expect to fall off the face of the earth this college football season: Purdue. There just isn’t a lot there. Not sure if Purdue will win a conference game this season.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Good And Bad Of Jim Leyland As Manager

I’m of the opinion Jim Leyland is a terrific manager, and a main reason the Tigers are in first place today - carrying a substantial 4 1-2 game lead in the American League Central - when they were picked to finish fifth and last by most preseason forecasters.
Leyland’s record as Tigers manager: 324-288. It’s impressive when considered before Leyland arrived, the Tigers had suffered through a dozen straight losing seasons.
He communicates well with his players on a one-on-one basis. I like it that Leyland is more a "feel" manager than managing by the book. There are times when he is criticized for not handling his pitching staff well, but I think that’s unfounded. I consider it a strength. The Tigers’ bullpen in both 2006 and this season over-achieved in my mind. He is a really good communicator with his players. They respect him, and aren’t prone to test him on the field or in the clubhouse, because it’s understood he will standup to them. He gets a little grouchy with the media now and then, but is generally good in that role, too.
But not everybody feels that way about Leyland. He has his share of detractors. And maybe for good reason.
There do seem to be contradictions with Leyland, and they separate him from the truly great managers in the game. I mean, how many times has Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox or Ron Gardenhire, for example, had truly bad clubs.
Granted, some years their clubs have been loaded with talent. But some years not so much. Seems like there is an all or nothing quality to Leyland’s career. Even here in Detroit, he has had two clubs that would have fall under the category of overachieving - 2006 and this season. But has there ever been a more disappointing team in the history of this town than the 2008 version of the Tigers?
Despite the three straight division championships he had in Pittsburgh, Leyland’s overall record with the Pirates was below .500. Same in Florida and his ill-fated year in Colorado.
Florida was 10 games better the season after Leyland left with John Boles. The Rockies won 11 games more the season after Leyland left with Buddy Bell.
Leyland’s career record is below .500 - 1,293-1,419. The best part about Leyland’s track record: If he has a chance to get his team to the postseason, he will. And his teams have generally done well in the postseason. Both the Tigers and Marlins reached the World Series as wildcard teams, for example.
But history also suggests, if his club falls into a tailspin, he isn’t the best at getting it out of it.
Even here in Detroit. Remember the second half of 2007? How the 2006 regular season ended?

Random Thoughts

- The Minnesota Vikings had an excellent team - except at quarterback. Logic dictates getting Brett Favre would put the Vikings over the top. But the way the situation was handled was awful, by both Favre and the Vikings. In a way, Favre has never been under more pressure in his career. Considering how little he has practiced with the team, and that the season is fast approaching, not sure he is prepared for it.

- Weirdest game on the college football schedule this season: Notre Dame vs. Washington State at San Antonio on Halloween.

- Get the feeling Lions rookie safety Louis Delmas is a 15-yard late hit penalty about to happen? Me, too.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

No Excuse Left For Not Getting Into Pennant Race

Winning a road series, especially in Anaheim against such a good club, was obviously huge for the Tigers.
They were, to say the least, due. I never would have figured it would play out this way. More of the unpredictability of baseball. Guess that’s part of the beauty of the game. And it is truly a beautiful game.
But remember, the Twins for some reason nobody can explain given their mostly dreadful pitching staff, have started winning - even on the road. The bigger separation the Tigers can make from that team, the better. The White Sox, apparently, are going to rush Jake Peavy into the rotation. Not sure he’ll be their savior.
And the first two games of the Tigers’ series in Anaheim were compelling and dramatic. Seems like it is more than about time people get excited about the pennant race. It’s definitely on.

Random Thoughts

- I understand why the Lions haven’t signed a kicker to fill in for the injured Jason Hanson and his injured backup, Swayze Waters. There will be a lot of kickers cut loose later in the preseason, and the Lions will have their pick of them if necessary. But come on, isn’t having a backup wide receiver, Dane Looker, as their kicker Saturday against Indianapolis display what a sham preseason football can be? Two weeks ago, the guy was building a deck at his house. How, in good conscious, can they charge full price for that?

- Yeah, I do think ultimately, freshman Denard Robinson will win the quarterback position at Michigan. Might be sooner instead of later. His skill set is perfect for that offense. His track speed (Florida’s 100 meter state champ) does translate to football speed. He is an adequate passer. A very dangerous QB, who will give opposing defensive coordinators nightmares.

My column in Wednesday on the opening of the high school football season:


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Should Leyland Keep Playing Inge?

The most difficult decision Tigers manager Jim Leyland currently must make is whether Brandon Inge is helping or hurting the club by playing through his knee ailments.
Inge’s slump since the All Star break is alarming. Yet, he adds a lot to the club defensively. And the Tigers win, above all else, with pitching and defense.
It leads to another question: Just how good a third baseman is Aubrey Huff? His career fielding percentage at third base: .947. Brandon Inge’s career fielding percentage at third base: .958.
I think it is a fair assumption Inge has much better range at third than Huff, who has actually played more games at third base than any other position in his career, but only sporadically in recent seasons - and not at all this season. A note: Huff’s fielding percentage at third base has actually been much better in recent seasons than it was earlier in his career when he played the position on an every day basis.

Random Thoughts

- A few more games mixed in on the road by Miguel Cabrera like he had last night and the Tigers will win the division in a romp. He is capable of doing special things. Will he do them?

- Big hit by Curtis Granderson against a left-hander last night. Another good sign.

- Jered Weaver seems to be just as big a hot head as his brother, Jeff.

- I don’t think it’s a bad thing Justin Verlander and Gerald Laird were yelling at each other on the bench. A little fire never hurt anybody.

My column in Tuesday's Oakland Press about the Tigers:


Monday, August 24, 2009

Here Come The Twins - Again

The Twins are sneaking up on the Tigers again.
They may be a below .500 club, and their team-ERA has soared to 4.78, but the Twins have won five of their last six road games, including three straight in Kansas City over the weekend.
Like the Tigers, they had been struggling on the road. Unlike the Tigers, they have actually won some road games lately. The Twins are only 4 1-2 games behind the Tigers. It’s a little too close for comfort, especially given what has transpired between the two organizations in the past. Remember 1987 and 2006?
The Twins are the ultimate party crashers. Count me among those who left them by the side of the road for dead a couple weeks ago. Their pitching does stink. The Twins team ERA is 4.78 - and soaring. But getting Orlando Cabrera has tightened the Twins up defensively and added another solid bat to what was already a pretty good lineup - especially in the middle with Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.
The White Sox schedule is difficult. At Boston and New York this week. A trip to Minnesota after that. Chicago still has a West Coast trip in September.
Minnesota’s schedule is much less difficult. The Twins have been through the roughest patches.
Not sure if the American League Central race is going to play out like most of thought it would a week or two ago.

Random Thoughts

- Peyton Manning didn’t play in the Lions’ preseason game against the Colts last season. He was out with a knee injury. But he did in 2007. He also played a regular season game at Ford Field against the Lions - Thanksgiving Day 2004. Also in the regular season last season in Indy. In those three appearances. His combined stats for those games: 64-of-84 passing for 787 yards and 10 touchdowns. He wasn’t intercepted. Could be a little rough afternoon for the Lions Saturday.

- Fullback Jerome Felton seems to be an underrated player for the Lions. Not just is he a good blocker and receiver, but he is hard runner, who seems capable of getting tough yardage running inside. He might be the second-best runner on the team behind Kevin Smith.

- Evander Hood, the 300-pound defensive end/tackle from Missouri the Lions passed on to take tight end Brandon Pettigrew with the 20th overall pick in the NFL Draft, has three sacks and two preseason games for the Steelers.

My Column in Monday's Oakland Press about the Lions quarterback situation:


Friday, August 21, 2009

Pick Six Questions About The Tigers

In honor of Al Kaline, 6 questions that must be answered by the Tigers:

1. Will Jarrod Washburn pitch better to close the season?
Wasburn has had one really good start and three mediocre ones so far as a Tiger. Starting pitching is their calling card. He has to make it The Big Three with Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson for the Tigers to outlast the White Sox in the American League Central.

2. Will Miguel Cabrera start producing on the road?
Cabrera has come untracked at home with a lot of clutch hits lately. He must do so on the road, where he has just 22 RBI in 230 at bats this season.

3. How good, really, is Aubrey Huff?
He has been a solid major league hitter for a long time, but has never done it in a pennant race. Also, it's seems kind of uncertain how good he is defensively, especially if he is called on to play third base.

4. Will the bullpen hold up?
It has been really good this season. Closer Fernando Rodney has done it for nearly four months now. How about the last six weeks when so much will be on the line.

5. Can the Tigers continue to beat the White Sox head-to-head?
After years of being punked by the White Sox, the Tigers have won the last two series between the teams. It must continue in September.

6. Can the Tigers play roughly .500 ball on the road?
This holds the key.

My column in Friday's Oakland Press about the Tigers:


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Time Moving Quickly On Lions To Make QB Decision

It's funny how there are so many complaints about the length of training camp, and the length of the NFL's preseason schedule, yet it seems to be moving too fast for the Lions this particular year.
Count me among those in favor of adding two regular season games, and limiting the preseason to two games, but only if they add a couple players to the 53-man rosters of each team.
For the Lions, however, is there really enough time to evaluate their quarterbacks, Daunte Culpepper and Matthew Stafford, this preseason? How much are they going to play? About a full game each in the first three preseason games, when you get down to it. Are they going to be playing with regulars? Not really - at least not for long, especially given the Lions' injury situation.
Not sure if I'm in the majority on this, but I would start Stafford to begin the regular season based on what I observed in the preseason opener vs. Atlanta. Round 2 Saturday at Cleveland will be, to say the least, interesting. Lions coach Jim Schwartz hasn't named a starter for that game yet. It would be a surprise if it isn't Stafford.
Schwartz has to name his starter before the fourth and final preseason game, doesn't he? That fourth game, which is the ultimate throwaway game, can't have the starting position on the line. Not when the opposition, Buffalo that night, will only play its regulars for a series or two.

Random Thoughts

- Amazing statistic: It has been 153 games since Ichiro has had back-to-back games without a hit. He is one of this generation's great players. If his career ended today, he'd still get my vote for the Hall of Fame.

- It was the right move by Jim Leyland to sit Curtis Granderson for two games against left-handed pitching. For all that Granderson does well, hitting leftiies obviously isn't one of them. His .178 average against left-handers this season speaks volumes. It's the last hurdle Granderson must overcome to become an elite player.

- Enough already about the Louis Delmas hit on Aaron Brown in training camp. It means nothing. Now if he does the same to Adrian Peterson in a regular season game, that would mean something


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Some Observations About The Tigers...

As expected, they didn’t produce much against Mariners’ starter Felix Hernandez Tuesday. Yet, Rick Porcello kept them in the game with another strong outing. Porcello is a lot better than many people have been him giving him credit for, and it would have been a mistake to even consider dealing him at the trade deadline.
He needed to make two important adjustments, though.
1. More four-seam fastballs (a harder, straight fastball) to work with his two-seam fastball (a sinking fastball). Porcello’s two-seam fastball is the pitch that separates him from others. It’s a brilliant pitch, but he was overusing it. He needed a different look, at a different eye level and speed.
2. Throw a tighter breaking ball - a pitch more like a slider than a roundhouse curve.
A seasoned veteran couldn’t have made those adjustments any better than Porcello.

- It’s difficult, I know, to have much faith in Fernando Rodney, but he gotten the job done. With Rodney, it’s all about health. He doesn’t pitch as well as some major leaguers when his velocity is down. As such, a little ailment hinders Rodney a lot. He’s been healthy this year and his velocity is up. When he doesn’t throw as hard, hitters are still able to get their bat on his changeup - even if they are fooled by it. If he is in the mid-90s or higher with his fastball, they have to start guessing which pitch is coming - or they can’t touch his changeup.

- Miguel Cabrera is by far the Tigers best player. He needs to start producing in the clutch. He did Tuesday, that’s for sure. Could it be a turning point for him?

- Coming back to win Tuesday was huge - especially when Chicago was beaten at home by the woeful Royals. And considering how the Tigers lost Sunday to Kansas City.

- I’m still not sure if this town has bought into the Tigers just yet, and whether pennant fever is here. The trade for Aubrey Huff should help change that. Everybody knew they needed another hitter and help at third base because of Brandon Inge’s status. Well, they got both in one player.
Comeback victories like that one Tuesday will help in that regard, as well. The biggest factor, though, will be winning on the road. If the Tigers play well on the West Coast this weekend and early next week, their bandwagon will be full.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Getting Aubrey Huff A Good And Necessary Move For Tigers

Aubrey Huff hasn't had his best season, but he is still a solid major league hitter. He is also a left-handed batter, an obvious need for the Tigers, who have struggled mightily to score runs this season.
Throw in the fact he can play third base in a pinch, and it's obvious why general manager Dave Dombrowski had to pull the trigger on the deal Monday.
The Tigers had no viable option to play third base for Brandon Inge, and he is struggling with knee problems. Huff is no Brooks Robinson, but he isn't Ryan Raburn, either. He should help in that area.
The Tigers gave up something to get something. Brett Jacobson was their fourth-round draft choice in 2008 and it is likely he will pitch in the major leagues within the next couple years. But the Tigers do have relief pitching depth within their system. There were a few relievers in line ahead of Jacobson.


Ryan Raburn At Third Base = Recipe For Disaster

I know what Tigers manager Jim Leyland is trying to accomplish by playing Ryan Raburn at third base to spell Brandon Inge, but it is a recipe for disaster.
Raburn, an outfielder throughout much of his college career, signed with the Tigers as a third baseman. He was moved, however, to second base after making 62 errors in just 168 games at third base in his first three minor league seasons. He can't play third base. It's that simple. He has four errors in five games there this year - and it isn't a surprise.
Thing is, Leyland doesn't have many options. Inge is ailing. He does need to rest his knees occassionally.
Ramon Santiago, the Tigers utility infielder, has played third base just seven times his entire professional career. In five games there in the minor leagues, and just 15 chances (in 2005), he made two errors. Not much of an option there, either, it seems. The Tigers have no viable options at Triple-A or Double-A, as well.
As is, Inge's balky knees better hold up or the Tigers are in trouble. They better be looking for a third baseman with a respectable glove they can get through waivers - at least for a stretch run in September.
This is a team that wins on pitching and defense. That goes out the door with a hole like that at third base. Saw the vivid proof of it Sunday.

Random Thoughts

- In the NFL, talent is described as size, strength, speed and durability. It's a rough league. The demands physically on players are enormous. It's not a good sign early Lions draft picks Louis Delmas and Brandon Pettigrew spend so much practice time on the sideline, nor did not see action in the team's first preseason game Saturday vs. Atlanta. Are they durable? Can they hold up?

- Tiger Woods is golf. If he wins or is in contention, it's a good week for the sport and the PGA. When he isn't in contention, nor doesn't participate in a given tournament, it's a bad week. Golf has become that simple.

- Of all the towns I didn't expect Michael Vick to land, Philadelphia was at the head of the list. Talk about stirring up a hornet's nest in a city that thrives on controversy. Now this will be interesting.

My column in Monday's Oakland Press about the declining reputation of Big Ten football. Has it ever been worse?


Friday, August 14, 2009

MSU And Dantonio Need To Get The Message About Winston

Given the circumstances, Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio and athletic director Mark Hollis should reconsider their decision to rush Spartans’ kick returner Glenn Winston back onto the practice field.
While it’s true Winston has served his debt to society in regard to a jail sentence, the fact an MSU athlete, hockey player A.J. Sturges, was so severely injured in the incident, and has spoken out strongly and publicly against Winston’s return, needs to be considered.
It is understood Dantonio doesn’t want to "turn his back" to his player and wants to offer support, but it’s also understood there are others involved in the situation, and that the incident did severe damage, not only to the athletic program’s reputation, but also that of the university as a whole.
It was an exceptionally violent incident that doesn’t exactly provide comfort to parents about sending their children to Michigan State.
When Winston started practicing with the Spartans not long after being released from jail this week, it raised a lot of eyebrows. It should have. The message it sent wasn’t a good one.
Michigan State athletics has had a really good run recently. The football team’s surprising success, and his no-nonsense approach, has made Dantonio wildly popular. Hollis has received many kudos - and they are justified - for bringing much-needed stability to the Spartans’ often- tumultuous athletic department. The basketball team’s run to the NCAA title game in Detroit was wonderful.
But Dantonio and Hollis better nip this in the bud. Their decision-making on Winston is not appreciated nor accepted. They’d be wise to get the message and change course quickly. That doesn’t mean running and hiding from Winston, but not being so light when it come to the repercussions from the university and athletic program standpoints.
It’s obvious to everybody else. Why isn’t it to these guys?

Random Thoughts

- Jim Schwartz made the right decision starting Daunte Culpepper at quarterback in the Lions preseason opener Saturday. His veteran status dictates it. However, he has to give Matthew Stafford at least equal time with the Lions first stringers in the preseason. Stafford should start Game 2 at Cleveland. I still believe Culpepper should clearly outplay Stafford in order to start the opener at New Orleans - not the other way around. I don’t believe the Lions can be afraid to play Stafford, that he needs the experience of playing, not that of holding a clipboard. And in real games.

- The Royals are not good, but there is something about that club coming to Comerica Park with a lot on the line for the Tigers that is discomforting. It’s not just 2006, either. They always seem to stick it to the Tigers when it is least expected.

- Mauricio Robles, the left-handed pitching prospect the Tigers gave up in the Jarrod Washburn trade with Seattle, has an 8.53 ERA in this three appearances for High Desert in the Class A California League.

My column in Friday's Oakland Press about how the Lions have exposed the sham of the NFL's preseason forever


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Signing Big Ben Welcome Addition Or New Low For Pistons?

I understand, in theory, why there is a spot for Ben Wallace on the Pistons.
He doesn’t cost much by NBA standards in terms of salary - $1.3 million. He doesn’t cost anything in regard to the salary cap.
The Pistons badly need inside presence. That five- to-10 minutes per game Big Ben may give the Pistons could be important. Well, maybe that’s a stretch.
I find the coming together of the two parties to be a bizarre remarriage. This is not a hero returning to the fold. It’s more like a divorced couple getting back together because it helps take care of the rent for both while they are struggling.
When Chauncey Billups returned to The Palace with the Nuggets this past season, he was treated like a king by the Pistons, and given extremely warm welcome by fans.
When Big Ben would come back, there would be no extra inflection in Mason’s golden voice when introducing him. The fans booed. They particularly enjoyed him clanking his free throws - for the other team.
The Pistons are the masters of spin - and I mean that as a compliment. They will eventually convince the media and fans that this is, indeed, a hero returning for his swan song - or something like it.
However, it should be noted:
- The night of The Palace brawl, Big Ben provided the matchstick to Ron Artest and the crowd because he just wouldn’t calm down.
- He was downright insubordinate to his coach, Flip Saunders, during a game in Orlando.
- He is a horrible offensive player, who spent much of his last couple years with the Pistons sulking because he did get the ball enough.
- When Big Ben left, it was almost as if he turned his nose up at this town. Yeah, he got a little more money to play in Chicago. But if there was ever a player who should have considered the hometown discount it was Ben Wallace. Or at least been sad to move on. Instead, it was like he was gloating.
This town and the Pistons made Ben Wallace. What’s he been since he left other than grossly overpaid?
All of a sudden, he’s grateful for it? How convenient. Are the Pistons really improving their team by signing Big Ben?
Or stooping to a new low?


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Not A Good Move By Porcello

Rick Porcello claimed he didn’t throw at the Red Sox Kevin Youkilis Tuesday, but it sure looked like it.
And if he did, his heart was in the right place - trying to protect teammate Miguel Cabrera, who was hit earlier by Boston’s Junichi Tazawa.
But it wasn’t the right move. In fact, it was devastating to the Tigers. They had the lead. Porcello pitched well in the first inning. It was a key game because the Tigers lost a close decision Monday to the Red Sox, and have a nightmare of a pitching matchup tonight against Josh Beckett. Chicago won Tuesday, rallying during the ninth inning in Seattle, and adding salt to the Tigers’ wound.
The Tigers chances of winning would have been much better had Porcello been allowed to stay in the game rather than the insertion of Chris Lambert, the classic 4-A player, who was sent back to Toledo following the game.
The Red Sox, when they are struggling, resort to such goon tactics. They did over the weekend while they were getting thrashed in New York, throwing at Alex Rodriguez and Mark Texeira. The Yankees didn’t respond. Their revenge came by sweeping the series.
There is a time and place to retaliate. In hockey, Darren McCarty waited until the next regular season to get back Claude Lemieux. It would have been unwise to do it in the actual series and take foolish penalties. How many times do football players hurt themselves with personal foul penalties after reacting to what they perceive as a cheapshot?
In fairness to Porcello, umpire Brian O’ Nora should have warned him rather than tossing him from the game. He didn’t warn him on a tight pitch to Victor Martinez earlier.
Youkilis charging the mound dictated Porcello be tossed. If Youkilis hadn’t gone to the mound, there is no way I can envision O’Nora tossing Porcello. That makes it unfair to the Tigers.
If there is good that comes from this, it seems to have garnered Porcello more fans in this town. He seemed like he had surprisingly few, despite winning 10 games so far as a 20-year-old rookie.
I think Youkilis should be suspended for throwing his batting helmet at Porcello. It was a sissy move. There is no place for that in the game.

Random Thoughts

- Rick Pitino could be gone before the start of the season at Louisville. Abortion is the ultimate touchy issue - especially in the south.

- I would be surprised if Daunte Culpepper isn’t named the Lions starter for their first preseason game Saturday vs. Atlanta..


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Unfortunate Reality Of College Football

As fall practice began this week, much of the focus was on Justin Feagin being dismissed by Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez because of legal woes, and Glenn Winston being reinstated by Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio after serving a jail sentence.
Most college football programs, if you examine it, have had off-field trouble like this.
Michigan has had problems in the past with players. Michigan State even more. The list is long at both schools the last 25 years. They are not alone on college football’s landscape.
People tend to blame coaches. Rich Rodriguez did coach Pac Mac Jones and Chris Henry, two of the NFL’s most notorious bad boys, at West Virginia. So I guess there will be skepticism about his recruiting. Is it up to Michigan’s standards? Then again, honestly, Michigan’s off-field character and academic standards haven’t been that high when it comes to football. Generally, if you can play, you can get in, unless the case is extreme. And in fairness to Michigan, it never seems to bother anyone on signing day, and their class is annually ranked in the Top 10.
I was surprised Winston has not been suspended for a game or two. He did sit out some last season, but it does like there is a bottom line here.
Coaches and administrators always seem to talk about the need to support the athlete at times like this, and perhaps there is genuine sincerity behind MSU’s actions regarding Winston.
But it’s difficult not to cast a cynical eye toward MSU on this, and not think about the Spartans need for a kick returner, and that Winston is a really good returnman.
And I have trouble believing Rodriguez didn’t have an inkling about Feagin’s troubled past. Seemed more like it was late in the recruiting process last year, the Wolverines weren’t going to land Terrelle Pryor, and Rodriguez needed a multi-dimensional QB.

Random Thoughts

- I didn’t think the Tigers loss to the Red Sox Monday was a moral victory. Just the opposite. The Red Sox are ripe for the picking. When it was 5-5, after that kind of rally, the Tigers should have won the game. They didn’t show much of a killer instinct and they blew a golden opportunity to separate themselves from the White Sox.

- While hindsight is always 20-20, managing a baseball team is a bottom line proposition. So, yes, the criticism being leveled at Tigers manager Jim Leyland for not pinch hitting for Adam Everett during the eighth inning Monday is justified.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Deck Stacked In Tigers' Favor This Week

The Tigers have played poorly on the road this season, and Fenway Park has not been, at least anytime I can remember, a friendly place for them.
But if the Tigers are ever going to turn it around on the road this season, or are setup to have a good series at Fenway Park, it’s this week.
The pitching matchups are clearly in their favor in three of the four games, with the lone exception being the Josh Beckett-Armando Galarraga match Wednesday.
The Red Sox weren’t just swept by the Yankees over the weekend, they were humiliated. Their pitching staff was depleted in the 15-inning game Friday. They don’t seem to reacting well to controversy surrounding David Ortiz.
While being in their home park is an advantage, the Red Sox won’t be rested. The Tigers were already in Boston and checked into their hotel by the time the Red Sox-Yankees game ended Sunday night.
And for all the moaning about the Tigers merely being a product of a weakened division, they are just three games behind the Red Sox in the overall standings - the same distance the Tigers have separated themselves from the White Sox in the American League Central.
Now the Red Sox do have something the Tigers don’t have - a championship pedigree.
These are, however, rare circumstances tilted toward the Tigers. They can’t afford to waste the opportunity.

Random Thoughts

- Calvin Johnson is a terrific receiver, but he needs help. The amount of practice time Bryant Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew have been missing in training camp is a concern. The first preseason game is Saturday. The season is only a month away. Those are the Lions other two primary receivers. Johnson can’t do it alone. On the defensive side of the ball, rookie Louis Delmas is missing a lot of practice time because of injury and Daniel Bullocks had to have his knee checked. That obvious upgrade at safety is not moving along as smoothly as had been anticipated, is it?

- Now it’s time for Miguel Cabrera to get it done on the road. Fenway Park against worn-out pitching should be the cure. Cabrera is hitting .380 with 15 home runs and 45 RBI in 192 at bats at Comerica Park this season.
On the road, he is hitting just .287 with eight home runs and 22 RBI in 223 at bats.
It’s not a coincidence the Tigers are 36-18 at home and 23-33 on the road. As Cabrera goes, the Tigers go.

My Column in Monday's Oakland Press about Michigan State football


Friday, August 07, 2009

Rating The Worst Of The Worst: Lions Head Coaches

Of the Lions coaches in the recent past, I would rate them, in order from worst to first, like this:

1. Rod Marinelli - A profound disappointment. Sold work ethic and staying the course, yet the wheels came off the guy completely in public just being asked simple questions at news conferences. A lot of people bought into Marinelli within the organization. He let them down completely. The foolish trip to Oakland in one day for a preseason game was the precursor of dreadful things to come.

2. Bobby Ross - Confonted players when unnecessary. Totally blew the Scott Mitchell situation. Publicly ripped his teams many times when it should have been private. Lost the respect of his players. Quit in midseason with a 5-4 record because he couldn't take the heat. Always somebody else's fault, never his.

3. Steve Mariucci - Never stood up for himself. Let Matt Millen dictate quarterback situation with Joey Harrington when he wanted Jeff Garcia. Played James Stewart too much in final preseason game and he got hurt. Ditto for Garcia the next season. Was always vague about things. Looked at by players as kind of like a teacher who wasn't paying attention.

4. Marty Mornhinweg - Actually had great ability as an offensive mind, but got the job way too soon. Leaving camp on his motorcycle that day in Saginaw was a joke. Micromanaged little things that didn't matter, but left important stones uncovered. Let Millen dictate coaching staff and draft. Big mistake.

5. Wayne Fontes - Can you imagine the Lions of Barry Sanders, Herman Moore, Chris Spielman, Lomas Brown, Kevin Glover, etc with a different head coach than Wayne Fontes? Can you see a Super Bowl champion? Me, too.

It's early, but it seems like Jim Schwartz might be better. At least he appears to be a calm hand at the wheel. We'll see.

My column in Friday's Oakland Press about Tigers


Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Perfect Moment

I'm at Comerica Park as I write this, sitting in the press box directly above home plate.
The park is mostly filled this afternoon. It is a beautiful summer day. Not too hot. Not too cold. A little breeze.
Just right in every way.
Brandon Inge has hit a home run. Rick Porcello is pitching well. Ramon Santiago just legged out a triple and scored when Curtis Granderson knocked him in. And then Placido Polanco drove in Granderson.
The Tigers are in first place by a game over the Chicago White Sox in the American League Central. Now, I don't know if the Tigers will win or lose this game. Or capture the division title.
I only know this is what baseball is supposed to be like. Games like this. Seasons like this. Pennant races like this.
I'm not sure, however, if this town is really enjoying it fully. And honestly, I don't understand why.
To me, this is absolute perfection.


Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Logic Dictates Lions Go With A 3-4 Defense

Based on their personnel, the Lions should be running a 3-4 defense.
Seems like Cliff Avril and Dewayne White would be ideal ends in the 3-4. There is plenty of depth at linebacker with Julian Peterson, Larry Foote, Ernie Sims, Jordon Dizon and DeAndre Levy.
Unless Grady Jackson finds the Fountain of Youth, the Lions don’t have the ideal nose tackle for the 3-4. Then again, they’d only have to play only one inside tackle instead of two in the 3-4. As it stands, inside defensive tackle is clearly the Lions most glaring weakness.

Random Thoughts

- I don’t know what was more disappointing Tuesday - Jarrod Washburn’s underwhelming pitching performance or the Tigers’ hitters getting schooled by Orioles rookie lefty Brian Matusz in his major league debut. Matusz, by the way, has to do something about the way he wears his cap. I know he is trying to be cool and all that, but he looked like Jamie Kennedy in "Malibu’s Most Wanted."

- They did get Patrick Eaves for a good price, but I don’t see where he is going to add much scoring punch for the Red Wings. Don’t see the comparisons to Daniel Cleary, either. Cleary is a bigger, more physical presence.

- One game back? The White Sox are getting a little too close for comfort. Suffice to add, this is a big game for the Tigers tonight against the O’s.


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Some Facts, Figures And Thoughts About Tigers Pennant Race

A couple things as to why the Tigers are in first place in the American League Central, and perhaps postseason bound, despite a perception they just aren’t that good.

- Curtis Granderson is getting dogged for having an off season, but there is a fact that strongly suggests otherwise.
With more than a third of the Tigers’ games remaining, Granderson has 22 home runs and 19 stolen bases. He is on pace to become only the 33rd player in major league history to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in the same season. It has been done just 52 times.

- The Tigers have lost 59 percent of their road games this season, but it isn’t that far out of whack from the rest of the American League. In the American League, home teams have won 56 percent of the games. Only the Angels have a really good road record. The Red Sox and Yankees are the only other two A.L. teams above .500 on the road, but it is only by a combined five games.

- Getting blown out Sunday in Cleveland was a rarity. Their pitching is like having a great defense in football. It has kept them in most games.

- In their last 10 games, the Tigers have actually made up a game against both the White Sox and Twins, so their lead isn’t "slipping away."

- Some facts about past Tiger pennant races:
The Tigers were a half game in the A.L. Central lead in 2007 after 104 games, and led the division as late as Aug. 16.
They were 8.5 games ahead in 2006 after 104 games.
The Tigers were tied for first place with Toronto in the American League East as late as Aug. 26 in 1991.
In 1988, they held a one game lead in the A.L. East after 104 games.
In 1987, they were three games behind Toronto after 104 games.

My column in Tuesday's Oakland Press about how the Tigers matchup with the White Sox and Twins:


Monday, August 03, 2009

Honestly, Aren't The Tigers In Pretty Good Shape?

Look, there is no defending the indefensible. The Tigers were awful in Cleveland over the weekend. That's a bad baseball team they lost two of three games against. Sunday was downright embarrassing.
But here is the simple truth: In the last 10 games, the Tigers have actually picked up a game over the White Sox and Twins. They are 5-5 over that period, the Twins and White Sox 4-6. Also, the Tigers are coming home for a four-game series against Baltimore. The Tigers are 15 games above .500 at home, the Orioles are 18 games below .500 on the road. The pitching matchups this week are overwhelmingly in the Tigers favor. Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz are good prospects, but between them have one major league appearance. That's who will be going against Justin Verlander and Jarrod Washburn the next two nights.
The Twins will be at Comerica Park on the weekend. They haven't played well on the road, either. By this time next week, I'd be surprised if the Tigers haven't expanded their lead in the American League Central. Everything is pointing in their direction to make a move.

Random Thoughts

-Very early impressions from training camp: Matthew Stafford is already a better quarterback than Daunte Culpepper.

- It was profoundly disappointing the Tigers didn't make a move for a hitter at the trade deadline, but their lineup isn't as bad as it has appeared lately. Look for Miguel Cabrera and Curtis Granderson to break out of it this week against the Orioles. Those two killed them in Cleveland. They are better than that. Much better.

- Calvin Johnson made a catch in training camp the other day that was one of the best I have ever seen. He was running near the right hash marks. The pass was badly overthrown and started to drift toward the sideline. It looked like it was, honestly, going to fall 10 yards from him. All of a sudden he had the ball and plopped to the ground. Instead of cheering, the crowd (season ticket holders were allowed in) kind of gasped. I couldn't believe it, either. Seems like Johnson is the most talented player the Lions have ever had not named Barry Sanders.

My column in Monday's Oakland Press about Tiger Woods and the Buick Open: