Don't count Michigan out in the Big Ten's Legend's Division
There was a wide-ranging perception that Michigan's chances of reaching the Big Ten title game ended when the Wolverines lost at Michigan State. Now that Michigan State has faltered at Nebraska and Michigan displayed it is different under Brady Hoke than Rich Rodriguez in a rout of Purdue Saturday, the Wolverines could put fate more back in their own hands with a victory at Iowa this week. It's a tough place to play, but the Hawkeyes aren't that good. They lost to Minnesota on the road Saturday. They were brutal in the Penn State game. This is a squad the Wolverines can beat. Of course, Michigan has been on the road just twice this season. Yes, Iowa did contain Denard Robinson in a similar manner to MSU last year. But did Hoke and Al Borges, his offensive coordinator, learn much from the MSU game? Rodriguez could never make proper adjustments to those defenses that corralled his QB. Michigan ran the ball effectively against Purdue with its running backs. The development of Fitzgerald Toussaint into a potential feature back is a big step for the Wolverines, who have played much improved defense. Still, if Michigan wins this week and beats a typically fading Illinois squad the following week, it could be right there heading into what could be two huge final home games against Nebraska and Ohio State. They would still be depending on Iowa to knock off Michigan State - at Iowa - on Nov. 12. But given the Spartans track record on the road against the Hawkeyes, that's hardly out of the realm of possibility.
This should be Rule No. 1 for the Lions: When they are up by 35 points, Matthew Stafford should not be in the game.
- The Lions' defensive line has re-established themselves as one of the best in the NFL. They have really put the pressure on Tim Tebow today. Lots of sacks.
- There still have to be concerns about the Lions ability to stop the run. This game wasn't much of a test in that regard. Once the Lions' got the lead, and the Broncos were forced to pass, it was off the table. Denver was without Willis McGahee, easily the Broncos' best running back.
- Calvin Johnson is a truly a great player. He is having one of the best seasons a receiver has ever had. He is unstoppable.
- Stafford has distinguished himself today. Tim Tebow has not. In fact, he has been embarrassed.
Last touchdown of the half was huge. It pretty much deflated any notion of Tim Tebow leading another miracle comeback. It's a one-dimensional game now. The Lions should tee off on Tebow during the second half.
- The Lions' running game isn't that bad. Maurice Morris is a good back. It wasn't the reason they lost last week. It has actually been a strength today. Stopping the run has been a different issue. The first Denver drive was bad, but the Lions have tightened it up since. It does help that Tebow isn't much of threat to beat the Lions with his arm.
- Penalties have not been an issue for the Lions today. It's because in no way are they are struggling to keep up with the Broncos in this game. They are clearly the better team in just about every way.
- Champ Bailey is still a good player, but not the great one he used to be, and he is coming off an injury. If this were five years ago, he'd been going one-on-one with Calvin Johnson and Detroit's other receivers would not be so open.
- Matthew Stafford's ankle injury is not a factor. He is moving well. His ball faking is good, too. He looks like the quarterback he was in the first five games, not the previous two.
- Great first half by the Lions. Tremendous answer to their flat performances the previous two weeks.
On the World Series and one of the greatest baseball trades of all time
There are times I am reminded just why I love baseball so much. This World Series is one of the reasons. It's had so many twists and turns, it's mind-boggling. I think the classic example is David Freese dropping the popup early in Game 6 and then becoming the hitting hero for the ages later. Think about the comeback by the Cardinals means when it comes to the legacy of Josh Hamilton. If it doesn't happen, his two-run homer in the 10th to make it 9-7 would have been remembered forever in baseball history. Instead, it will be a tiny footnote. Also, I thought Rangers manager Ron Washington fell in the same lefty-lefty matchup trap Tigers manager Jim Leyland did in Game 6 of the ALDS. Bring in the pitcher with the better "stuff." Scott Feldman starts the 10th instead of Darren Oliver, the Rangers are world champs. They still might be. In my opinion, Texas will win tonight. I don't think they will fold. By the way, one of the great trades of all-time: December, 2007, the Cardinals sent Jim Edmonds to the Padres in exchange for David Freese. Edmonds hit .178 and was released in May by the Padres. Freese, who is from the St. Louis area, has become one of the greatest hometown hero baseball stories ever.
Stafford or Tebow - 10 years from now, who will be considered better?
Sounds like an easy question with a simple answer - Stafford, of course. His skill set for the prototypical NFL quarterback are a lot better. The big arm. The quick release. Pocket presence. Swagger. He is not a statue. He has some mobility and decent speed for a QB. It's not even close. So I'll take the easy answer. I'll say Stafford, but I don't think it's a slam dunk. Tebow is a special athlete. That was evident at the scouting combine when he tested so well. He runs like a tailback, and dishes as much punishment as he takes when tackled. His work habits are legendary. So are his leadership skills. He was arguably the greatest college football player of all time. His passing numbers at Florida were extraordinary. His throwing motion is always under question as it relates to the NFL. I think it is exaggerated because lefties always look funky when they throw. Some people don't like Tebow because he wears his religious views on his sleeve. I'm not much for athletes using the field as a pulpit, but I don't see genuine harm from it. Tebow is the type of athlete who isn't going to be held down. Everything he has will realize its maximum potential. I think there is a lot more potential to be realized than most. I just watched Denver's game at Miami. Tebow's passing was absolutely awful. Yet, at the end of that game, he found a way to win it. He started hitting passes and making mad scrambles. It was unbelievable, if not unconventional. So while I think the answer will be Stafford, I believe it will be a lot closer than many people seem to believe. Stafford is going to do some great things in the NFL, but Tebow probably will, too. It's just the style will be much different.
To silence the critics, the Detroit Lions Ndamukong Suh must make more big plays
Ndamukong Suh is obviously prideful - and that's a good thing. So that he answered back the charges by the Atlanta Falcons' offensive line that he was out of line with his 0n-field comments after Falcons quaterback Matt Ryan was injured Sunday is understandable. But the truth is there is a mind game going on in the league right now to get under Suh's skin. He has called a lot of attention to himself because of his outstanding rookie season, and his rough play, which takes the game to the line and sometimes crosses it. He's also in a lot of commercials. There is a lot of envy. Good for Suh. He is a great player. The key, though, doesn't involve the charges of being overly aggressive or over-hyped. Rather, it's the production. In seven games this season, Suh is on pace for 53 tackles and seven sacks - both below his production from 2010 (66 tackles and 10 sacks). He doesn't have a forced fumble or an interception, like he did last season. In other words, he just needs to make more big plays, and none of the rhetoric would matter. Until he plays better, it does.
How does a manager let lefty Marc Rzepczynski face a hot right-handed power hitter like Mike Napoli with the pivotal Game 5 of the World Series on the line? Because he messed up. It had nothing to do with the bullpen phones. Please. Tony LaRussa has a great record, and I probably shouldn't feel this way given that record, but "his genius" has often been overdone. Talk about overthinking the situation. If the Cardinals lose to the Rangers in this series, it will be a long time before he lives it down. Yeah, and he's getting schooled in this series by Ron Washington, who has done excellent job of leading the Rangers the entire postseason. It has been a terrific World Series so far. And yes, I do see a Game 7, even as well as Colby Lewis has pitched for the Rangers in the postseason. I see the Rangers winning that Game 7. Just their time. I think that was evident in the ALCS against the Tigers.
If Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford's ankle injury is relatively serious (FOX sports reported he was in a walking boot after Sunday's loss to Atlanta; an MRI is reportedly scheduled for today), the Lions would be wise to start backup Shaun Hill Sunday at Denver. There is no need in this particular game to force Stafford to play with an injury, especially one that only heals significantly through rest. The Lions have a bye week after this. Hill is good enough to win a game or two while Stafford heals. He is not nearly as good an option for the stretch run of the season when the Lions' postseason chances will be on the line. That is the time of the year when Stafford needs to be at his best - and healthiest.
- It doesn't matter if Calvin Johnson is being given extra attention by the defense. He needs to be thrown to a lot more than he has today. The touchdown catch-and-run an example why.
- What's with the long runs the last two weeks. They have greatly hurt the Lions.
- The Lions have been lacking the usual rhythm with their offense. Moving in and out the huddle quickly. Tempo. They are dragging in and out of the huddle as if it is chore. That might be the best part of the scoring drive. It might energize an offense that had been very flat.
- Chris Redman is not remotely Matt Ryan. Huge dropoff. The door was opened for the Lions defense to get the best of the Falcons. Allowing the long pass to Henry Douglas and the field goal it set up was disappointing.
- Maurice Morris does run hard. Keiland Williams has done OK. Running back hasn't been an issue today.
- The Lions need to take a shot or two down the field. Matthew Stafford's strength is stretching the field, not dink and dump passing. What happened to the kid with all that swagger? He looks like a different player today. Now, this is where redemption often comes in for top quarterbacks. That would be leading a comeback. Is Stafford being exposed as not as good as he was as the Lions started this season 5-0, or is he an elite player? The second half will be a good gauge.
- The Lions defense was playing OK until that scoring drive by the Falcons. This one is mostly on the offense so far. It has been amazing unproductive. So has the Lions' defensive line. Looks overrated based on the first half, anyway.
- Tony Gonzalez may 35 years old, but he can still play. Certain Hall of Famer at Ford Field today.
- The Lions seem to be falling into past problems. Their special teams coverage units have been poor today They were fortunate a kickoff return for a touchdown by Eric Weems was called back because of a penalty. Then Weems broke loose for a long punt return that set up a score. That's flirting with disaster. Also, the penalties are not a good sign.
- An obvious difference so far is the Falcons have a balanced attack, and the Lions do not. This could become the Lions' major issue.
- Good idea by the Lions putting up the definition of a false start penalty on the big scoreboard at Ford Field, and then showing some examples from the Monday night game against the Bears. Crowd picked up on it and became extremely loud, drawing a false penalty by the Falcons offense.
- Ndamukong Suh appears much aggressive this week. The face mask penalty didn't hurt the Lions. He made a big stop on third and short near the goal line, flinging down a Falcons' lineman as the play ended. Keeping the Falcons to a field goal there was important.
- The good news for the Lions: This should be worse than 10-3. They are clearly getting outplayed so far. The gig is up. They aren't sneaking up on anybody anymore.
I think this will be a very similar game to last week when San Francisco visited Ford Field - a hard-hitting close game.The difference this week will be the Lions will make the key plays this week they didn't against the 49ers. I expect a big game from Ndamukong Suh after he was kept in check last week. I also see the key number being 50 - as in 50 or more yards rushing from Maurice Morris. Another being 100 - as in less than 100 yards for the Falcons' running back, Michael Turner. The Lions need at least some production from their running backs today. Also, it will be interesting to see what Keiland Williams can do.
- I like Michigan State's chances of winning this game because of quarterback play. Russell Wilson has proven to be vastly overrated so far. Kirk Cousins is managing MSU's offense well.
- Wisconsin's offense lacks much imagination. State does a better job of spreading the field and coming up with wrinkles that throw a defense off. If the Badgers don't play bash ball, they can't win. The Spartans, although their basic concepts are similar, are more diverse.
- Edge rusher Denicos Allen's quickness a problem for Wisconsin. He has All-Big Ten written all over him.
Wisconsin is a solid Big Ten program, not a national power. The second quarter of this game is exactly why. Look, I'm as surprised as anybody by the way the Spartans rallied. Seemed to me like Wisconsin was in total control. The Badgers' special teams breakdowns were horrible.
- Kirk Cousins is sharp, and if Wisconsin doesn't get a better pass rush on him, he will pick apart the Badgers' secondary even more in the second half.
- The play that turned around the game emotionally was when Jerel Worthy broke through for the tackle for a loss. It finally energized Spartan Stadium. For such a big game, it was amazingly quiet until that play.
- The Spartans have excellent depth at tight end. It is paying off big time for them tonight.
- B. J. Cunningham is the best Spartans wide receiver since Charles Rogers. Yes, better than Devin Thomas.
- Russell Wilson Heisman Trophy? Doesn't like it so far, does it?
Michigan State does have a good chance of beating Wisconsin - this is why
I would expect Wisconsin to beat Michigan State Saturday night. As good as quarterback Scott Tolzien was for the Badgers in the past, Russell Wilson is just that much better. He is an accurate passer and makes more plays outside the pocket. He's very savvy. He was let go by North Carolina State, despite being arguably the ACC's best all-around player for three years, because he wanted to continue his floundering minor league baseball career. He made the right choice coming to Wisconsin. He is emerging as a Heisman Trophy candidate behind what is being billed as the best offensive line in the nation. But I do think it is going a tight game. I don't think Wisconsin is going to romp over the Spartans like the Badgers did to Nebraska. For one thing, the game is in East Lansing at night. The atmosphere will be supercharged. There is no surprise factor here. These two teams have played each other very competitively the last three years. And in the two Michigan State victories, in 2008 and last season, the major factor was the quickness of MSU's defensive line. Wisconsin's offensive line has gotten a lot of notoriety, and deservedly so. Wisconsin has become "Offensive Line U" because of its propensity to develop big, strong NFL-caliber lineman. They average of 320 pounds per lineman this season. But the Spartans have a strong defensive front that is mobile. Spartans' defensive tackle Jerel Worthy is going to play in the NFL. How soon he gets selected in the NFL Draft could be determined by how well he plays in this much-viewed game. Kevin Pickelman has also been strong inside. Linebacker Denicos Allen is an excellent edge rusher. State's secondary has played well, too. Their entire defense has. Last year, in particular, the Spartans were just a little quicker in every way than the Badgers, but especially upfront both sides of the ball. The Spartans should be able to run the effectively. Their best bet to have a big game will be Edwin Baker. If the Badgers have an Achilles Heel, it's their defensive line. And if the Spartans lose this game, it'll probably be because Wisconsin does, indeed, have an exceptional team this year. If it's remotely a typical Badger team, the Spartans will win this game. In addition to Wilson, Badgers have this perfect blend at running back with Montee Ball and James White, and a very deep receiving corps led by Nick Toon. The Badgers have more and better skill position players on both sides of the ball than usual.
There is merit to Gholston suspension, but no solace for Michigan fans
I have no issue with the Big Ten suspending Michigan State defensive lineman William Gholston for a game. He punched a player late, and he twisted the neck of another under the pile. The powers to be in the Big Ten looked at the video, and came to the conclusion punishment was merited. What I don't see is any solace it has for Michigan fans. It's not like they gained a moral victory from the suspension. The final score was 28-14. That doesn't change. There is no scarlet letter on the victory. Just the humilation for Michigan fans they lost to the Spartans for a fourth straight year. The only way that can change is if Michigan wins next year. And that will only happen if the Wolverines match MSU in tough play, not dirty play.
Not a question whether the Detroit Lions Matthew Stafford is good, but whether he is great
The Lions are a good, developing football team. They not only have a shot to reach the playoffs this season, but do damage once there. They are not, however, a perfect football team. They have some issues. The 5-0 start was misleading in some respects. Quarterback play, however, isn't one of their problems. It's a strength, not a weaknesses. The Lions will play their seventh game of the season vs. Atlanta Sunday at Ford Field. In the first six, they had the edge each time at quarterback, in my opinion, with Matthew Stafford. Yes. Stafford over Josh Freeman, Matt Cassel, Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo, Jay Cutler, Alex Smith. Not sure about this week. The Falcons' Matt Ryan led his team to a 13-3 record last season. Ryan, however, has Michael Turner, and the perfect complimentary back for him, super fleet Jacquizz Rodgers. He also has a good receiving corps in Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez, the latter still playing at high level. Stafford has played excellent football this season. He is fourth ranked passer in the NFL. He has thrown 15 touchdown passes and only four interceptions. The only number I don't like from Stafford is his yards per pass attempt. It's 18th in the league, and is a key stat when it comes to gauging success. He has also done well under pressure situations and bounced back from moments that didn't go well. The exception was the two-minute offense in the loss to the 49ers. It was awful. What it is not evident yet is how well Stafford is going to hold up to the Lions increasing inability to run the football. Ronnie Brown is not becoming a Lion. Jahvid Best is fighting ailments again and his strength is not running the ball inside, especially in the scoring zone. Veteran Maurice Morris is a good alternative, but limited. All the Lions weapons lie at receiver and with the ball in Stafford's hands. That makes the Lions offense decidedly one-dimensional. Now is this fair to Stafford? No. Is it life in the NFL for an elite-level quarterback? Yes. The truly best quarterbacks - Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger - all adjust to such circumstances well and win any way. Question is whether Stafford falls in that elite group. Or is it the next tier with the Joe Flaccos, Tony Romos and Matt Schaubs of the NFL.
Michigan fan reaction to Gholston's rough play laughable
Look, I don't think Michigan State defensive lineman William Gholston should have punched Michigan offensive lineman Taylor Lewan or twisted the neck of quarterback Denard Robinson Saturday. I don't condone such behavior on the football field. If the Big Ten looks at it and deems he should be suspended, fine. But I don't think it was"deplorable," or the "absolute worst thuggery in the history of mankind" or whatever some whacky Michigan fans are saying. That many Michigan fans are acting like they are so wounded by Gholston's rough play Saturday is laughable. What a bunch of wimps. The Wolverines weren't only beaten in that football game, they were beaten up. It's a trend now - four years in this rivalry. What can be worse than getting manhandled on the football field like that - and then complaining the other side was too rough? You don't hear that from Michigan's players or coaches saying because they know the way to exact revenge. That would be on the field, next year and understanding just how physical a team like Michigan State is, and then beating them at the physical aspect of the game. Not dirty play, but outhitting the Spartans, which they clearly haven't done for awhile. Or how about this, taking advantage of such foolish penalties? Gholston is hero for Spartan fans now because Michigan didn't capitalize on that penalty. He would have been a goat if it led to a touchdown and possible loss.
This is going to be a tough call for Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski. He likes to build his bullpen through the minor league system, but in truth the best part of the Tigers' bullpen has been procured via free agency, Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit. Next line is Phil Coke, acquired in a trade, and Alberto Alburquerque, who had little minor league success in other organizations, but was a terrific scouting find by the Tigers in the Dominican Winter League. The young arms haven't come through for the Tigers, and they used their best relief pitching prospect, Chance Ruffin, as part of the trade to acquire Doug Fister. How much faith should the Tigers have in Daniel Schlereth and Ryan Perry? An argument can be made they are young and still developing, but it can just as easily be made they aren't good enough to get the Tigers over the top in the postseason. Certainly, they weren't this year. I think they must go after a veteran for the bullpen. As usual, there is a long list of potential free agent pitchers. At the top end, are Heath Bell and Francisco Cordero. The middle relief part - the one the Tigers should interested in - isn't nearly as easy to sort out, but the Tigers need a veteran or two to augment their middle and long relief. To do, for example, what Darren Oliver has done for the Rangers the last two seasons.
- Costly miss by Jason Hanson on the FG attempt. Six-point swing because of the field position it gave the 49ers and David Akers drilled the 55-yarder.
- The 49ers have some big time defensive players and they've already made some big time plays. Patrick Willis with a batted down pass in the end zone, Aldon Smith with the safety and Justin Smith has been a force inside. Very good players. A solid defense.
- Most of the talk when the Lions drafted Titus Young in the second round was about his speed, but he has excellent hands. Some of the receptions he has made have been difficult ones, including one in the second quarter.
- Every game isn't going to smoothly for the Lions. This one sure isn't. Can they outlast the 49ers, who have displayed similar competitive character this season.
- I don't understand the constant complaining about Matthew Stafford on Twitter today. He is by far the best quarterback the Lions have had that I can remember. And the Lions scored 10 first quarter points. That was a nice TD throw he made to Brandon Pettigrew.
- Frank Core is going to make big plays. The Lions can't afford really big ones like the one they just allowed.
- Lions have to get the ball out of Gore's hands. They have to get it into Alex Smith's hands. Only way to do that is to crowd the line.
- If the Lions had a bigger back with some running ability, it'd 14-7 instead of 10-7. They would have scored a TD rather than a FG after the turnover.
Thoughts during the third inning, Tigers, Rangers, Game 6, ALCS
- Third inning = disaster for the Tigers. They had been living a charmed life with all the breaks going their way in Game 5 and first two innings of Game 6. Obviously that changed in the third.
- Mark Schlereth in a key spot is, honestly, is a recipe for disaster. Jim Leyland should have gone to Rick Porcello and forgotten the lefty-lefty matchup stuff.
- Awful call on Nelson Cruz by first base umpire Tim Welke. He clearly went. Should have been strike three. It changed the whole complexion of the inning.
- I don't if that was a missed call or not at second base. It was close. Ramon Santiago should have gone to first base. All his momentum was going that way. Miguel Cabrera ranges too much toward second base too often. Many times he'd be better off staying home.
- It was just a matter of time until Michael Young did something really good for the Rangers. He is too good a player to be held down for a whole series.
- The second time through the order, the Rangers had a much better line on Tigers' starter Max Scherzer.
- Still like the Tigers chances against Rangers starter Derek Holland. Great arm, but all over the place with his command. Can come unglued at any time.
Thoughts after 3 quarters, Michigan, Michigan State
- I like the Spartans game plan offensively. They keep running and working play-action passes in there. Nice balance. Working out very well. Lots of good wrinkles mixed in despite what appear to be conservative play calls.
- There is no excuse for that play by William Gholston. Can see why he hasn't lived up to the hype yet.
- Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, per usual, is the lightning rod in this game. If Michigan doesn't win it, and it appears very unlikely, there will be plenty of criticisms about his passing. At least to this point of the game, those criticisms would be justified. While a strong wind is making it very difficult to throw the ball, Robinson has just flatout missed some passes and appears bewildered.
- When Edwin Baker fumbled in the third quarter and Michigan did nothing with the opportunity, it might have been the key point of the game. That was the Wolverines' golden opportunity.
The first couple drives were misleading. This is taking on the aura of a classic rivalry. A lot of hard-hitting. Tough football game. We knew that about Michigan State. Michigan,. obviously, has improved in that area.
- Michigan State is doing a very good job of containing Denard Robinson's running and forcing him to beat the Spartans with his arm. A big test for Robinson is whether he can. He has missed a couple throws he should have made, particularly a third-down pass on Michigan's last drive of the half.
- Both teams have had field position issues. The punters are doing a good job.
- Not much was settled in the first half. Key will be adjustments by coaches at halftime. For Michigan, it will be getting Robinson into space on runs. For MSU, it will be trying to get the running attack going. Was good on the first drive, but Michigan adjusted well after that.
Thoughts after first quarter, Michigan, Michigan State
Michigan State's receivers need to hang onto the football better. It didn't prove costly that Keshawn Martin dropped an apparent touchdown pass on the first drive, but could have been. B. J. Cunningham is too good a receiver to drop a first down pass like that.
- We'll see what Michigan does when it gets the ball with the wind to its back. The Wolverines' receivers make plays. We've seen that over and over. Junior Hemingway is an excellent play.
- One thing you don't see is Denard Robinson taking snaps under center. Smart move by Al Borgues to play to his strengths. No need to pretend what Michigan's bread and butter is.
- Biggest surprise so far: The way Michigan State's offensive line is handling Michigan's defensive line.
The wind is extremely strong. Can't be emphasized enough. It will be the major factor in this game. Which quarterback does it benefit? The one that's ahead in the game - and maybe Michigan's Denard Robinson. He is capable of beating Michigan State with his legs, not just his arm. Michigan State's Kirk Cousins is more about managing the Spartans' offense.
- The cliche is true. Any football game starts upfront. But it's especially true in this one. Michigan State's defensive line is the deepest, strongest position unit for either team. Michigan's offensive line is OK. Conversely, Michigan has a good defensive line and MSU's offensive line is a weakness.
- The Spartans have had two weeks to prepare for this game. Could be a huge edge.
- The Spartans "Pro Combat" uniforms look terrific. Great idea to break them out today.
Thoughts after 7 innings, Tigers, Rangers, Game 5, ALCS
- It took one big inning and the Tigers are back in this series. Now can Verlander gut it out for the final two innings? It's seems a lot more probable with a 7-2 lead than if it were, say, a 3-2 lead.
- It didn't seem like the Rangers were too intent on wrapping up the series tonight. The Tigers sense of urgency has been much greater. And that's not obvious. A lot of clubs would have played with less urgency and given up in the circumstance given to the Tigers.
Thoughts after 6 innings, Tigers, Rangers, Game 5, ALCS
- If you believe in Karma, that was a great sign for the Tigers that Miguel Cabrera's probable double-play grounder hit third base, resulting in an RBI double instead. You can make a point this club deserves the break because of how gritty it has been. I'll buy that one.
- The seventh inning isn't the question as far as I'm concerned. I think Justin Verlander will be fine. It's the eighth and ninth innings that could be iffy. Nice cushion, though.
- Ranger manager Ron Washington's deep bullpen isn't much good to his club if he doesn't turn to it. He left C.J. Wilson in too long. The home run by Delmon Young was almost predictable.
- Gosh, the Tigers are so much better with Young in their lineup. That was a good piece of hitting by Victor Martinez as well.
Thoughts after 5 innings, Tigers, Rangers, Game 5, ALCS
- The limit is usually 120 for a starting pitcher. Doubt Jim Leyland will have Justin Verlander throw many more than that. Can't imagine him letting it get into the 140-to-150 pitch area. If that were the case, Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit would be available today.
- Nelson Cruz is up thiscioming inning. He has to be the ALCS MVP so far, right?
- Josh Hamilton is a great hitter, not only in terms of raw power, but very good situationally. His double late in yesterday's game and his single last inning are proof.
Thoughts after 3 innings, Tigers, Rangers, Game 5 ALCS
- What was more improbable? Brandon Inge's home run off Alexi Ogando yesterday or Alex Avila's in the third inning today?Inge can hit right-handers, and Avila can't hit lefties, or so we thought. Tigers are amazing in how they keep coming back in the most unthinkable fashion
- There do appear to be some empty seats, which is surprising. Will be interesting when the attendance is announced what the number will be. Not a lot of empty seats. Just pockets, here are there. The crowd was subdued, too, at least until Avila's home run.
- Verlander has thrown 45 pitches through three innings. Needs a couple low-pitch count innings.
- I'd really be surprised if Justin Verlander doesn't pitch a great game today for the Tigers. He is the best pitcher in baseball, yet there are mumblings that he hasn't lived up to the hype in the postseason. He is a prideful athlete, who will be exceptionally motivated. He also throws 100 mph, has excellent command of his pitches and excellent off-speed "stuff."
- If Verlander does the spectacular, which would be a complete-game victory, the Tigers would go to Texas with a fighting chance in the last two games. With two days off, their big guns in bullpen, Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit, would be rested. The Tigers starting pitching has been very good in this series so far.
- The Rangers are in a prime spot to clinch the series. Their bullpen is ready. Everything is right there for the taking. But should they really want to clinch the series right now? I knew that's an odd question, but consider: If the Rangers win today, they would be off until Wednesday when the World Series begins. Also, they wouldn't play another home game until a week from Saturday. We saw what such extended rest did to the Tigers in '06 after they swept the A's in the ALCS. They came out flat and were never really about to amp it up against the Cardinals in the World Series.
Thoughts after 8 innings, Tigers, Rangers, Game 4, ALC
The play to send Miguel Cabrera home was a darned if you do, darned if you don't play. Nelson Cruz throws as well as any outfielder in baseball and Cabrera does not run well. But Alex Avila was in the on-deck circle. What were the odds better of, a misplay on the throw or Avila coming through at this stage with a two-out hit? About the same, in my opinion.
Thoughts after 7 innings, Tigers, Rangers, ALCS, Game 4
- Now they are giving Brandon Inge curtain calls. What a change. Huge home run. And completely unexpected.
- Al Aburquerque is shaky. Almost a disaster for the Tigers in the top of the seventh. Fortunate there was no damage. But what choices does Leyland have with the front end of his bullpen? Not many at this point.
- Home run sets up Tigers bullpen. Now they can get to the back end. Joaquin Benoit in the game.
- It will be interesting how the rain delay, which will be more than two hours, hinders Delmon Young and Victor Martinez. Such injuries require treatment. Such rain delays throw off the timing of those treatments. At least it is not cold and rainy at Comerica Park. Just rainy.
- The Rangers are much better equipped than the Tigers to deal with another rain delay, should it happen early in the game and is long enough to knock the starting pitchers from the game. They just have better bullpen depth.
Some thoughts before Game 3, ALCS, Tigers, Rangers
- Andy Dirks is not a good trade for Delmon Young, but at least the Tigers are going to see a right-hander tonight in Colby Lewis. He does not throw hard. Dirks has slider-batspeed. He could do some damage against Lewis. So should the Tigers as a whole. The Tigers clearly should have an edge in starting pitching tonight.
- Ever get the feeling Tigers manager Leyland would rather play anybody other than Wilson Betemit? Me, too.
- Don't whether people are aware of this or not, but Lewis spent most of the 2006 season at Toledo He pitched in two games for the Tigers that season. He got his career on track with two very good seasons in Japan in 2008 and 2009.
- The Rangers are familiar with Fister. He was in the same division when he pitched for Seattle. He is 2-3 with a 4.38 ERA in six career starts vs. the Rangers. He split two decision against the Rangers this season.
Tigers still have a fighting chance against the Rangers. This is why
The pressure is all on the Tigers after they lost the first games of the American League Championship Series at Texas. But it will it take just one win tonight to put it back on the Rangers. This is a series where I think home field advantage is a bigger-than-usual factor. It's not so much because the Tigers have speed to cope with their spacious stadium (they don't), but experience with the nuances of Comerica Park, which are extreme compared to the band box in Texas. Unlike the Tigers' foes in the AL Central, the Rangers come in only once or twice per year and traditionally haven't done well. The Rangers have won only four of their last 20 games at Comerica Park dating back to 2007.
- It's great for the Tigers Delmon Young is back - if he is, indeed, healthy. His absence was the major factor in Game 1 loss Saturday. Seldom has one bat ever meant so much to one team.
- Rangers starter Derek Holland has thrown four complete game shutouts this season, but had several awful outings as well. He and Tigers starter Max Scherzer are similar in that it's difficult to tell what they will present in a given game.
- Miguel Cabrera had his best performance of the postseason so far in Game 2 of the ALDS in New York. The Tigers need a similar effort from him today. Replay of my livestream video from today
- The bad part about this is the Tigers may have to go to the back part of their bullpen. I see the Rangers lighting it up if Verlander must come out of the game. Also, it's tough to gauge how well he would pitch after the delay.
- Alex Avila just isn't the same player, it seems. He is not swinging the bat well at all, especially against left-handers. Should Leyland have given him more rest during the second half of the season, playing essentially a Triple-A catcher sometimes? It's a tough call. The Tigers needed to clinch the division. They had to play to get home field advantage. I'd like their chances a lot more in this series if the Tigers had the home field edge. And those are still good. Just a shaky start.
- They need home runs from Miguel Cabrera, not singles.
- C. J. Wilson has settled down. Tigers had a big shot at him in the first inning, especially given the way he has pitched in the postseason. The Magglio Ordonez double play card came up. It would have been Jhonny Peralta or somebody better had Delmon Young been able to play.
- Last thing the Tigers need is a rain delay - and another shortened start by Verlander.
- There is no excuse of Austin Jackson's drop fly ball in the first inning. Tigers should be down by a lot more runs. Also, it just drove Verlander's pitch count off the charts.
- The Rangers lineup is much threatening than the Yankees.
- I think home plate umpire Tim Welke is squeezing Verlander. He thrown four or five pitches that were called balls that should have been strikes.
Thoughts after 8 innings, Tigers, Yankees, Game 5, ALDS
It's of paramount importance the Tigers get a run or two here. The top of the heart of the order coming up for the Yankees. This will not easy to close out.
- Of the all the times Jose Valverde has come through this season, this is obviously the most pressure packed. He should be ready for it, though. Not like he isn't rested. Not like the Tigers need him to get extra outs.
- Everything that can go right is going right for the Tigers, at least so far. Like they are charmed. Fly out by Derek Jeter an example.
Thoughts after 7 innings, Tigers, Yankees, Game 5, ALDS
Good news for the Tigers, they got out of that mess with minimal damage. Bad news for Tigers is that it would be really unwise to bring back Joaquin Benoit for the eighth. Phil Coke? Ryan Perry? Dare pitch Jose Valverde two innings? Would Justin Verlander have fit in this inning? Maybe. Maybe not. Saw what C.C. Sabathia was like coming back that soon after a start.
On postseason baseball, Michigan at Northwestern and Tigers' prediction for tonight
Postseason baseball is not overrated. Tigers-Yankees, Diamondbacks-Brewers, Phillies-Cardinals are going down to a deciding Game 5. In some ways, I almost prefer a 5-game series. A lot more drama with so much stake in each game.
- It will be a testy game for Michigan Saturday at Northwestern. Wildcats' quarterback Dan Persa is going to play. When he does, he is effective. He's a great college player. Perfect for that offense. The question is, how long can he play. He was pulled late in Northwestern's loss to Illinois last week because of foot pain. He had Achilles Heel surgery last year. Northwestern probably would have won that game had Persa played start-to-finish. Whether he can stay on the field will be the biggest single factor in the game. Also, Northwestern wide receiver Jeremy Ebert is a top receiver, the best Michigan has faced this season not named Michael Floyd. The Wolverines secondary will be tested.
- Look, when I picked the Tigers win their ALDS series with the Yankees in five games it was based on the idea Justin Verlander would start Game 5. Still, I'll stick with my pick. The Tigers win tonight and head to Texas for Game 1 of the ALCS Saturday. Doug Fister does OK. Tigers' bats explode for a big inning against Ivan Nova early. Jose Valverde ignores the cat calls and pitches out of a jam in the ninth. Tigers win 7-6.
Thoughts after 6 innings Tigers, Yankees, ALDS, Game 4
- Rick Porcello settled down nicely. Wasn't an awful outing by any means.
- Great catch by Granderson. Who says he doesn't have range in center field? Excellent defender.
- Yankees have really good setup men and, of course, Mariano Rivera to close. Letting A.J. Burnett get this deep into the game could prove to be a fatal flaw in this series. How could Burnett, with his lack of command, only throw 81 pitches in 5 2-3 innings. That's on Tiger hitters.
- Leyland's instincts were right playing Donald Kelly today. He is swinging the bat well.
Thoughts after three innings, Yankees, Tigers, ALDS, Game 4
- Rick Porcello can't pitch up in the strike zone with his breaking ball or two-seam (sinking) fastball. But he does need to throw up in the zone at times with his four-seam fastball to change the eye level of Yankee hitters.
- A. J. Burnett is a disaster about to happen,. Can occur at any time.
- I don't like bunting, as you probably know. But it's even worse when you have two teams that can't bunt like Tigers and Yankees.
My keys to Game 4 of the ALDS tonight between the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees
To be honest with you, I don't think the Tigers best lineup includes Donald Kelly starting in right field and batting sixth. We'll see if Tigers manager Jim Leyland will have another Alexis Gomez moment in the postseason,. Remember the role he played in the 2006 ALCS? Other than a hunch, it doesn't make sense.
- Wilson Betemit has a much better chance of hitting Yankees starter A.J. Burnett than Brandon Inge. Check that. Everybody has a good chance of hitting Burnett these days. The Tigers must pound this guy early.
- The key players for the Yankees are Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira. Alex Rodriguez isn't the player he used to be. His slumping in this series isn't a surprise. Cano had the big grand slam in Game 1, but Game 2 and Game 3 didn't swing the bat well. Teixeira breaks loose, and he is more than capable of doing so, the Tigers could be in trouble.
Thoughts after 9 innings, Tigers, Yankees, Game 3 ALDS
Note: Will have my column on this game posted at theoaklandpress.com in the next 90 minutes or so.
- Jose Valverde certainly has a flair for drama. Didn't make sense walking Brett Gardner in that situation at all. Got away with it. In fact, he struck out Derek Jeter on four pitches. The previous pitch should have been a called a strike.
- Home plate umpiring was brutal tonight. Call strikes strikes. All anybody asks. The ump: Gerry Davis.
- It's got to be a comforting thought for Tiger fans the Game 4 starter for the Yankees is A.J. Burnett.
_ Doesn't get any better this, does it? Terrific ball game.
Thoughts after 8 innings, Tigers, Yankees, Game 3 ALDS
There will be added pressure on Jose Valverde when he enters this game because of what he said Sunday about the series being over. Now is the time to back it up. Have a feeling he will. He threw a lot of pitches Sunday, but was rested before that. He should be fine.
- It wasn't a perfect outing by Justin Verlander by any means, but it was apparent as ever he is great pitcher. He threw pitch 101 mph in the eighth inning. Incredible.
- The crowd is electric. Town is digging postseason baseball - as it should.
- Wonder what is going through Rick Porcello's mind about now.
On Valverde's comments and Game 3 of the ALDS tonight between Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees
Note: I will be doing a video live chat from 12:30 to 1:15 Monday here: http://bit.ly/rioVBP A live chat is setup for questions and comments, which encourged, just like text chat.
- There will be those who will run with Tiger closer Jose Valverde's comments Sunday about how, "The series is already over," like he was talking smack. Doubt he meant it with venom. Not exactly his personality. But so be it. Nothing is more overrated in professional sports than so-called "bulletin board material." That's especially true now that the series has moved to Detroit. If there is a Game 5, expect Valverde to hear it from the New York fans, though. And loudly. They never let go.
- Getting back home field advantage is very significant. The Tigers have an edge at Comerica Park, the biggest being familiarity. There is a lot of space in that outfield. The notion it is not a good hitter's park is not true. It is because the ball falls into the gaps a lot, and there are many many popups that drop as base hits. Some of that advantage will be negated by Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson having played at Comerica Park for a number of seasons. The Tigers don't have speed in the corner outfield positions. Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner is exceptionally fast, but may be more hesitant at Comerica Park. New York right fielder Nick Swisher does not run well.
- Justin Verlander threw 25 pitches Friday, C.C Sabathia 27. There is no edge either way with these two. The third game is of a 5-game series is always extremely pivotal.It's the best vs. the best tonight. Just the way it should be.
My thoughts on the first half of the Lions-Cowboys game
Halftime is such a short span in the NFL, but the Lions' coaches need to work quickly on adjustments. Both offensively and defensively, they are getting schooled on matchups. The Cowboys are playing like they know what is coming on both sides of the ball. The Lions seem bewildered. - For all the praise heaped on Matthew Stafford, he is not performing up to his reputation today. He has been hurried a lot, true, but he has just flatout missed what appear to be routine throws, too. - It's a one-dimensional game. The Cowboys know the Lions are going to pass. They aren't even paying attention to Detroit's running game. - To get the wide receivers more involved, Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan needs to call a couple reverses in the second half. - Lions just need to make this game close by the fourth quarter. Tony Romo is tremendous QB when he has a big lead and all is going right. He is not so good when the pressure comes down on him. - Where is Ndamukong Suh and the defensive line? The Dallas offensive line has been surprising effective in this game. Other than the goal line stand, the Lions "D" front has been invisible.
The Tigers are going to have to catch the ball. They played 47 of their last 51 games against teams that finished below .500. It masked a couple of their flaws, one them being below average in regard to fielding. Game 1, as little has been played so far, was a bit alarming in that regard.
- Along the same lines, Doug Fister was magnificent for the Tigers following the trade from Seattle. But this is the Yankees in the postseason, not the Orioles or Indians playing for nothing in September. Is he really that good? We'll find out tonight.
- Yankees starter Ivan Nova throws hard, but is hardly unhittable. Like Fister, this is new to him. Key will be the Tigers getting to him shortly after play resumes.
Margin of Michigan's victory over Minnesota Saturday says a lot
Minnesota ranks with Indiana as the worst team in the Big Ten. The game was at home. Michigan should have won Saturday's game with the Golden Gophers - and done so handily. That is understood. But the total and complete rout was different. This wasn't the Eastern Michigan or Western Michigan games where Michigan's defense was disturbingly porous at times. It wasn't like the Notre Dame game where the Wolverines' defense was terrible all of the time. On the heels of what Michigan did last week in a 28-7 victory over San Diego State, the Wolverines have established an improved defense. Seven points allowed in two games? That wasn't going to happen against anybody the previous three years. Also, Denard Robinson was much more accurate passing Saturday. And, the entire offense didn't involve just Robinson. Vincent Smith played well - among others. What it will mean in the coming weeks, especially with the first two road trips of the Brady Hoke era looming? That's an untold story. But it's difficult to look at the Wolverines the last two weeks and not see progress, especially defensively.
Pat Caputo is a sports columnist for The Oakland Press. Caputo covered the Tigers from 1986-98, and the Lions from 1998-2002 for The Oakland Press before becoming a columnist. Caputo was raised in Birmingham and played baseball and football at Groves High School. His photograph playing high school sports appeared in The Oakland Press. He has won numerous writing awards, including first place in column writing from the Michigan Associated Press and the Michigan Press Association, and from the Detroit Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He has been named among the Top Ten sports columnists in the nation by the Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE), and has won honors in four of the APSE's six national award categories. He has also been honored for his column writing by the Suburban News Association. Caputo, who has resided in Oakland County since he was nine years old, currently lives in Lake Orion. Caputo has a radio show weeknights and weekends on 97.1 FM, The Ticket, which is the flagship station for the Tigers, Lions, Pistons and Red Wings. He also appears regularly on FOX 2 television on "SportsWorks."