Monday, April 09, 2012

On the Tigers season so far and Trey Burke returning to Michigan

The Tigers' season-opening weekend was stunningly successful.
Their lineup is exceptional. Boston's pitching staff noticeably labored against the Tigers lineup. Miguel Cabrera, with Prince Fielder hitting behind him, saw a lot of fastballs he didn't see even last season when Victor Martinez was hitting behind him. He crushed them, too.
Austin Jackson looks like a much different - and better - hitter. Alex Avila is improving, too, not taking a step back, which some pundits had anticipated.
A sweep in the opening series doesn't make a season, but it shouldn't be understated, either, especially by a strong contender. Often a fast start builds momentum that leads to a runaway division winner, particularly a club that already appeared far ahead of its competition - like the Tigers in the American League Central.
But here's a word of caution, and it is not meant as rain on the parade, just an observation: The pitching staff did not perform well. Max Scherzer's outing was alarmingly bad. Doug Fister's injury has depleted the strength of the rotation for awhile. The back end of the bullpen, which was so good the second half of last season, was surprising inept against the Red Sox.
Now, the Red Sox have a strong lineup, but suffice to say the Tigers can't expect comeback victories consistently. They must pitch better than they did out of the bullpen Friday, and both starting and relief, on Sunday, if they are going to pull away easily with the AL Central title.
These developments put a lot more pressure on Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly, especially after the latter struggled mightily in his Triple-A tuneup start.

- On Trey Burke returning to Michigan: He is a great college player and his return likely does put Michigan in the Top 10 nationally to start next season - on paper. They wouldn't even have ranked in the Top 5 in the Big Ten if Burke hadn't returned. The Wolverines remain very much a threat to Michigan State when it comes to the in-state rivalry because of Burke's return (were they flying the state flag at half staff in East Lansing because of this?)
A lot of how actually effective Burke becomes depends on his attitude. Will his heart still be in it when he so strongly considered leaving for the NBA? Did the process help him grow as a person and a player, or did it sour him on some of the less-than-appealing aspects of being a college athlete (aka, fans run amuk, especially on social media networks)? Replay of my livestream video chat today on Red Wings, Tigers, Burke returning and The Masters:

Video streaming by Ustream


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