Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Think About This When It Come to the Pistons

I do not want to besmirch the legacy Ben Wallace has left behind in Detroit. Without him, the Pistons never would have risen from the ashes and won the NBA title. Nor would they have reached the NBA Finals the following season. Nor had all those 50-plus victory seasons. However, I am not sure his departure to the Chicago Bulls leaves the Pistons in quite the sad state many people evidently think. Consider this: Big Ben was awful in the playoffs last season. He could not make a free throw if his life depended on it, did not protect the basket with his usual effectiveness and whined incessantly that he did not get the ball enough - even though he is a limited threat offensively. Despite that, the Pistons got the Eastern Conference Finals. Nazr Mohammed and Flip Murray should help the Pistons. I see Joe Dumars making a deal or two deal along the way. Now do I think the Pistons chances of winning the NBA title would be better if they had retained Ben Wallace? Yes. But this is still a really good team. And the Ben Wallace we saw in the playoffs last spring did not help them one iota.

Random thoughts

- Southern Cal is in trouble. I would not be surprised if the Trojans lose at least two more games this season. The real power on the West Coast is Cal. Jeff Tedford may be overrated when it comes to developing big-time NFL quarterbacks, but his Golden Bears are underrated.. It would surprise me to see them land in the BCS title game. Yet, they might be worthy of it. That opening loss to Tennessee was a long time ago. I have a feeling if they played again, Cal would win in a romp. Wonder if Cal could be Michigan on a neutral site. Just might find out in the Rose Bowl.

- I liked the "60 Minutes" profile on Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis. I did not realize he was that hard-nosed. He is more out of the Bill Parcells mode than I realized in terms of his demeanor.

- This season is being set up for Mike Martz to leave the Lions. They are losing, but gaining a lot of yards with limited talent. Martz can make a case the losing is not his fault and get out of Dodge while the getting is good.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Why Did That Happen?

Before the World Series began, I predicted the Tigers would win it in six games. Now that it is over, I do not feel that thought was outrageous. The Tigers could have won that series. They made too many mistakes. They played poorly. I do not believe they choked. I do not believe the layoff hurt them. I just think they are an up and down entity by nature, and that they hit a down cycle. They lost their last five regular season games and their first game against the Yankees in the playoffs. They then won seven straight. It seems almost apropos they ended the season by losing four out of five. The Tigers won two playoffs series. That should never be forgotten. They won the American League pennant. There is no shame in losing the World Series. The disappointment, though, comes from knowing the Cardinals are not that good. Most teams in the World Series are a lot better. I am not sure whether this season is a one-time deal for the Tigers, or something that bodes well for their future. I do like their pitching, and I feel they should do everything possible to hold on to it. They need more consistency offensively, but who do you get rid of? A lot of the players - Placido Polanco, Magglio Ordonez, Brandon Inge, Craig Monroe - who did not come through for the Tigers during the World Series, did, for the most part, during the regular season and the playoffs. And they cannot get rid of Pudge Rodriguez because catching is so difficult to find and he is still one of the best receivers in the game.

Random thoughts

- I am more convinced than ever the Tigers should re-sign Sean Casey - if he will take the proper pay cut. He is a consistent, professional hitter. That is what the Tigers need more than a free-swinging power hitter.

- The final blow for John L. Smith as the head football coach of Michigan State came with the loss to Indiana. They lost to Illinois and Indiana this season. Smith can only thank his lucky stars Grand Valley State is not on the Spartans schedule. And I am only half-joking.

- Michael Vick is lighting it up for the Falcons and toyed with the Lions last season on Thanksgiving Day at Ford Field. It would be surprising if he does not do it again.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Good Game, Bad Result

I was talking to a writer from New York sitting next to me in the press box Thursday in St. Louis. I basically told him that if you live by Fernando Rodney, you're going to die by Fernando Rodney. Rodney did have his changeup working really well Thursday. Too bad he had to throw it all away - literally. Look, coming back now will be very difficult for the Tigers. I get the feeling the Tigers have just run into their wall. That it will end with American League pennant. That the Tigers have a decent team, but it is limited in a number of ways. The Cardinals are not any great shakes, either. Sometimes watching this series, it is difficult to believe these are the two best teams in baseball. While the result was not good Thursday, it was a very compelling game. A lot of twists. A lot of turns. A lot of ups. A lot of downs. The Tigers are not losing because of strategic decisions by Jim Leyland or a lack of effort or smarts. They are just getting beaten by a fraction. Sometimes that's all it takes.

Random thoughts

- Joel Zumaya clearly is not 100 percent. His command is off. His velocity down a hair. And it is hindering the Tigers. Too much Rodney and not enough Zumaya is not a good thing for the Tigers.

- Albert Pujols is obviously a great hitter, but he is not as fearsome as Barry Bonds was during the 2002 World Series.

- Bucky "Friggin" Dent? How about David "Friggin" Eckstein? I admire him because he is a solid player. Yet, I still cannot help but to find the "David Eckstein Aura" to be more than little annoying.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Tigers Inconsistency Maddening

Regardless of what transpires the remainder of the World Series, this season has been a great one for the Tigers. But the final memory is often the most lasting.
It would be shame if the Tigers remained in this hitting slump and bow out with a whimper to the Cardinals. This is a series the Tigers should win. The Cardinals aren't that good. Yet, the Tigers hitters are in one those stretches where they literally get themselves out.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he is considering lineup changes following Game 3. It is difficult to see where he can change direction. Who do you insert? About the only choice he has is benching Ivan Rodriguez for Vance Wilson. And honestly, that has to be a harrowing decision for Leyland. Guess that is what happens when a club's best player becomes its worst.

Random thoughts

- Even if the Tigers lose Game 4, I still think they can rally and win the series. I see Justin Verlander turning the tables on Anthony Reyes in Game 5. If the Tigers come back to Detroit with life, their chances of winning the series will be, in my opinion, 50-50.

- I am glad Alan Trammell landed a job as bench coach with the Cubs. But honestly, I think if he is ever going to be all the manager he can be some day, he would be wise to spend a year or two managing at the Triple-A level. Managing, it seems, is not something one can learn by watching, but rather by doing. Tram’s biggest flaw as Tigers manager was his inability to adjust on the fly.

- The strangest sight of the World Series was Bud Selig and Donald Fehr sitting at a table glowingly praising each other over baseball’s extension of its collective bargaining agreement. I am glad for the labor peace in baseball. But these two guys celebrating what should be the norm instead of an aberration is utterly ridiculous.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Time for Pudge To Wise Up

Sometimes I get the feeling the Tigers would be better off if they just benched Ivan Rodriguez and played Vance Wilson for a game or two. I understand that does not make sense because Pudge completely shuts down the running game and is excellent overall defensively. But it is more than a little annoying watching the guy continually swing at pitches two feet outside the strike zone. Face it, he is the worst clutch hitter on the Tigers. He tries to pull everything. The Cardinals are mocking him, too, by setting up way outside the strike zone and throwing him breaking ball after breaking ball off the plate. How can a player that gifted and experienced not figure it out? It is incredible how he just keeps failing away.

Random thoughts

- Even during the best of times for Kenny Rogers, there are reminders of the worst of times - of when he pushed the TV cameraman in Texas. During his post game press conference Sunday, Rogers refused to answer questions from reporters who asked them from Texas. Even the real softball ones. Also, it was kind of weird how the media focused in on the dirt on his hand issue. It was as if many believe he is cheating. They had to notice how well he pitched after he cleaned his hands.

- The Lions inability to score when they need to, or stop anybody when they have to, is uncanny. Their performance against the Jets Sunday was pathetic. They seem to try to claim some sort of moral victory for gaining a lot of yards when in reality it only makes their continual losing more haunting. Can�t wait for that stinker on Thanksgiving Day when Joey Harrington returns to Ford Field. That it is an easy stretch of schedule - vs. the 49ers, the Cardinals and Dolphins.

- Was it good that Michigan State rallied at Northwestern? Or was it just a mirage that will delay the inevitable departure of John L. Smith as head coach? I am not sure if making some flea bag bowl because of a patssy is going to cure the Spartans woes.

Friday, October 20, 2006

A World Series Prediction

I understand that for Tiger fans this constitutes dangerous thinking, but after watching the National League Championship Series, I do not see the Cardinals beating the Tigers. The Tigers pitching staff is so much better than the one the Mets threw at the Cardinals. And the Cardinals still struggled to score runs. Albert Pujols is a great player, but the Cardinals do not have much surrounding him. He can easily be pitched around. Chris Carpenter and Jeff Suppan are gritty veteran pitchers, but the Tigers should do well against them. Jeff Weaver is a bit of a wild card in the deck, but familiarity should help the Tigers in this instance. If any club knows Weaver is not that good, it is the Tigers. Uncertainty is part of the nature of baseball. The Cardinals are capable of winning this series, but chances are better the Tigers will. I say it happens in six games.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Another Telling Situation

Shaun Rogers is the Lions best football player. He was one of the few players they could count on with what is otherwise a decidedly mediocre team. For him to be suspended for four games by the NFL for violating a substance abuse policy is just another telling tale of the Lions malaise. This just keeps getting worse and worse. It was supposed to be different with Rod Marinelli as head coach, but it is not. Think about it. Since Marinelli has been coach, the Lions have been busted by the league for violating the off-season workout rules, handled the Mike Williams and Charles Rogers situation in shabby fashion, had an assistant coach busted for driving under the influence and naked, flown to Oakland and back in the same day for a preseason game, gotten off to a 1-5 start and had their best player suspended by the league. Of course, the fault lies with Matt Millen. Ford will not fire him and he will not go away. Until he does, the Lions have no chance. Rogers behavior has been odd this season. Maybe now we understand why. There was a time when it seemed like he really cared about winning. Then again, perhaps he just got beaten down by all that it wrong with the Lions.

Random Thoughts

- If the Cardinals are the Tigers opponents in the World Series, look for Jim Leyland to load up his starting pitching rotation with lefthanders Kenny Rogers and Nate Robertson at the top. The Cardinals were 23-24 against lefty starters this season.

- The worst thing that can happen to Michigan State would be for the Spartans to rally down the stretch and get into a bowl game. The John L. Smith charade has gone on long enough in East Lansing.

- You would not see what happened in the Miami-Florida International game transpire in a Michigan game. It just would not happen. It says a lot for Michigan beyond the number of wins it tallies.

- I know Michigan and Ohio State are on a collision course for an epic showdown Nov. 18 in Columbus, but the strongest league in college football is the Southeastern Conference. Getting through that conference unbeaten seems to be an impossible task.

- I am starting to think the Tigers should strongly consider re-signing Sean Casey and making him their every day first baseman next season. But he is not an $8.5 million per year player. I am also starting to wonder if Chris Shelton will ever have much of an impact in the major leagues again. Seems like April was his 15 minutes of fame.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

This Has To Rank With The Best

We have been lucky. The history of sports in Detroit and this state has been extraordinary. As such, we are not unfamiliar with huge moments and great triumphs by these teams.
The Red Wings have their three Stanley Cup titles since 1997, the Pistons their three NBA titles since 1989 and the Tigers have 1968 and 1984. Michigan won a college football national championship in 1997, while Michigan State basketball captured the NCAA title in 2000.
This version of the Tigers has not won the World Series. At least not yet. But I am not sure if they do not already rank with, or perhaps above, the most recent area championship teams.
It has to do with the improbability of what the Tigers have accomplished. They had a dozen straight losing seasons entering this one. They had not been the playoffs in 19 years. Nor won a pennant in 22 years. They ended last season a dysfunctional mess. It also has to do with the way the Tigers are getting this done. They beat the Yankees when virtually no one thought they could, swept Oakland in impressive fashion and clinched it on a dramatic walk-off home run by Magglio Ordonez. These Tigers have provided us with so many snapshots of what they are, expanding from 21-year-old Joel Zumaya to 41-year-old Kenny Rogers. They have taken us to such extremes, from the ups of the clinching a playoff spot, beating the Yankees and winning the American League Championship Series, to the downs of the final weekend of the regular season. But the Tigers have kept us on the edge of the seat, making the excitement of the chase seem as deliriously wonderful as winning the prize itself.

Random Thoughts

- The collision course Michigan is on with Ohio State is inevitable. I doubt either one of those teams will lose before the big showdown in Columbus. What an epic game it is going to be.

- Drew Sharp brought this thought up when I did a radio show with him and Marc Spindler on 1270, WXYT, The Sports Station on Sunday. But why not Michigan defensive coordinator Ron English as the next head coach at Michigan State? You have to love what he has done with the Wolverines defense.

- My starting pitching rotation for the World Series would be Kenny Rogers, Justin Verlander, Nate Robertson and Jeremy Bonderman.

- The Tigers crushed the Cardinals during interleague play. That included Justin Verlander beating the Cards ace, Chris Carpenter. Seems like the Tigers would be better off facing the Cardinals than the Mets in the World Series. From a tradition standpoint, I would rather the Tigers faced the Cardinals. Both the 1934 World Series and the 1968 World Series between the Cardinals and Tigers were classics. What do you think? Every 35 years, give or take a few years, the Tigers are destined to face the Cardinals in the Fall Classic?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Seeing 68 and 84

As hard as I try not to, I constantly find myself using the 1968 and 1984 Tigers as a reference point to this version. I was just a kid in 1968, but I remember enough of that summer, and have studied it enough, to know they were resilient like these Tigers. The 1968 Tigers were known for rallying during the late innings. They also had all these improbable heroes who did little in the major leagues after that season - Tom Matchick, Darryl Patterson, Fred Lasher and Jon Warden.
Marty Castillo, Bill Scherrer and Rusty Kuntz were similar players in 1984 for Detroit. Those teams just got on a roll and could not be stopped. It did not matter, really, what Mayo Smith and Sparky Anderson did at certain points. It was all good. It was all going to work. Jim Leyland seems to have the same mojo going. Alexis Gomez had six RBI all season. He was designated for assignment to the minor leagues not once, but twice. He had four RBI Wednesday. Jason Grilli struck out Frank Thomas with the bases loaded. Unbelievable. I have seen these type of things happen before. In 1968 and 1984. It does make you wonder if the Tigers are destined for the same ending.

Random thoughts

- I know Oaklands Milton Bradley had a solid season, but he should be much better. He has one of the best swings I have ever seen, especially from the left side of the plate. Too bad his demeanor is so off-the-wall. He is truly a gifted ball player.

- I do not understand how Placido Polanco is just a .300 hitter. Or has so few RBI. Seems like every time I look up, Polanco is driving in a run from second base with a sprayed RBI single.

- If Oakland wins Friday, don't be surprised if this becomes a really tight series that goes seven games.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

It Is There For the Taking

All the pieces seem to be in place now for the Tigers. Winning Game 1 of the ALCS against Oakland put them in a position where the pitching matchups now fall in their favor. Every game, the Tigers will have the edge on the mound, with perhaps the exception of Game 4, during which Danny Haren of Oakland faces Jeremy Bonderman. And that is really more like an even match. Game 5 does not seem ominous because Barry Zito does not throw hard enough anymore to break glass. Kenny Rogers throws as hard as Zito does. Also, the Tigers are putting hits together and playing solid defensively. In other words, they are performing like they did the first four months of the season rather than the way they did the last two. Because the Mets do not have Pedro Martinez or Orlando Hernandez, the Tigers are probably the best team left in the playoff field. They pounded St. Louis during the regular season. I do not see the Cardinals beating them in the World Series. Nor do I see Oakland coming back and
winning this series. I know, I know - we will know more after Game 2. And I know the Tigers lost Game 1 of the ALDS and roared back against the Yankees. I was out here in Oakland when the Tigers played a regular season series here. Back then, too, I just felt the Tigers were the better team.

Random thoughts

- Sean Casey has the growing support of fans. I know a number of people have asked me this week if I think the Tigers will try to sign him after this season. I still do not think they will because they want more power than he provides out of the first base position. But he has had a real impact on the Tigers with his clutch hitting and good attitude in the clubhouse. We will see how much Casey is missed tonight.

- It is incredibly foolish that the Athletics cover up their upper deck level with a green tarp. It may put a premium on tickets, but it also keeps the Athletics from selling more. We are not talking about bad seats. We are talking about upper deck seats, foul line-to-foul line, just like those at Comerica Park. The Athletics have a number of good seats they are not selling for the playoffs. It makes no sense whatsoever.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Talk About a Toss Up

Funny how it works, eh? I certainly fell under the category of thinking the Yankees were a much more difficult foe for the Tigers in the playoffs than Oakland. In retrospect, I could not have been more wrong. The Athletics are one of the hottest teams in baseball. Often that is the deciding issue during the postseason. The Yankees looked brutal against the Tigers. But I believe that had more to do with the Tigers pitching than anything else. When the Yankees offense was shutdown, they had little else to turn to. Their pitching is not good. I was shocked how poorly they played defensively. I think Jim Leyland would be wise to set up his rotation with Justin Verlander, Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman start the first three games. I can see Nate Robertson having his biggest impact during the American League Championship Series working out of the bullpen. I see this series going the distance. And I have no idea which team will win.

Random thoughts

- This could be the season that finally ends the Matt Millen era in Detroit. It is almost as if the Lions are destined to win only two or three games this season. If they do not beat Buffalo at home this Sunday, watch out. Especially hurtful to Millen will be if Matt Leinart takes off in Arizona. His first start Sunday against Kansas City Sunday was a really good one. Despite a loss, he rallied his team and performed better than Joey Harrington did at anytime during his four seasons with the Lions. The Lions just might have passed on the great QB they have so desperately needed for nearly five decades.

- Michigan moving up to No. 4 in the AP poll is deserved. Seems like the Wolverines are on a collision course with Ohio State that might result in a truly epic regular season finale.

- I have to admit, there have been times when I have desperately missed Tiger Stadium. But Comerica Park is really starting to grow on me. I think moving the bullpen from right field to left field has made a huge difference. Oh, and so has a winning team.

Friday, October 06, 2006

It Was Not That Much of a Shock

Note to our readers: In addition to the usual Monday, Wednesday and Friday postings, I will be updating this blog following every Tigers playoff game.

The Tigers lost their final five regular season games and their first game during the playoffs. I suppose that makes it understandable why many baseball followers, including those in Detroit, were surprised the Tigers beat the Yankees Thursday in the Bronx. But ESPN took it too far. The SportsCenters tease of Shocker in the Bronx was ridiculous. The Tigers did win 95 games this season. It seemed logical at some point they were going to win another game. Also, the Tigers do have pretty good pitching - and it was all rested to throw at the Yankees' thunderous bats. And because the Tigers won Thursday, they have a 50-50 shot in this series. Randy Johnson, the Yankees starter tonight, will be pitching hurt. Jaret Wright, the New York starter for Saturday, is not that good. Kenny Rogers is not a good matchup for the Yankees and Jeremy Bonderman has not pitched well for a long time. It means this series might come down to the bullpens. Detroit probably has a better bullpen because the Yankees have overused their relievers this season. You have to respect the Yankees, but please, the national media and its unrelenting view they cannot be beaten is tiresome. Somebody has been beating the Yanks in recent years. They have not won the World Series since 2000.

Random thoughts

- Tigers manager Jim Leyland has a great feel for the game. What a great decision it was to remove Justin Verlander in favor of Jamie Walker during the sixth inning Thursday.

- I know, nothing should come as a shock in baseball. But I never thought Jeff Weaver would come through in the playoffs the way he did for the Cardinals Thursday. It sure would be strange if it turns out Weaver has a better career from this point on than Jeremy Bonderman? Ah, that cannot happen, can it?

- Is there any doubt at this point that Carlos Guillen is the Tigers MVP.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Tigers Have Been Exposed

Many times during the last few weeks, Tigers manager Jim Leyland has said, 'We were never as good as 40 games over .500.'� It is one of his pat answers when asked about the Tigers' recent spotty play. They were just 19-31 in their final 50 games of the regular season. And it was pretty clear in Game One of an American League Division Series just how much better the Yankees are than the Tigers. It was just one game, and the Tigers still have a puncher's chance of winning this series if Justin Verlander and the bullpen come through tonight. But it is a long shot. The Tigers overachieved when they were 76-36. It is that simple. The good part is they have a decent nucleus for the future, but if the Tigers are going to make it back to the playoffs next season, they must make some major trades during the off season. People talk a lot about the Tigers pitching, but it is overrated. Nate Robertson is just what he is - a .500 pitcher at best. Jeremy Bonderman is disappointing. He may never
fully recover from his second half this season and become the dominant pitcher he should be. The Tigers obviously need some real thunder in the middle of their lineup. Bonderman is the leading candidate to be traded this off season for it. But that is just one chip to deal. The Tigers need so much more. At least now Dave Dombrowski and Leyland have a real idea where the club stands on the grand scale. The loss Tuesday was just another reminder.

Random thoughts- I thought Frank Thomas was at the end of his career and that Oakland should not have bothered acquiring him. I cannot believe how great he was the second half of the season and what he did in the ALDS opener Tuesday at Minnesota.

- My best guess is that Columbus will be the most-improved team in the NHL this season. The Blue Jackets might give the Red Wings more fits this season than Nashville, which remains woeful along the blue line.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Pin Meets Balloon

Not only are the Kansas City Royals a bad baseball team. Some of their best players - and we are using the word "best" loosely here - were missing because of injuries. Manager Buddy Bell was not even there because of an unfortunate health issue involving a cancerous growth in his mouth. For the Tigers to lose three straight games to that team over the weekend was one of the most stunning developments I can recall covering sports. The Tigers do not remind me of the 1927 Yankees. I have written a lot on this blog about how imperfect they are. So have many of the people who have commented here. But that series was ridiculous. To blow leads like that. To have situations that beg for scoring runs - and not scoring them. In my column in The Oakland Press today, I put a lot of the blame on Jim Leyland. He wanted his cake and eat it too by resting players and still winning the division. It does not work that way. And I strongly disagree with those who wanted the Tigers to face the Yankees in the first round either "to get them out of the way" or "because it is easier to beat them three times instead of four." Be careful what you ask for my friends because now you have it. Oakland at home for the first two games would have been the way to go. As for setting up his pitching rotation, Leyland did not get that done. Nate Robertson is a .500 pitcher. I like him. Understand he has some bulldog in him. But that is the bottom line. I saw where the local television stations were trying to pump up the playoffs Sunday night, but it seemed forced and contrived. Those five straight losses to close the season were a killer. That is particularly true of the last three against that stinko team from KC. There is no way to sugar coat it.

Random Thoughts

- I refuse to fall into the trap that says the Lions are improved offensively and will start winning games when the defense catches up. Bad teams play just well enough to lose. The week the Lions defense played well - the opener vs. Seattle - the offense scored just six points. That has always been the Lions problem. When they seem to fix one tire, another one automatically blows out and they lose anyway.

- Michigan State will not recover from losing to Illinois at home. Head coach John L. Smith might not survive the season. It is apparent he has lost his football team. Some will say the end was the Notre Dame game. But his problems really started to appear last season. In addition to Smith's goofy antics, his spread offense is not unique anymore. Defenses see a version of it all the time. They have adjusted - and Smith has no answer for the adjustments. Smith cannot remain the coach at Michigan State if for no other reason than the Spartans will get hammered because of him in recruiting. If you were an elite athlete, would you want to play for a coach who acts like that? His shtick is, to say the least, stale.

Want a prediction on the Tigers-Yankees series? OK here is one. The Yankees in four games.