Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Reputation and Reality Aren't Matching for Pistons

There is a saying I like to use. Sometimes, probably a bit too much, a least when I am yapping on the radio.
But, sorry, here it is again: "With rank comes responsibility."
I guess it is my way of saying that certain athletes or teams have raised the bar because they have performed well in the past. And because of it, they have gained a certain measure of respect others do not have.
The price for "rank" comes with the challenge of, when the moment arrives, having to do it again.
The Pistons have arrived at that moment. And they aren’t getting it done. Period.
Hey, you can say we’re spoiled because this is their fifth straight Eastern Conference finals. But you can also say we have come to expect certain things from the Pistons, who are widely respected in the Detroit Area. What we’ve come to expect is a lot better than what they have produced so far in their series against the Cavaliers. Swagger is a good thing, but the Pistons seem to have taken it a bit further to the land of overconfidence. They seem to expect the Cavaliers to just fade away. Maybe, just maybe, LeBron James and his buddies have grown from last year when they had the Pistons on the ropes, but couldn’t put them away.
Sometimes this flirting with disaster gets a little stale. The Pistons, frankly, are lucky they aren’t down in this series. They can’t lose Game 5 this time and expect to win it. They are better than this - and need to start playing like it. Bottom line.

Random Thoughts

- The subject is the sacrifice bunt. Are you for it or against it? Lately, it appears as if Tigers manager Jim Leyland is against it. He doesn’t call for the bunt much. The Tigers have a powerful hitting attack this season, and Leyland appears determined not to take the bat out of the hands of his hitters. I tend to agree with him on this point. I don’t know what the statistical evidence actually is, but it appears, to me, that more times than not, bunting backfires. An out is an awfully steep price for moving a runner into scoring position. Just my opinion.

- Sorry. I know the rest of the world would rather watch poker or billiards or NACAR, but not me - I love the Stanley Cup Finals. Game 1 was terrific. The way Ottawa came out with a lot of jump. The way the Ducks stormed back to win the game with an unrelenting attack. The way Jean-Sebastien Giguere made a huge glove save during the waning seconds. Great stuff. Can’t wait for Game 2 tonight.

- Too bad for the Tigers they didn’t win in Tampa Monday - blowing a big lead - or they already would have made up two of the games they lost to Cleveland in the standings since being swept by the Indians over the weekend. The key, really, is beating the bad teams. It’s what made the Tigers last season. Having said that, it would be good for the Tigers to at least split their series in Cleveland this weekend.

- I know the Red Wings want Dominik Hasek back, and I understand why, but I would stop short of begging him. Remember how that turned out the last time they did it? He is a lot better when he has something to prove or feels snubbed than when he is comfortable.

- Hey, the most underrated aspect of this time of the year is the "ping" of the college baseball regionals, and then the College World Series. I get hooked on it. I admit it.

Monday, May 28, 2007

How Do The Tigers Pick Up The Pieces?

No team is perfect. No season is, either. Losing streaks happen. I understand. That isn’t the point about the Tigers right now. Failure, the real kind, hasn’t been part of their equation this season. But then again, isn’t that what made getting swept by the Indians this weekend painful? This was a test, the Tigers first real one of the season. In front of sellout crowds at Comerica Park, they came up woefully short. Most of the reason was the bullpen. Close games and they weren’t able to hold in there. But they had other chances. They didn’t deliver in the clutch at the plate on those chances. The Indians made more of their opportunities. It was that simple. The season is still young. We’ll see about the Tribe. The thought they are this season’s version of the Tigers of 2006 is still a stretch. They lack range and are weak behind the plate defensively. Their bullpen is suspect. I still think the Tigers are a better team. But I do think the Tigers must remember what got them turned around. To me, it was last spring when Jim Leyland decided the best fit was the talent of Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya. Keeping them to start the season was a catalyst for the Tigers. I would like to see the Tigers do more of that this year by giving chances to some of their pitching prospects in the minor leagues. Dallas Trahern, Eulogio de la Cruz and Jair Jurrjens have all pitched well. They have been in the Tigers system for a few years. It doesn’t matter if they are starting, they have ability and it should be tested in the major leagues, even as relievers. I’d hate to see the Tigers become one of those teams, because they are contending, that relies too much on veteran players just because they have experience. Their mix between younger and older players is good. They shouldn’t be afraid to trust their minor league system. They should embrace it. The sooner, the better.

Random Thoughts

- I like Ottawa in six games in the Stanley Cup Finals. I think the Senators’ snipers, particularly their No. 1 line of Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson will expose Anaheim goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere’s relative lack of agility. He is getting way too much credit for the Ducks’ success. I expect Ray Emery to outplay him in the finals.

- When is there going to be some hatred in the Pistons-Cavaliers series? The series is missing the intensity of the Pistons’ series with Miami and Indiana during the past. And that is especially true compared to the Bad Boys version of the Pistons’ series with the Celtics and Bulls. It is perplexing because the two teams have already played a seven-game series - just last year.

- I haven’t heard any Tiger fans clamoring for Brent Clevlen to be Magglio Ordonez’s personal defensive replacement during the late innings. In fact, I haven’t heard one Tiger fan this season say anything bad about Mags. Gee, wonder why?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Different Style, Same Results

The beauty of baseball is the way each season takes on a life of its own. And that life is always much different than what had been anticipated.
The Tigers are winning at a torrid clip again this season, but for different reasons. Where last season, pitching was the main reason why, this season they are outslugging teams. Even with injuries to Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman, their starting pitching has been OK. Justin Verlander has been dominating and Nate Robertson pretty good. Mike Maroth hasn’t been as effective, but the Tigers have won with him starting. They have gotten a lot of Chad Durbin - a lot more than I expected, that’s for sure. But their bullpen has been awful. I can’t believe how many high-scoring games they win by one or two runs. Part of that is Joel Zumaya’s injury, but a lot of it is just inconsistency. Yet, they win because they can slug the ball. The budding story is Magglio Ordonez. He has been the best overall hitter in the American League this season. People say he has returned to the form he had in Chicago, but he is much better. He’s right on so many pitches. He is rapidly developing into an MVP candidate. The Tigers have a really good middle of the batting order this year because Ordonez is much improved, Gary Sheffield is there and so remains Carlos Guillen. Added with the strength, still, from No.1 through No. 9 in the order, and the Tigers have emerged offensively.
They can match Cleveland’s firepower now, they have at least as good starting pitching (although Cleveland’s is pretty good). Both bullpens are weak, though. That could make for a lot of fireworks this weekend at Comerica Park, and next weekend in Cleveland. No lead is safe with these two teams. Or bullpens.

Random Thoughts

- Call it The Caputo Jinx. I praised Tayshaun Prince in my blog and he immediately goes 0-for-8 shooting in the next game. Oh well...

- Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine have started to legitimize ultimate fighting. Both have had the sport on covers recently. I don’t know if that is a good thing. Seems like many of the best ultimate fighters are too old to be legitimate if the pool of athletes in the sport is really elite.. The way it is staged, however, makes it the ideal made for TV event.

- Jason Maxiell was an outstanding draft pick. He plays bigger than he is, and he is extraordinarily aggressive. If he can consistently hit a short jumper and improve his free throw shooting, it would not surprise me to see Maxiell become a15-point, 10-rebound per game producer in the future.

- A couple of the football magazines are already out. Lindy’s College has Michigan ranked third in the country and winning the Big Ten. Michigan State is picked to finish eighth in the conference and is ranked 59th in the nation. Pro Football Weekly’s season preview has the Lions going 6-10.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Are The Tigers Living On Borrowed Time?

The Tigers are 10 games above .500. They are right there with Cleveland near the top of the American League Central. Yet, there are some ominous signs. I have wondered, nearly from Day 1 of this season, whether they are winning on borrowed time.
An overreaction? Perhaps. But I can’t help it. What I liked about the Tigers so much last season was their pitching. I am not nearly as impressed with it this season.
The good part about the Tigers is that in April, when they weren’t hitting a lick, their pitching came through for them. In May, when their pitching struggled, they have hit like crazy.
But it is not a good sign that Mike Maroth, in Comerica Park where he should excel, is knocked around like he was Tuesday by the Angels. His ERA is nearly 5.00. The Tigers bullpen is an adventure right now. Is there any reliever on that staff you really trust with a lead right now? Even Todd Jones is shaky of late. And if anybody says Bobby Seay, may I remind them he is, well, Bobby Seay.
It is Jim Leyland’s great strength handling the bullpen, but its shaky at best. All that said, the Tigers nearly pulled out that game Tuesday. They did an excellent job of waiting out Angels starter John Lackey. They nearly rallied in the ninth. The Angels were brilliant defensively. That was the difference. It’s just I don’t like the way the Tigers pitching has been depleted. Supposedly, Jeremy Bonderman will be back in the rotation and pitch on Thursday. He can’t return fast enough. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if Andrew Miller eventually takes Maroth’s spot in the rotation. He just brings such better pure "stuff" to the mound.

Random Thoughts

- I hope, deep into the future when his career is done, Tayshaun Prince gets the credit he is due as one of the great playoff players of his generation. The way he clamps down on the NBA’s greatest scorers defensively is unbelievable. No wonder LeBron James was afraid to shoot Monday. Prince deserves more consideration than he has been getting for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award. And Prince is an excellent clutch shooter.

- I have a feeling this is the year when their poor decisions and wasteful spending catches up to the Yankees - and they don’t make the playoffs. They need more than an aging, part-time Roger Clemens to get them out of this jam. The Red Sox are killing the Yanks - and in every way.

- If I am the Red Wings, I’d do everything possible to retain Dominik Hasek. While they did show much more grit this playoff run than during the recent past, if CuJo or Manny Legace were still in net for them, I doubt they get out of the first round - and certainly not the second. Hasek was that big of a differencemaker. He was terrific during the playoffs. And I am starting to wonder if Jimmy Howard is really that good.

- Pavel Datsyuk had eight goals during the playoffs, including the biggest one vs. San Jose during the Western Conference semifinals. And Tuesday night, with the season on the line, he played brilliantly during the third period against Anaheim. So I guess it’s official - Ken Holland did make the right decision by giving Datsyuk a long-term contract just before the start of the playoffs.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Billups and Hamilton Drive The Pistons

It doesn’t matter, honestly, whether the venue is sports or something else, but we always seem to be fascinated by great duos. Around here, it’s been Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell. Nationally, it was Joe Montana to Jerry Rice. In entertainment, there have been a million and one great duos.
Guess that makes it perplexing why it isn’t widely proclaimed that the Pistons’ Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton are the best backcourt in the NBA. They are, you know, and have been for a long period. They just got done outplaying a really good backcourt in Chicago’s Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon during the Eastern Conference semifinals. And while the Pistons do seem to have the edge in the forecourt, too, it figures to be Hamilton and Billups that will give the Cleveland Cavaliers the most problems during the Eastern Conference finals. I am not so sure if Billups isn’t the best point guard in the league. The luster does seem to have come off Steve Nash this spring. What was his - and the Suns’ - excuse this time? Did the big, bad Spurs play too rough? That tactic wouldn’t work with Billups. It was a joke Billups was just a third-team All-NBA pick. He rated better than that. And Hamilton is his perfect compliment.
I can see where Billups and Hamilton will play close to a decade together. I can see where they might bring home another title or two. I can see where the future will ultimately judge them as one of the NBA’s great backcourts of all time.

Random thoughts

- I have a feeling the Red Wings are going to still win their series with the Ducks. They have carried play to a wide degree in three straight games. I would expect the results to even out the rest of the series.

- The Tigers sweeping the Cardinals this weekend was bittersweet. It was nice, but hardly makes up for the World Series collapse. The fact the Tigers have swept the Cardinals in interleague play the last two years only makes the shellacking in the World Series that much more difficult to swallow.

- Yeah, I thought Andrew Miller was terrific Friday. If he doesn’t get injured, his future is extremely bright.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Red Wings Shot Themselves In The Foot

It wasn’t a horrible performance by the Red Wings Thursday night. Not by a longshot. It certainly wasn’t a bad effort. They definitely worked hard.
The Red Wings are usually a smarter team than that, though. Everything they did well during their 5-3 loss to the Anaheim Ducks was negated by mistakes.
Take Todd Bertuzzi, for example. That was the best game he has played as a Red Wing. He finally got his big butt in front of the net and caused all kinds of problems. He had a goal. The goal, however, only made up for a mistake he made early in the game - a horrible giveaway that directly resulted in an Anaheim goal. Another Ducks goal was set up by a too many men on the ice penalty against the Red Wings. The go-ahead goal, by Ryan Getzlaf, came with Daniel Cleary off the ice because of a tripping penalty. It was a bad penalty. It wasn’t with the Red Wings deep in their own and in deep trouble. It was at the other end of the ice, in an area where they was no imminent danger. He also took a roughing penalty earlier that wasn’t necessary. Yet, Cleary had two goals.
It’s those little things that matter so much in the playoffs. The details. The Red Wings didn’t take care of them Thursday. It’s a shame, too, because with Chris Pronger suspended for the game, and Chris Kunitz still ailing, the Duck were particularly vulnerable. The Red Wings carried play for the most part, pounding Anaheim goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere with 39 shots. The Red Wings rallied from a 3-1 deficit to tie the game. They just weren’t precise enough, that’s all.
It’s apparent neither one of these teams is going to roll over because of adversity. I have a feeling it is going to go seven games. That’s not the worse scenario for the Red Wings, who have home ice advantage.
(You can read my column on the Pistons-Bulls Game 6 at Click on "sports columns")

Random Thoughts

- Fenway Park. The likes of Zach Miner, Tim Byrdak and Chad Durbin pitching for the Tigers. The Red Sox ultra-potent lineup. Well, you get the idea. I am not surprised the Tigers were swept in a day-night doubleheader Thursday by the Red Sox. I am, however, surprised how they lost. Their pitching was actually decent, but they didn’t hit a lick. Considering the injury problems to the pitching staff, the last thing the Tigers need at this point is a collective hitting slump.

- If Paris Lenon is the best the Lions can do for a middle linebacker, they are in serious trouble this coming season. They should have taken Michigan’s David Harris in the draft. That’s the bottom line.

- I am all for pushing the gifted players to the major leagues as soon as possible. Andrew Miller is gifted. It wouldn’t surprise me if he pitches well - right out of the shoot.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Red Wings Rout Out Of The Blue

I figured the Red Wings might win another game or two during their Western Conference finals playoff series against the Anaheim Ducks. I even figured they had an outside chance of winning the series.
But 5-0? In Anaheim? Come on. Are you serious? Wow.
Take bigger, stronger, tougher, faster out of the equation. You know, the Ducks’ strengths. There are times when the Red Wings’ skill is just overwhelming and, frankly, breathtaking. Their victory Tuesday was such an example. The Red Wings did all the nuts and bolts things necessary to win a road playoff game. They were stout defensively. Dominik Hasek made several testy, key saves early in the game. They took care of the puck. The icing on the cake was the beauty of their passing. In order to beat Jean-Sebastien Giguere, you have to get him moving side-to-side. The Red Wings did so brilliantly with their cross-ice passing Tuesday.
Two young forwards have really emerged during these playoffs - Valtteri Filppula and Johan Franzen. When Filppula is on the ice, good things happen. He got a lot - a goal and an assist -done during his 13 minutes on the ice Tuesday. Franzen, who is also tough and skilled, had a goal. Tomas Holmstrom continues to take a licking - and keeps on ticking. He has been the Red Wings’ most valuable forward during the playoffs. Look what they were like without him during the San Jose series? The Red Wings MVP overall is Nicklas Lidstrom. He is tied for third in scoring during the playoffs - amazing for a defenseman. Compare him to Anaheim’s Scott Niedermayer, who has completely stopped playing defense, and it is apparent just how solid Lidstrom is. He is clearly the NHL’s best defenseman - including over the Ducks’ Chris Pronger.
An underrated aspect to what the Red Wings are accomplishing is containing the opposition’s top forwards. In the opening round, they hamstrung Calgary’s Jarome Iginla. In the second round, it was San Jose’s Patrick Marleau. This series, it is Teemu Salanne.
Especially without Niklas Krowall and Mathieu Schneider, I honestly don’t know how the Red Wings keep doing this. They have found this magic touch and a will that hasn’t been apparent for awhile. This team is two wins away from reaching the Stanley Cup finals - and six victories from taking the Stanley Cup title for the fourth time in 11 years. What seemed improbable has turned to entirely possible. The Red Wings are 10-5 in these playoffs. They have a winning record on the road. They find a way to win.

(For my thoughts on the Pistons, please read my column at "sports columns" on website or in the print edition of the newspaper - Caputo)

Random thoughts

- There you go. That is the outing we were looking for from Justin Verlander. When the Tigers needed it the most, he delivered a tremendous start Tuesday. He threw 120 pitches, mixing them well. He fought out of jams, which isn’t easy against the Red Sox potent lineup at Fenway Park. He also gave the Tigers a little breathing room in this series. Verlander might make the All Star Game this season. And he just might be on the verge of becoming baseball’s next great pitcher. The kid is that good.

- The problem when they essentially ban fighting in a league - like they did in the NBA - is it leads to far more cheap shot artists. What is the deterrent? They don’t have to fight.
And surprisingly, the biggest cheap shot team in the NBA is San Antonio. Talk about thugs. The performance by Bruce Bowen and the rest of the Spurs against Phoenix is a black eye on the league.

- I thought of the color teal and the 1990s when I found out the Mid-Continent Conference, of which Oakland University is a member, is changing its name to the Summit Conference. It is like the "Horizon" League. Give me a break. Is this college sports or "Color Me Beautiful?" What's next? The Sunset Conference? I like the nickname Mid Con. It had a nice ring to it and had been around forever.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Piston Loss Just A Blip On The Screen

Maybe it’s just the cynic in me, but I can’t imagine they are broken up at The Palace because the Pistons didn’t sweep the Chicago Bulls in four games. Game Five Tuesday night means one more big gate for The Palace - a couple more million dollars for the Pistons to bank. It doesn’t seem like Sunday’s loss was flirting with danger, either. The Pistons should crush the Bulls on Tuesday. Talk to coaches, and they invariably will tell you the same thing: There is no such thing as a good loss. But the Pistons weren’t going to run the table in the playoffs. The loss allows for a little bit of concern, and some regrouping. It’s the elixir, if you will, for overconfidence. There is one tangible concern, however. It is the performance of Chris Webber. He didn’t have a point and gathered just one rebound Sunday. He must play better if the Pistons are going to take a run at the NBA title. Antonio McDyess is a good player, but fits the sixth man role better than anything else for the Pistons. The last thing the Pistons need is for Webber to be so ineffective that McDyess goes into the starting lineup.

Random thoughts

- We’ll know a lot more about the Tigers in a couple weeks. Boston is a very difficult place to play, emotions will be running high for the St. Louis series, the Angels are very strong and Cleveland has emerged as the Tigers’ primary rival, so far anyway, in the American League Central.

- People scoffed when I picked Utah as a darkhorse in the NBA playoffs, but the Jazz seemed headed to the final four. The reason I feel the Jazz are better than most think is point guard Deron Williams. He reminds me of Chauncey Billups in that he is more strong and big than quick and fast. He also shoots the ball exceptionally well.

- I absolutely feel alcohol should be banned from every clubhouse in the major leagues. Nor do I feel it should be served on team flights.

- I am not sure if Virgil Vazguez did enough Sunday to merit a second start. The Tigers should look elsewhere in their system for the next start in that spot. Zach Miner has not pitched will for Toledo, but I still like Dallas Trahern at Erie. Oh, and what about Wilfredo Ledezma getting a spot start now and then. How much can that hurt?

- How about Oakland County with representatives in Sports Illustrated’s "Faces In The Crowd" back-to-back weeks. Birmingham Brother Rice lacrosse player Colin David made it one week, Oakland University baseball Ryan Heath the next.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Big Ben's Attitude Hasn't Been What it Was

I suppose when all is said and done and the totality of Ben Wallace’s career is considered, what has happened in this series between the Pistons and Bulls will be glossed over a bit.
He did win a world title with the Pistons. The Bulls are better with him this season than they were before he arrived in Chicago.
But Big Ben’s reputation as the consummate pro has gradually taken hits since his "couldn’t do anything wrong" days with the Pistons. Late for a playoff game? From the team leader, that’s unbelievable. Pouting because he doesn’t like the way his team is playing or the way he is being used? Only familiar doesn’t it? The truth is, the Pistons never would have emerged if it weren’t for Big Ben. Yet, it’s also true they are much better without him. He was about attitude - the best kind. Now that he has developed this propensity to act like a "star" he isn’t nearly as valuable.

Random thoughts

- Look, Virgil Vazquez is a marginal prospect, but he is throwing the ball better than he ever has as a professional. The Tigers are wise to put him in the major leagues to see if he can transform that to success for them with Jeremy Bonderman ailing It’s foolish to have an advanced prospect pitching better than ever and leave it in the minor leagues. It’s another sign the Tigers have become a smart organization.

- If the season stopped right now, should Magglio Ordonez be the American League MVP? I think so. Wonder how he will do in the All Star Game voting. I notice how the many fans who constantly ripped the guy on talk radio last season have been silenced.

- It got very loud at Joe Louis Arena last night. It’s about time. Seems like this is Hockeytown again. The Ducks are pretty good. The Red Wings were fortunate to win that game. The series is long from complete. I like the Buffalo-Ottawa matchup, too. Then again, I admit it, I am hockey freak. Just can’t get enough of it.

- Give credit where credit is due. Flip Saunders definitely has the Pistons ready.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

It Only Gets Tougher For The Red Wings

Look. There is no sense dodging the issue. The Red Wings, especially with Mathieu Schneider out, will be an underdog in the Western Conference finals against the Anaheim Ducks.
If the Red Wings Nicklas Lidstrom isn’t the best defenseman in the world, then either Scott Niedermeyer or Chris Pronger of the Ducks is. The Red Wings’ Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are highly-skilled, world-class players, but neither ranks with Anaheim’s Teemu Selanne as a sniper. And there is a lot of depth there for the Ducks - in the kid from Ferris State, Chris Kunitz, Andy McDonald, Dustin Penner and Samuel Pahlsson, the latter who just might be the best defensive forward in the NHL. And the Ducks have quality goalies in old Red Wing nemesis Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Ilya Bryzgalov. Even if Schneider and Niklas Kornwall were healthy, the Red Wings would be underdogs in this series. It doesn’t mean, however, the Red Wings can’t win it. Some teams just get on a roll during the playoffs. The Red Wings are on that roll. They have rallied to win games. They have overcome injuries. Nothing seems to phase these guys. While clinching the Western Conference semifinal series against the Sharks, the Red Wings got 26 minutes out of Chris Chelios. He also logged nearly four minutes on the power play. Think he wasn’t effective? Think again. The old man was on the ice for both Red Wings goals. He assisted on both. Amazing.
Hasek is in one of his zones. There is no way the Red Wings would have gotten this far if Manny Legace or Curtis Joseph were still in goal. Lidstrom keeps getting asked to do more and more. Somehow he always gets it done.What a tremendous save he made to bail out Hasek Monday, eh? The one thing the Ducks won’t do is roll over at the first sight of adversity like the Sharks did. If he didn’t make that play, the complexion of the game might have entirely changed. This could be a long series. If it is, the Red Wings would have home ice advantage for Game 7. That’s a definite edge. Make me pick a winner of the series, and I have to be honest and say the Ducks in six games. But then again, I picked the Pistons to lose in the NBA Finals in seven games to the Mavericks. And look how that fearless forecast has already turned out.

Random Thoughts

- Not having Kenny Rogers was bad enough, but Joel Zumaya’s injury is far worse. Fernando Rodney hasn’t been the least bit dependable and he is basically the Tigers’ only option as the setup man with Zumaya out. The Tigers best options for help may come from Double-A instead of Triple-A. Dallas Trahern at Erie is a bonafide prospect, who is off to a great start. He is 5-1 with a 1.78 ERA. Trahern just pitched eight strong innings in a 2-0 loss Monday. He throws in the low 90s and has an excellent slider. He was a 34th round draft pick, but it is misleading. He was considered a second- or third-round talent coming out of high school, but committed early to the University of Oklahoma and let scouts know he wasn’t going to sign. Then the pitching coach who recruited Trahern was fired, so he decided not to attend school and signed professionally instead. Also, the Tigers have been using Eulogio De La Cruz as a starter at Erie to expand his pitch menu, but he is really a reliever. The kid hits triple digits sometimes on the radar gun, but he has a little bit of that Fernando Rodney inconsistency in him. I like these two guys better for the bullpen role than Jair Jurrjens or Virgil Vazquez. Trahern and De La Cruz have better stuff.

- It was amazing the ovation the Tigers’ players received at the Pistons’ game Monday. It was a lot louder than when they have showed the Lions’ players on the overhead scoreboard in the past. Wonder why? The loudest ovation was probably for Magglio Ordonez. That was a bit of surprise considering he is sometimes harshly criticized by Tiger fans, including some of you commenting on this blog.

- Have the Bulls been exposed by the Pistons or what? They have no inside game - period. And their bench is awful.

- Look Roger Clemens’ record is a matter of record, but I am getting a little tired of his act. Nice of him to show up for four months, 20 starts, not travel with the team and collect a cool $18 million. The guy throws 92 mph now - not 98 like he used to. And he won’t be pitching against the weak sticks in the National League Central so much now. This move is just as likely to break as make the Yankees’ season.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Great Win, But Not So Great News

It was the classic good news, bad news tale for the Red Wings Saturday afternoon at Joe Louis Arena.
The good news is they played a terrific hockey game, downing the San Jose Sharks 4-1 and taking a three games to two lead in a Western Conference semifinal series. The bad news is, defenseman Mathieu Schneider broke his wrist and is out for the duration of the postseason.
High to low. Up and down. The Stanley Cup playoffs are maddening by nature, aren’t they?
The Red Wings have answered any concerns there had been about their competitive character. It does seem likely they will advance past the Sharks and face Anaheim in the Western Conference finals.
The moment it became clear was Saturday, with the score tied 1-1, and San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabokov tried to clear the puck. He hit Pavel Datsyuk’s stick - and the Red Wings center calmly tucked it behind him for what turned out to be the winning goal. It was a brilliant play Datsyuk, who faked the goalie out.
It was the Dan Cloutier moment. Remember the long goal by Nicklas Lidstrom allowed by the then-Vancouver goalie during the Red Wings title run in 2002?
However, the Red Wings chances of winning the Stanley Cup were greatly reduced by Schneider’s injury. They were already down two defensemen, Niklas Kronwall and Bret Lebda. And Schneider is vastly underrated. He is a true world-class defenseman. He is solid in his own end, an outstanding skater and a tremendous force along the blue line offensively, particularly on the power play because he has an exceptional shot.
Unless Lebda comes back, the Red Wings will have to go to the minor leagues for defensemen - either Derek Meech and Jonathon Ericsson - who don’t really belong at the NHL level, especially so deep into the playoffs.
The one thing that could be on the Red Wings’ side is their grit. Yeah, grit. What had been their biggest weakness in recent postseasons, has become their greatest strength in these playoffs. And it is not just physical toughness, but the way they have handled mental strain. Albeit dangerous business, the Red Wings have made it the norm to rally after falling behind during the first period. They have also shown they can grind it out on the road vs. strong opponents.
But there comes a point when it just becomes too much. Lidstrom was already being overextended. Now it’s going to become ridiculous. What? Does he play 40 minutes per game? And Chris Chelios handled the extra duties just fine Saturday, but extending his role at this stage is far from ideal.
Schneider’s injury has only made an already difficult task even tougher. At least, the Red Wings have one very key factor going for them: The propensity not to give in.
It’s no longer a case of whether this is a team that understands what it takes, but rather if they are still capable given such a potentially costly injury.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Note to Readers

The normal schedule for this blog is Monday, Wednesday and Friday. However, it will change due to the Pistons and Red Wings playoff runs. While they are playing, I will update the blog accordingly. It will always appear the day following a playoff game. And there will be more frequent posts. The next two postings will be Sunday morning and Tuesday morning. Following the playoffs, I will go back to the regular schedule. Thank you for the support of this blog. The comments have been terrific and I very much enjoy the dialogue.
Pat Caputo

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

That's The Red Wings We So Fondly Remember

It is turning out all the fears about the Red Wings were unfounded. It is turning out this, instead, is one of those teams that somehow, some way finds its way. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but their Game 4 Western Conference semifinal victory Wednesday night in San Jose is the type championship-caliber teams pull off. Scoring in the final minute to send it to overtime. Getting the overtime goal. Winning on the road when it wasn’t really expected.. Instead of being done like dinner, the Red Wings are cooking. They have taken back home ice advantage. A win Saturday at Joe Louis Arena and they are in the driver’s seat. A couple things: Robert Lang has been the subject of much discussion this season. His production has been down. There has been talk about how he can’t keep pace with the new NHL. At times he has looked slow, but he still has that knack around the net and he has scored two huge, turning point goals on the road for the Wings this playoff - one in Calgary and the one that tied the game Wednesday. Maybe it isn’t such a foregone conclusion he won’t be back next season, eh? Also, Valtteri Filppula is an excellent player. He deserves more ice time, and Red Wings coach Mike Babcock was wise to put him out there late in the game when he set up Lang’s goal. Most of all, I like the mental toughness the Red Wings have developed. It had been missing in recent seasons. It is good that it has returned. I just have a feeling this is going to be a seven-game series. I also have a feeling the Red Wings are going to find a way to win it. Twice they have come back from two-goal deficits with their proverbial backs against the wall to beat the Sharks, who are formidable. That has to pay off in the end.

Random Thoughts

- His batting average is terrific. It does seem like he comes through in the clutch as much as any player on the Tigers. But Placido Polanco has just five extra base hits - including only one home run - this season. In know he is a good player. That’s not my point. I just wonder how valuable a player can be without power. Seems to me, that power rules the game. That a player needs to hit at least 15 or so home runs in a season to make a high batting average really mean a lot. It’s why I thought George Brett was so much better than Rod Carew. And why I hesitated before I put Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs on my Hall of Fame ballot (I did put them on, but I thought about not doing so on the first one). Polanco had but 45 RBIs last season, yet I am constantly hearing about how "there is nobody I’d rather have up there with runners in scoring position" when he comes to the plate. We complain about hitters who strike out too much. But those with power still have more value than slap hitters. Just one opinion.

- You can always tell when a team is clueless by the way they overreact to a hit batter. The classic example: The Orioles.

- The Mavericks’ rally Tuesday night was the turning point in their series with Warriors. When Dallas wins that series - and the Mavs will - the Warriors will rue the 6-point lead they blew late in Game 5, and spend years wondering about what could have been. It is kind of fun, though, watching that knucklehead Mark Cuban squirm about it.

- Jamie Who? The Tigers biggest surprise so far has been Bobby Seay.