Monday, June 30, 2008

The Truth About Interleague Play And The Tigers

It’s part myth and part reality the Tigers have gotten better simply because they have been benefactors of interleague play.
It obviously helped their record to go 13-5 against the inferior National League, but only minimally when it came to gaining ground in the American League Central standings. The White Sox went 12-6 in interleague games. Even the Royals 13-5. The Tigers actually lost a game to the Twins, who were 14-4 against the N.L.
In terms of the standings, the Tigers made a monumental move, gaining five games in just six days to suddenly move into contention. Since then, despite winning regularly and getting over .500, they have been pretty much been spinning their wheels trying to pick up ground in the standings.
That’s the beauty of the next month. There will be a lot more head-to-head competition for the Tigers against their A.L. Central rivals. Eighteen of their next 29 games, starting tonight in Minnesota, will be against the A.L. Central - including their next nine home games.
The competition outside the division isn’t that fierce - eight games, each a four-game series, at Seattle and Baltimore. But those games are on the road and, frankly, the White Sox don’t have a particularly challenging schedule outside the division, either. The Twins, however, do. They must make road trips to Boston and New York in July.
I don’t know how the Twins are doing it, to be honest. The Tigers and White Sox are comparable in terms of their talent, especially when injuries are placed into the equation. The Tigers can’t afford not to have Magglio Ordonez for an extended period of time. We’ll know more about the Twins and Tigers after this series.

Random Thoughts

- The American League has beaten the National League in interleague play every season since 2003. This year, the A.L. won the games by a 149-102 margin. It was 137-115 in 2007 and 154-98 in 2006. That’s 440-315 over a three-year span - a winning percentage of 58 percent. If that isn’t discernable evidence the A.L. is the better league, I don’t what would be.

- It would help the Tigers a great deal, with Ordonez out, if Gary Sheffield continues the clutch hitting he began last week. Also, it’s imperative Miguel Cabrera gets untracked. The loss of Ordonez can’t be minimized. Until Cabrera proves otherwise - and he sure hasn’t to this point - Ordonez is the Tigers best hitter.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained For Pistons

And so the answer was Walter Sharpe. Or, in the words of Pistons fans throughout Southeast Michigan Thursday night, "Walter Who?"
But for all his problems, the Pistons’ first pick in the NBA Draft obviously has talent. Otherwise, the Pistons would not have selected him in that spot. In that way, it makes sense.
This draft was remarkably thin. The Pistons weren’t likely going to get a serviceable player at 29th overall. D.J. White sure isn’t the answer to any of their needs. So Joe Dumars did the next best thing: He went for a player with a troubled past, but with a higher ceiling given his talent - at least based on the Pistons scouting. Seems like he did his homework on Sharpe. And it does pay off sometimes to think outside the box. In that sense, I thought it was a good - and certainly interesting - pick. It was good to get an extra pick because of the deal with Seattle.
I still think the Pistons would have been better off, though, drafting Chris Douglas-Roberts. Time will tell.

Random Thoughts

- Gary Sheffield has been terrific since returning from the disabled list. But the key has been starting pitching. The Tigers are in every game. Now if they could just get Miguel Cabrera on a hot streak. Have a feeling that is coming sooner instead of later.

- As good as the Tigers have been lately, the Twins have been better. They seem to be emerging as the team to beat in the A.L. Central. And I don’t understand how with that pieced-together roster.

- The Tigers can’t afford to let their guard down against the Rockies. A sweep this weekend is in order. It would put them above .500 and keep pressuring the White Sox and Twins.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Pistons Need Size, Not Guards

I like Baron Davis as a player. He is better than Chauncey Billups at creating his own shot, but don’t see where he would lead the Pistons to a championship. The Pistons’ need size. They need somebody with a rebounding presence and the ability to guard the basket, who does his best offensive work in the low post. As it stands, the Pistons guards are the least of their problems. Elton Brand and, particularly, Carlos Boozer would be ideal. Not sure Joe Dumars can get a deal done to acquire either one of those players, however.

Random Thoughts

- Either Bill Walker and Chris Douglas-Roberts would be a good choice for the Pistons at 29th overall in the NBA draft. Not sure either one of them will be there, though. This is a pretty weak draft. I don’t anticipate it having much of a bearing on the Pistons for next year.

- I don’t know what to make about Gary Sheffield’s return to the Tigers lineup. He did hit a home run Tuesday, and that’s a good sign. He is a Hall of Fame-caliber player. But I wonder whether he still has anything left in the tank. We’ll find out soon enough. If he does, it would provide the Tigers with a huge lift. Oh, and can he stay healthy? That’s the main issue.

- No, I don’t like Michigan’s new road uniforms. That was more than tweaking with tradition - it was messing with it. If something isn’t broke, don’t fix it. The Wolverines uniforms are classic.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Is It The Tigers Or The National League?

Now that the Tigers have rapidly moved into a position of contention, what will it take for them to remain there?
Pitching is the obvious answer to that question. Marcus Thames aside, the Tigers have been winning lately because they are pitching better - period.
They are getting a decent start pretty much every game. Their bullpen - save for Fernando Rodney - has avoided disasters. They have also been fielding better, which has benefitted the pitching staff. Carlos Guillen is playing much better at third base. So is Miguel Cabrera at first.
What I don’t know yet is whether the Tigers surge is the result of just beating up on bad teams. Cleveland wasn’t playing well when the Tigers won two of three to begin this. The White Sox were - and sweeping them was encouraging. But the Dodgers, Giants and Padres are teams with little life right now.
We’ll know a little more about the Tigers this week. St. Louis won two of three in Boston over the weekend. The Cardinals are thriving despite injuries. Yet, we’ll really know when the Tigers get back to knocking heads regularly with their American League Central rivals come July.
I do think the Tigers are in the race for the long haul. I don’t believe any club is going to run away with the A.L. Central this year. This might be one of those seasons when 90 or less victories nets a division title.

Random Thoughts

- I think it’s being overlooked just what a monumental accomplishment it is that Tayshaun Prince was named to the United States Olympic basketball team. That’s rarified air he is breathing by hanging with such a star-studded cast. Wonder why all these people want him traded from the Pistons. Doesn’t make sense to me.

- People still don’t seem to have much faith in Todd Jones. Why? Hasn’t he converted every save opportunity this season? Isn’t that what matters?

- What do Dan Haren and Cole Hamels have in common? They rank 11th and 12th in the National League in ERA - just behind Jair Jurrgens, who is No. 10 with a 3.20 mark. By the way, Brandon Webb is 14th.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Tigers Need Zumaya To Setup Now, But Start Later

Joel Zumaya returns to the Tigers this weekend. It should be an important factor as they continue to push their way into a pennant race.
Zumaya is much more capable of handling the setup role than Fernando Rodney. Rodney has good "stuff" when he is right, but he isn’t right that often. Nagging injuries always seem to be a problem. And his "stuff" isn’t as good as that of Zumaya..
There is also a charismatic element to Zumaya. When he comes out of the bullpen, especially at home and they play "Voodoo Child" at Comerica Park, it brings a sense of excitement. When Rodney is coming out of the ‘pen, it brings a feeling of, "Here we go again."
But is Zumaya completely healthy? Seems that way. Can stay healthy? That’s another issue.
Also, I think the Tigers need to make a decision on whether Zumaya - long-term - is a reliever or a starter. I found it curious they drafted two college closers so early in the draft.
Zumaya has more than just a great fastball. He also has an above-average breaking ball and change. He has the makings of an exceptional starting pitcher, which is baseball’s most-valued commodity. Remember, he was a starter in the minor leagues.
Starting would also put Zumaya on a set routine, which might settle down his health issues.
But that would be for the future. Currently, the Tigers need him desperately to fill the setup role as he did in 2006.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Tigers Getting Contributions in Familiar Places

Much has been debated about the Tigers trades during the off season. And that’s the way it should be, given the Tigers rough start, and when it is considered just how much they gave up in those deals.
But reality has set in as this season has moved along. The Tigers are playing much better baseball, picking up an astounding five games in less than a week on the American League Central Division-leading Chicago White Sox.
And it’s not Miguel Cabrera or Edgar Renteria or Dontrelle Willis, who are making or breaking the Tigers’ season.
It’s the core of the 2006 pennant-winning team that is the gauge.
Take Sunday’s 5-4 victory over the Dodgers as an example. Brandon Inge - no longer stewing and gladly catching - and Marcus Thames, key players in 2006, homered. Nate Robertson pitched well. Todd Jones closed the game. Carlos Guillen had three hits and is fielding better. Placido Polanco had two hits. Even the seemingly forgotten Brent Clevlen had two hits.
None of the above-mentioned players, with the exception of Jones, was performing nearly as well as they did in 2006 until recently.
Same with Kenny Rogers and Justin Verlander, who have gotten their act together as well.
Another revelation has been the Tigers’ minor league system. It was supposed to be devastated by the departure of the organization’s top prospects. Yet, the Tigers have received numerous shots in the arm from the system. It was a great deal with Texas that brought Armando Galarraga to Detroit for a Class A outfielder. Clete Thomas, Michael Hollimon, Freddy Dolsi, Matt Joyce and Jeff Larish have all, at various times, made important contributions. None were, really, on the radar at the start of the year.
It’s all bought some time for Renteria and Cabrera, in particular, to get their feet back on the ground.
And it appears as if it might have saved what was rapidly becoming a lost season.

Random Thoughts

- That was truly one of golf’s great moments when Tiger Woods sank that birdie putt on the 18th hole of the U.S. Open Sunday. He is not only well on his way to becoming the greatest golfer of all time, but he has to rank as one of the greatest competitors ever - regardless the sport.

- How ironic was it Saturday when Jason Grilli contributed to the Tigers from afar by beating the White Sox with 1 2-3 innings of scoreless relief.

- This is an odd week, isn’t it? I mean three games in San Francisco and three in San Diego for the Tigers. The Giants are playing poor baseball. I watched most of their loss Sunday to the A’s and they just aren’t hitting. They have lost six straight games to the American League this season, having been swept by both the White Sox and A’s. All those games were at home, too.

Friday, June 13, 2008

About The Tigers, CJ, Roy, Carmelo And Nick...

There is an old saying, regardless the sport, about how winning cures all ills.
That has certainly been the case about the Tigers. They entered a weekend interleague series against the Dodgers having won five of their previous six games. All of a sudden, the season doesn’t seem so hopeless anymore.
It’s good Kenny Rogers has returned to form. It’s been the biggest revelation about the Tigers of late - if overlooked. I thought he might be done about a month ago, a victim of father time. I was wrong.
In a way, I think Justin Verlander ultimately will be better off because of his early season struggles. They are part of his maturation as a pitcher. He was brilliant the other night against the White Sox, looking like a real pitcher instead of thrower. Verlander hit his spots remarkably well.
The schedule is certainly in the Tigers favor. They see a lot of bad baseball teams in the next few weeks. But they must win on the road. They have turned it around at home, but must do the same on the road to take advantage of a weak schedule.

Random Thoughts

- I don’t know, honestly, what to make of the spotty attendance of Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson at the Lions organized team activities. I only know it’s not good because they are the Lions two most talented football players. Ideally, a team’s most talented players should also display leadership qualities. Not showing up for off season workouts doesn’t exactly display good leadership qualities.

- Carmelo Anthony a Piston? You’ve got to be kidding with those reports. Doesn’t anybody remember the "Carmelo Who" comments by Chauncey Billups at the parade? Or the behind-the-scenes Carmelo bashing from the Pistons at the time? He is an incredible talent, sure, but is he really of championship caliber character? Doesn’t seem like it.

- A sixth Norris Trophy for Nicklas Lidstrom says it all. What a great player. In my opinion, he remains the best player in the world. I know he didn’t win the Hart Trophy, but there is no more valuable player to his team.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Championship Seals Red Wings Legacy

There was a time, not long ago, when winning a world championship seemed rare.
The Tigers won in 1968, and no area team did it again until the Tigers in 1984.
The Lions, Red Wings and Pistons didn’t come close during that period. Mostly they were dreadful. Michigan State basketball did win the national title in ‘79, but it was a one-shot deal because of Magic Johnson. It wasn’t something sustainable. Michigan football was a power under Bo Schembechler, and the Wolverines’ popularity grew enormously during the ‘70s and ‘80, but the one thing missing from Bo’s glowing record was a national title.
But since the Pistons broke through and won back-to-back titles, the last two decades have been terrific. The Red Wings with their four championships, the Pistons with three, Michigan with its national title in football, MSU with another one in basketball - and the Tigers unexpected and thrilling pennant ride in 2006.
It never gets old, does it?
I do think, however, it’s obvious that the longer span between titles, the more excited people get when one is captured.
As exciting as this title run was for the Red Wings, it didn’t carry quite the same luster as in 1997 when it broke a four-decade drought at a time when the rest of Detroit’s teams were struggling.
I do, however, feel it is more indicative of the Red Wings’ franchise and the utter brilliance of their front office.
What is the saying? As difficult as it is to reach the top, it’s even more difficult to stay there. The Red Wings have been on top for a long time. They don’t always win the Stanley Cup, but they are always the team to go through. Even when they lost to Anaheim, Calgary and Edmonton unexpectedly during the early rounds, those teams reached the finals. Each lost in the finals, but all went to seven games.
Because of those postseason disappointments, though, the Red Wings needed this title to seal the legacy of this great era. Even though they played well during the playoffs in 2007, reaching the Western Conference finals, they had become known primarily for their playoff failures.
Not anymore.

Random Thoughts

- I fully expect the Pistons to name their new coach early next week. And from what I understand, it’s still going to be Michael Curry. If that is, indeed, the case, it will be interesting how Curry handles his first real public exposure as coach.

- The baseball draft is more of a shot in the dark than any of the other major sports, so time will tell whether the Tigers hit the jackpot with University of Arizona reliever Ryan Perry, their first-round pick Thursday. There is obviously a need there, but I must admit I do have my concerns when it comes to drafting college relievers in the first round. Remember Rick Greene and Matt Anderson?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

No Ideal Candidate To Replace Flip

Obviously, it wasn’t much of a surprise Flip Saunders was fired as the Pistons coach.
I have no trepidation about his dismissal coming back to haunt the Pistons. I honestly believe he wasn’t capable of getting the Pistons over the hump and back to the NBA Finals.
What I do find perplexing is usually, where there is an opening like this, there are a number of obvious candidates that fit it.
I don’t see any here. Michael Curry has no head coaching experience. Terry Porter wasn’t that successful as a head coach. Avery Johnson had some of the same issues - great regular seasons, disappointing playoff runs - as Flip.
None of this off season is going to be easy for Joe Dumars to sort through - especially hiring a coach.

Random Notes

- Another sign the Tigers are a mediocre club this season: Four walk off losses on their West Coast trip. It will be interesting how the crowds react at Comerica Park for this 10-game homestand should the Tigers continue to falter. Many people bought a lot of tickets expecting a much better on-the-field product.

- I admit I want Big Brown to win the Belmont. It’s been a long time - too long - since a horse has won the triple crown (1978). I’m not a big horse racing fan, but I do enjoy the triple crown races. They are especially good watch in hi-def.

- I see the Lakers winning the NBA Finals in six games. I hope Kevin Garnett and Pau Gasol are guarding each other. That would be a matchup worth watching, for sure.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Time To Move On From Flip And Rasheed

After losing three straight years in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, you hear the same thing over and over about the Pistons: "Time to blow it up."
No, it isn’t. It’s obvious, though, they need major changes.
If the Pistons remain as they are, with Flip Saunders as coach and Rasheed Wallace as the primary inside force, they have little chance of reaching the NBA Finals next season. It’s unlikely they would even get to the Eastern Conference finals again.
However, this is not a team that needs to totally tear down and build from the ground up, especially with the rapid development of a young talent such as guard Rodney Stuckey.
There are mixed reports about Saunders return, but I have trouble believing he will be back. You don’t have a lame duck coach in this situation. Saunders is entering the final year of his contract. The Pistons would either have to extend him or release him, particularly with one of the major issues against Saunders being lack of respect from the players. I doubt they will extend his contract.
Michael Curry is the most likely option if there is a change. Not a lot of "Wow" appeal there. I like Lindsey Hunter as the future Pistons coach, but he has no coaching experience at this stage. Avery Johnson seems less likely because he had many of the same issues - playoff failures - in Dallas as Saunders has had in Detroit.
If the Pistons do retain Saunders, and don’t start quickly, they could release him during the season. But it will be a topic from Day One, casting a cloud over the season. If the Pistons do have a solid regular season, how much confidence should there be in Saunders for the playoffs? His reputation as a very good regular season coach, and mediocre playoff coach, has been earned over an extended period, both in Minnesota and with the Pistons.
Those who have read this blog regularly understand how I have defended Wallace in the past. But it’s time for a change. His body language, in addition to his performance during Game 6 vs. Boston, was deplorable. Put that together with his meltdown during Game 6 in Cleveland during last season’s Eastern Conference finals - and the writing is on the wall.
In the last year of his contract, Wallace should have decent value. But even if Dumars doesn’t get equal value in return, he has to move him. The key will be re-tooling the Pistons inside game so they don’t become even more guard-oriented.

Random Thoughts

- I know his numbers aren’t spectacular, and that he has had his share of disappointing starts, but it seems like Jeremy Bonderman has been the Tigers’ starter coming closest to matching expectations.

- Magglio Ordonez is suddenly second in the American League in batting average and seventh in RBI. Not a bad season. He is still the Tigers’ best hitter as far as I’m concerned, although I do expect Miguel Cabrera to heat up soon.

- It’s quite a homestand the Tigers have coming up this weekend - Cleveland, White Sox, Dodgers. If they don’t get through that homestand in at least respectable shape, this season could be over before it’s over. There’ll be big crowds at Comerica Park, too. And all the attention will be on the Tigers with the Red Wings and Pistons seasons concluded.