Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Tigers: So Close, Yet So Far Away

Note: For my thoughts on the Pudge trade, read my column at sports columns at

I've been on the Tigers trip to Cleveland, and it's been a strange experience.
Tuesday night was typical of what I'm talking about. The Tigers beat the Indians 8-5. They got a good start from the team savior this season, Armando Galarraga. A couple of their maligned veterans, Gary Sheffield and Edgar Renteria, came through with clutch two-run hits. The bullpen didn't blow the game. In the process, the Tigers moved to within 5 1-2 games of the A.L. Central lead with two months remaining in the season.
Yet, you can sense no emotion - from the fans, the media, the team itself - that the Tigers are going to reach the postseason.
It's because neither Joel Zumaya nor Fernando Rodney looks particularly sharp. It doesn't seem like they will hold up to pressure beyond holding big leads against a struggling team such as the Indians. It will be a lot different in Tampa Bay over the weekend. The Tigers may have to go to Todd Jones again, perhaps as soon as tonight. How is he going to react? Certainly he is well-rested. Can the Tigers expect solid starts from Kenny Rogers, Nate Robertson and Zach Miner?
We've been waiting four months for Sheffield and Renteria to break loose. Who is holding their breath for that to suddenly happen? Besides, isn't pitching the Tigers real problem?
Still, it's difficult to look at the standings and not believe the Tigers have a chance.

Random Thoughts

- Like the rest of the world, I have always been underwhelmed by Kwame Brown. But he is a big body the Pistons desperately need inside, he does have obvious talent, he is about to enter his prime as a player and he wasn't cost-prohibitive to sign. So it was a pretty good deal.

- Look, I tire of the "Drama King" aspect of Brett Favre, too. But there is no way the Packers are better without him than with him.

- I drove by Tiger Stadium the other day. From the freeway, you can see the inside of the park now. To say it brought back memories would be an understatement. So would it be to say it brought a true sense of sadness. Some things are just difficult to let go. Tiger Stadium is one of them.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Leyland Fumbled Closer Situation

I have said it before. Jim Leyland is a terrific manager.
For proof, all you have to do is recall what the Pirates, Marlins and Tigers were before he arrived. His only real failure was with the Rockies. And Leyland has taken accountability for it, in addition to leaving a lot of money on the table when he left.
But this season has not been the best for Leyland. Seems like a lot of his decisions end up blowing up in his face. The latest involves replacing closer Todd Jones with Fernando Rodney.
Evidently, Leyland didn't tell the beat writers about it Saturday night and made an announcement instead about the change on his pregame show Sunday on The Ticket. Then, despite protecting a four-run lead, he felt compelled to use Rodney for five outs Sunday, leaving him out of the closing role here tonight in Cleveland after throwing 42 pitches.
In addition, Joel Zumaya, the Tigers only other viable option other than Jones to close, left Sunday's game with an arm injury.
That leaves Leyland pretty much with Jones tonight. I have no issue with the decision. Leyland had to do something because Jones just hasn't been pitching well. Friday's loss to the White Sox, in which Jones couldn't close, was the most significant of the season.
The timing wasn't good, though. And why the announcement? Just let Rodney close for a game or two. Then he could have gone back to Jones at anytime - and it wouldn't have been issue.
The idea should be to keep running the hot hand out there. If it's Rodney, so be it. If it's Jones, so be it, too. The way that whole thing went down Sunday overshadowed what was actually an important victory for the Tigers.

Random Thoughts

- Training camp fights are common and harmless, if nobody gets hurt or they don't linger emotionally into the lockerroom. And I do like the fact Dewayne White and Jeff Backus seem to be pushing each other this spring.

- Josh Smith would be ideal for the Pistons, but even the Hawks aren't that stupid, are they?
- The trade deadline is this week. And yes, I still think the Tigers should be buyers. If they give up on the season, it will be profoundly disappointing.

Friday, July 25, 2008

About The Tigers, Artest, Lions And PGA...

The Tigers enter their huge weekend series against the White Sox 5.5 games off the American League Central lead, and seven games behind in the A.L. wildcard chase.
What it means, is they are definitely contenders. To what degree will largely be determined by how they perform the next couple weeks. They have two series with the White Sox and one with Tampa Bay - one of the wildcard contenders. The make or break series, though, may very well be in Cleveland next week. The Indians aren’t very good, and like their trip to Kansas City, it should provide the Tigers with an opportunity to make up ground.
Also, the trade deadline is next week. Doesn’t matter what happens this weekend. The Tigers need to improve themselves. Period. They need a starting pitcher, for sure. Suffice to say, it’s a big start for Nate Robertson tonight.

Random Thoughts

- Ridiculous trade rumors are just part of the landscape, but Ron Artest a Piston? That’s out of control and utterly goofy. He has done more damage to the Pistons than anybody in team history. Part of the reason WNBA fight the other night got so much pub is because of what Artest did at The Palace when he was with the Pacers. Can’t imagine Joe Dumars being remotely interested in him. Can’t imagine William Davidson signing off on that one, either.

- Honestly, you’d think I was picking the Lions to win the Super Bowl or something. I think they will win between seven and nine games this season and be in contention for the playoffs. Don’t see where that is off-the-chart wacky or anything. Based on some of the reaction I’ve received, though, you’d think I was projecting a miracle.

- You know the PGA is missing Tiger when the biggest issue is whether Greg Norman will be there.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Tigers Could Be Finding Level Soon

The Tigers have been this utterly frustrating entity. One day they lose in some maddening fashion - and the season seems to be over. The next, they win, while the White Sox and/or Twins lose - and they appear to be anything but done.
Down the line, every Tigers player and pitcher, with the exception of Marcus Thames, is having a subpar year based on the standards they set the previous couple seasons.
On top of it, Gary Sheffield and Edgar Renteria have been mere shadows of what they used to be, their lack of production staggering. Dontelle Willis and Jermey Bonderman aren’t even in the rotation when there was a reasonable projection they would combine for between 25 to 30 victories.
Considering all this, is it necessarily a bad sign?
I mean, it could be looked upon as if this just isn’t the Tigers season. Or it can be concluded the Tigers have had all this go wrong - and they are still in a pennant race.
Last season, the Rockies were .500 after 102 games and reached the World Series. And the Phillies were 48-48 and six games back on July 20 last season before winning the National League East.
The last thing the Tigers should do at this point is quit. It could be just a matter of time until water finds it level.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

All Star Game Making A Comback

Baseball’s All Star Game was a hit this year. The high drama at the end was welcome. The festivities at Yankee Stadium interesting, but not overdone.
It came in stark contrast to 2002 when Bud Selig called the game in extra innings because the teams were out of pitching. You know, as if it is some spring training game. And this year reminded me of extra inning All Star games in the past - when the game really meant something to both leagues.
When I was a kid, the National League used to win it every year. The lone exception was in 1971 at Tiger Stadium, which has to be the greatest All Star Game of all-time with the six future hall of famers hitting home runs, including the monster shot off the light tower by Reggie Jackson.
Now it’s the American League that just doesn’t lose this game. Maybe adding that the winning team gets home field advantage is working.. Seemed like the National League was actually disappointed it lost.

Random Thoughts

- Considering what is happening with Tiger Stadium these days, I must admit a sense of sadness every time Jackson’s home run in ‘71 was shown. And it was shown a lot. Loved those dark green seats.

- Last year, when I was at the All Star Game in San Francisco, I became completely turned off by home run hitting contest. It went on for way too long. It just wasn’t very interesting. It was too much of a staged, made-for-TV event. By the end, honestly, I wasn’t paying much attention. It seemed odd because I did enjoy it very much at Comerica Park in 2005 when Pudge did so well, and Bobby Abreu won it. Seems like the show Josh Hamilton put on this year revived it.
There sure was a lot of buzz about it, and it wasn’t just ESPN driven.

Note: There will be no blog update Friday. The next one will be Monday. Have a great weekend.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Could Be Season Before Dumars Makes Splash

Trade rumors surfaced over the weekend that had Tracy McGrady coming to the Pistons. The Pistons have reportedly denied interest. They should.
Although still a very good player, McGrady is not the explosive athlete he once was. He is older and has been beat down to a degree, particularly by back injuries. He had his moments last season, especially when the Rockets went on a long winning streak after Yao Ming was injured, but he misses a lot of games.
Honestly, I wouldn’t trade any of the Pistons core players one-for-one for McGrady, who has never been part of a winning playoff series. He is not the answer. The Pistons don’t need perimeter players. They need help inside. As the off season moves on, it appears more and more like the Pistons core will remain intact.
There just don’t seem to be any moves that would improve the Pistons. I strongly feel, if Joe Dumars does make a major deal, it must be for an inside player, or to improve the Pistons’ defensively. There is nothing wrong with the Pistons’ backcourt of Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton and Rodney Stuckey. That’s a strength. I also don’t get the issues many fans have with Tayshaun Prince. He is a unique player. The obvious player to move is Rasheed Wallace, but there just doesn’t seem to be a fit that would involve the Pistons getting a quality big man in return. And Wallace, despite his propensity for hanging around the 3-point line, is the Pistons only real inside presence.
The landscape could change during the season. Teams, after reviewing the way they are playing, often look to make moves. Phoenix (Shaquille O’Neal) and Dallas (Jason Kidd) last season are examples.
It’s less than ideal, but Dumars might not be able to shake up his team until after the season starts.

Random Thoughts

- Yankee Stadium is a treasure of baseball history, and that obviously will make the All Star Game interesting. It is, however, disappointing the way average baseball fans, who represent the roots of the game, have been priced out of enjoying the experience. You could take three Hawaiian vacations for the cost of spending three days in New York and buying tickets for the All Star game and its various sidehows. It’s ridiculous.

- The Tigers have no excuse for losing like that to the Twins, especially at home. The Twins have three players - Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer and Joe Nathan - of note. The rest of that team is made up of raw young talent, average major leaguers and 4-A players. The Twins are overachieving and the Tigers underachieving. That’s the bottom line.

- An underlying story entering the All Star break: The wheels are starting to come off the Tampa Bay Rays. That could help the Tigers move into the AL wild card race, assuming the Yankees continue their spotty play.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Todd Jones Has Become An Issue

Todd Jones has his backers, as he should. Only 14 pitchers in baseball history have saved more games. Nobody has saved more games for the Tigers. He did do a respectable job as closer in 2006 when the Tigers won the pennant.
That, however, shouldn’t distract from has become an alarming issue for the Tigers. Jones has pitched poorly lately. Period. It’s gotten to the point where he can no longer be trusted.
His time as Tigers closer seems to be borrowed. All the signs are there that the wheels are coming off, including a dismal blown save opportunity Thursday against the Twins.
Jones has an ERA over 5.00. He has walked more hitters than he has stuck out. He has allowed far more hits than innings pitched.
I think it will be a long time before Tigers manager Jim Leyland turns to Joel Zumaya as the Tigers closer, but it may be inevitable at some point of this season.

Random Thoughts

- There is only one truly threatening power hitter remaining in the Twins lineup - Justin Morneau. Why aren’t the Tigers pitching around him? Other teams certainly are.

- I’m glad they are saving the flag pole from Tiger Stadium. It was distinctive and unique and symbolic of the ball park. Can’t help but feel bad Tiger Stadium is coming down.

-The Lions have to sign another running back before the start of training camp, don’t they? LaMont Jordan would be a good fit.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Tigers Are At A Crossroad

These next six games represent a crossroad for the Tigers. They are at Comerica Park. The Tigers are 25-11 there since beginning the season with six straight home losses. They are playing Cleveland, which has essentially thrown in the towel on its season, two straight nights. Then they go head-to-head against Minnesota four times. The Twins, who have beaten up on the National League and the Indians to move into contention, will be in the midst of their most difficult road trip in awhile (Boston and Detroit) and may be prime for a trip back down to earth. The White Sox will be on the road, at Kansas City and Texas. The White Sox are 19 game above .500 at home and five games below .500 on the road.
The All Star break is coming after this weekend. Where will the Tigers be? If they are still seven games or further off the American League Central lead, given the scenario presented this week, it will be a tell-tale sign they are unlikely to contend the second half of the season. Conversely, if they move up a couple notches, the second half of the season should prove to be quite interesting.

Random Thoughts

- There are two things, above all else, Jim Leyland must get in order. One is the Edgar Renteria situation. His lack of production is killing the Tigers. He hasn’t had an RBI in his last 54 at bats. He doesn’t have an extra base hit in his last 89 at bats. He has just two extra base hits - both home runs - in his last 207 at bats. All he does is leave runners stranded. It might not be a bad idea to bench him through the All Star break. Obviously, Renteria needs to regroup.
Second, is how to use Fernando Rodney. Leyland should not use him in setup situations if Joel Zumaya is rested. And even then, Freddy Dolsi should be the option ahead of Rodney.

- Tennis, including the ultimate marquee event such as Wimbledon, had fallen off the radar to a large degree. That could change, however, following what was an utterly spectacular men’s final Sunday.

- Brett Favre is a great football player, but count me among those tired of his drama king act. Either play or retire. This has gotten to the point of absurdity and has taken some of the luster off his legacy.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Tigers Were Outhustled By The Twins

It wasn’t just that the Tigers lost Wednesday I found disturbing. It was how they lost.
They are supposedly fighting to get back into the pennant race. It was their first series against an American League Central foe in a long time, one that has emerged as a legitimate contender, the Minnesota Twins. It was the so-called "rubber game" of a three-game series. The White Sox are winning every day and threatening to run away with the division.
And how did the Tigers respond? With a lethargic performance. The Twins aren’t a better team than the Tigers, even with Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera out of the lineup. They outhustled the Tigers at every turn, though. Especially on Wednesday.
The Tigers dug themselves a hole. They can’t afford to give away games. They lost a game in the standings to both the Twins and White Sox Wednesday. That’s going to happen, but it shouldn’t be because emotion is lacking.
It was a habit the Tigers developed early this season. It’s a bad habit. Not one they can afford to fall back into at this crucial juncture of the season.

Random Thoughts

- I didn’t mention Marian Hossa among the possibilities for the Red Wings during free agency. I saw no way they had a shot at him. How could anybody envision - general manager Ken Holland among them - the Red Wings getting Hossa to agree to a one-year deal for less than market value? He was due, by any stretch, a multi-year pact at near max money. By pulling this off, the Red Wings have made the move of the off season. It says a lot about how revered their organization is among players. I liked the Ty Conklin signing, too. Oh, and getting Brad Stuart to return was another gem. Is this team set up to win another Stanley Cup or what?

- Brett Favre is "itching" to play again. What a surprise. How long has he been "retired?" Not even six months? Seems like the guy just loves the attention. Thing is, I’m not so sure the Packers would welcome him back with open arms.

- The Tigers have had few pitchers down through the years as puzzling as Zach Miner. He throws in the mid-90s, has excellent movement on his fastball and decent off-speed pitches. There are times when he has good control. The problem is consistency. Just when you think Miner can be trusted, he proves he can’t. Just when you think the Tigers should give up on him, he starts to pitch well again. It’s odd.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Note: "The Book And His Boss

Don't forget to check out "The Book and His Boss" video podcast I do with sports editor Jeff Kuehn each week. It's on the video bar next to the blog. Thanks for your support. It is appreciated.

Pat Caputo