Friday, August 29, 2008

Under The Circumstances, Trimming Payroll Would Not Be Like Mike

There has been talk about the Tigers cutting back on player payroll after this season’s bitter disappointment, but I would be surprised if it turns out that way.
It is not owner Mike Ilitch’s nature to throw in the towel, say it didn’t work, tear down and start rebuilding.
He has done that in the past, but it was out of financial necessity. It was when the Tigers’ revenue was relatively low because they were still in Tiger Stadium, or during the early days of Comerica Park, and the mortgage on the venue was particularly burdensome.
The Tigers didn’t have bad season financially. They have been an on-field disaster, but a box office success. Also, like other major league franchises, they have been benefactors of baseball’s overall financial state, which is as good as it has ever been.
And Ilitch is ultra-competitive. He got a taste of the World Series in 2006. He’s going to want to go back there.

Random Thoughts

- Stanford’s football program seems to be on the right track under Jim Harbaugh. Could it be he is the long-term solution to Michigan’s coaching situation, assuming he turns around Stanford and Rich Rodriguez - for whatever reasons - isn’t it for the long haul? Can the Harbaugh comments from the past, the reaction by Michael Hart, Jamie Morris and Lloyd Carr be put aside?

- Three things I really like about the Lions following the preseason:
1. Calvin Johnson (he was spectacular during the preseason).
2. The improved secondary (just more and better players)
3. More quickness and better tackling overall defensively (Rod Marinell’s emphasis on fundamentals appears to be paying off)

- Three things I question about the Lions following the preseason:
1. The offensive line (can’t tell if it is any better).
2. Their linebackers (Alex Lewis and Paris Lenon are better suited for backup and special teams roles)
3. Depth. (The Lions are lacking it, especially at running back)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Why The Sudden Need For Replay In Baseball?

The idea of replay reviews is a good one in terms of intent. It’s to get the play right.
The trouble I have with it sometimes is the practicality. First of all, there is nothing "instant" about it. It works relatively well in the NFL, but there are times it is utterly frustrating watching the referee with a curtain over his head reviewing a play seemingly forever. It looks like he is in a voting booth or something.
The Big Ten does it better. They go up to a booth and it tends to take less time. There isn’t the "is he or isn’t he" element of the coach calling for replay.
In the NHL, the "did the puck cross the goal line or hit the goal post" plays make replay worth it. The one thing they don’t get right is whether players are in the crease. In last spring’s playoffs, it was ridiculous how they bungled that aspect of replay, especially in the Red Wings’ series with Dallas.
One of the good things about baseball is it had avoided this mess. It just wasn’t necessary. At least until lately.
This sudden urge by Major League Baseball to implement replay review of certain home run calls is beyond me. Why it has to be done now, without any experimentation, and right near end of the season, is puzzling to say the least.
Remember, this is the sport that ignored the steroid issue for decades.
Four umpires during the season, and six during the postseason, can’t get it right? Good thing they aren’t asking them to change light bulbs.

Random Thoughts

- It will be intriguing to see what Drew Henson has when he plays during the Lions final preseason game Thursday. I can understand why he struggled in baseball. There comes a point where upper-level pitching just overwhelms certain hitters. But I have never understood why he hasn’t been more successful in football. The arm is there. He is a smart kid. There isn’t that "he can’t hit a curveball" aspect to football.

- I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop and the Pistons make a big trade. As time goes on, though, it just gets more unlikely.

- Falling behind the Indians in the American League Central standings after that awful game Tuesday night has to be the low point of the season for the Tigers. Just when you think it can’t get worse, it does.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Preseason Couldn't Have Gone Better For Lions

OK, three preseason games are done for the Lions. They went 3-0, and it does seem like there is a light at the end of the tunnel - be it ever-so-small based on it only being preseason.
What more are we were going to find out about the Lions this preseason that has not already been discovered? Nothing, because the fourth preseason game is meaningless.
Calvin Johnson has made a dramatic leap forward, the secondary is much improved, the defense looks swifter overall and Kevin Smith has the makings of a pretty good running back. Those are the good points, along with the Lions' overall sound fundamental play.
The offensive line has broken down too much run blocking. Their special teams coverage could be better. The Lions also need to be more effective inside the 20 offensively. Their lack of depth at running back is alarming.
But the perception of the Lions today is much better than it was a month ago. They have sparked interest with their play this preseason. Suddenly they are being turned to as a potential "surprise" team.
I do wonder if it is the Marinelli factor kicking in. They say so many good things about him out in Allen Park, but the results to this point have suggested he is a less-than-effective coach. This preseason has been different.

Random Thoughts

- The Tigers may very well be stuck with Gary Sheffield next season because of his contract, but it can't be expected he will turn it around. He has essentially not played well the last three seasons, save for a couple months during 2007, his first season with the Tigers.

- A huge key for Michigan State this season is Mark Dell. The sophomore wide receiver from Farmington Harrison has to pick up the slack left by the departure of Devin Thomas. He has the talent to do it.

- I don't think Nate Robertson should have any complaints about being moved to the bullpen. It's the last thing the Tigers wanted to do given the contract extension they gave him. His performance dictated it. I'm surprised it took the Tigers so long to call up Chris Lambert from Triple-A Toledo. He is a former top-line prospect for the Cardinals, who has had an excellent season at Triple-A.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Honest, This Is Actually An Important Preseason Game

Preseason football is generally a yawner, but if we’ve learned anything about the Lions in recent years, it does mean something.
Steve Mariucci’s coaching stint was defined, in some way, by preseason games - a Monday nighter against the Rams, and against Buffalo a couple times in the final preseason game when James Stewart and Jeff Garcia suffered injuries.
The Monday night game against the Rams was devastating. The Lions had raised expectations, brought out their black jerseys for the first time and were crushed to the point it hindered their entire season. It was the third preseason and a much-hyped dress rehearsal.
Against Buffalo his first season, Mariucci called runs for Stewart on several straight plays. He hurt his shoulder, and the Lions began the season without a running game. A couple years later, Garica, backing up Joey Harrington, but clearly the favorite of Mariucci, took the majority of snaps and hurt his leg. By the time the Lions went to him, he still hadn’t fully recovered and wasn’t nearly as effective as he has been since with Philadelphia and Tampa Bay.
Before this preseason, optimism about the Lions was at an all-time low. The first two games have changed that, but it will turn back Saturday if the Lions lay a stink bomb against the Browns.
The Browns won 10 games last season, but won’t play several starters because of injuries. They played on Monday, getting whipped by the Giants, so the Browns won’t be rested. The game is at Ford Field. All the elements are in the Lions favor.
It’s important for the Lions to sustain their momentum with at least a solid performance Saturday. If they don’t, the tide from the first two preseason games will be reversed. In that way, this is "an important preseason game."
Gosh, never thought I’d write that line.

Random Thoughts

- Anybody but Fernando Rodney should be penciled in as the Tigers’ closer next season. They need to either find another closer or develop one quickly from (Ryan Perry) from their farm system. Rodney is undependable as it gets.

- Jim Leyland, according to a report from ESPN’s Peter Gammons, wants a contract extension through 2010. Don’t be surprised if the Tigers give him one. It’s doubtful they will leave him as a lame duck manager for next season. Gammons is also reporting the Tigers are going to cut their player payroll by $40 million. Don’t see how that can happen and the club still contending.

- College football team I will be surprised if it wins more than six games this season: Notre Dame.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Preseason Has Revealed Little About Lions Offensive Line

The Lions have played well this preseason, and it has been the cause of hope and optimism.
Let’s put it this way: After the first two preseason games, I’m not getting the same, "No way" reaction to my thought they will win between seven and nine times, and be a legitimate contender for a playoff spot.
The one thing I no clue about is their offensive line. Is it improved or is it the same? And that is both in terms of player personnel and scheme.
The Lions offensive line hasn’t exactly been road graters while run blocking this preseason. Their pass protection did break down a couple times vs. the Bengals Sunday night.
My basic view of Jeff Backus and Dominic Raiola is they are decent offensive linemen, who have been more victims of the Lions’ malaise than causes of their problems. First-round draft pick Gosder Cherilus seems raw, but his talent is evident. I’m not sure about the Lions guards. I think Stephen Peterman has a chance to be a good player, but how much does Edwin Mulitalo, a very good player throughout most of his career, have left? Michael Gaines is a massive tight end - that should help. Depth, however, is a concern.
I can’t help but think having a more balanced attack plan will benefit the Lions’ offensive line in pass protection, but can they run the ball reasonably effectively, especially if they have a lead late in games?
That question hasn’t been answered this preseason because the Lions’ offensive line remains every bit as much an open question as it was at the start of training camp.

Random Thoughts

- An important development in the Tigers minor league system: The Tigers getting first round draft choice Ryan Perry signed in time so that he can pitch this season. He is getting in quality innings for Class A Lakeland this month, which puts him ahead of the usual development curve. He has three saves already and could move quickly. One of the biggest pieces of the puzzle for next season will be finding a closer. Could it be that Perry, who starred for the University of Arizona, will be closing games for the Tigers as soon at some point of next season?

- On the subject of the Tigers closer: I think the first thing they should do this off season is announce they plan on using Joel Zumaya as a starter next season.

- College football recruiting is more of a circus than ever when it comes to verbal commitments. It’s like anything goes now. That’s why Michigan’s faithful shouldn’t be too disappointed quarterback Kevin Newsome backtracked on his commitment to Rich Rodriguez. Freshman Michael Shaw, a running back with tremendous potential, reversed field on Penn State to sign with the Wolverines in the spring. Shaw has the best combination of size and speed among U-M’s backs and should be special.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Thoughts On Lions, Phelps, Big Baby And Pistons

The Lions’ second preseason game Sunday was intriguing.
Calvin Johnson was sensational for the second week in a row. He can’t be defended one-on-one in press coverage by anyone. That much is evident. That means opposing teams are going to have to roll coverage his way, which should make for a field day for Roy Williams.
Kevin Smith is clearly the Lions’ best running back. He has decent size and some explosiveness through the hole. But he is about it in the backfield. Makes you wonder - again - why the Lions didn’t sign a veteran running back. The offensive line play was inconsistent, both in the run game and pass protection. It must get better.
As for Drew Stanton, I thought he was terrific Sunday. Great play-action throw for a touchdown. Excellent touchdown run. His other run was a good example of athleticism, but it seemed like he baled out of the pocket too soon. I would have liked to have seen more of Stanton. Dan Orlovsky was OK.. He doesn’t have mobility, which is a weakness. He has good arm strength and accuracy, and did have a couple passes dropped, so his statistics should have been better.
Gosder Cherilus was better in Game 2 as opposed to Game 1. Didn’t see much from Jordan Dizon, though. The Lions’ first-team secondary played well.
Wonder what the third preseason will bring in terms of playing time for the backup QBs? Jon Kitna will likely play the entire first half, which is necessary for preparing for the season. The fourth preseason game is played mostly by backups. It would be interesting to see how Stanton would do running the first-team offense, but that’s not going to happen during the preseason.

Random Thoughts

- The medal count certainly suggests Michael Phelps is the greatest Olympic athlete of all-time, but I’d still take Jesse Owens and Carl Lewis over him. Owens because the circumstances were so compelling, and because in a different era, he would have been able to compete - and dominate - in multiple Olympic games. Lewis because the competition in track and field seems more difficult to fight through than in swimming. Not what Phelps has done isn’t utterly sensational...

- So what will happen Saturday? Will Shaun Rogers be booed or cheered upon his return to Ford Field with the Browns? He was the Lions’ best player in recent years. He was also a distracting element. Hmmm.

- What amazes me about the Tigers is that there are actually nine teams in the major leagues with worst pitching than they have displayed. That includes the Rangers, the club the Tigers play this week. That is going to be some series, isn’t it? Doubt it will be pretty.

- What happen to the Pistons’ off season? Thought they were going to be so active?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Tigers Need To Quit Rolling Like It's 2005

The Tigers would have a great starting pitching rotation - if this was 2005. Dontrelle Willis, Jeremy Bonderman, Kenny Rogers and Freddy Garcia combined for 64 wins that season. Remember?
I found the signing of Garcia to be curious, although I understand it’s one of those minor league, no strings attached deals.
There is a bottom line about Garcia. It’s how hard he throws. When he was throwing in the mid-90s, he was a very effective pitcher. When his velocity dropped, he adjusted for awhile, but wasn’t able to maintain it as a finesse pitcher.
Everybody looked at the guy, and passed - except the Tigers. He is only throwing in the mid-80s.
Medicine has made great progress in getting pitchers to recover from elbow ailments. Because of Tommy John surgery, many pitchers come back throwing actually better than ever after suffering elbow injuries that used to ruin careers. The same, unfortunately, can’t be said for shoulders.
When Garcia comes back throwing in the mid 80s after surgery on his shoulder, it isn’t encouraging. Joel Zumaya’s velocity basically returned, so it wasn’t the issue it is with Garcia, who is also older.
It disconcerting, however, the Tigers are relying on pitchers to come back from shoulder ailments - Bonderman is another one.
People look at the Tigers next season and wonder what it entails. It will be a pretty good year if Bonderman, Willis and Garcia (assuming they sign him) are pitching like the did in 2005 (I don’t believe they will resign Rogers). But, boy, talk about questionable. The future is iffy at best for those three veteran starters - and the ever-unpredictable Zumaya.

Random Thoughts

- Nothing against the Olympics, but I like baseball a lot better. Lets put it this way: I would still rather watch a late-night game between the Padres and Giants that is basically meaningless than the finals of the men’s gymnastics. I do like the swimming a lot and still look forward to the track and field - despite the obvious substance abuse issues.

- What the Packers missed when they didn’t retain Brett Favre is that he never misses a game. Aaron Rogers has already had two major injuries in his career, even though he has hardly played. Can’t believe the Packers have so little backing up Rogers under the circumstances.

- Big Ten to watch out for: Iowa. The Hawkeyes aren’t that good, but they are one of the relatively few teams returning their starting quarterback. And their schedule is ridiculously easy: Cream puffs in non-conference and no Ohio State or Michigan in Big Ten play.

Monday, August 11, 2008

On The Olympics, Sheffield, Tigers And PGA

It was a busy weekend in sports from Oakland County (PGA Championship) to China (the opening of the Olympics). These are some observations:
- The people of China are likeable. Yao was tremendous at the opening ceremony. I, like most Americans, wish them well. It’s difficult, however, to just overlook an oppressive government like that. Can’t help it, but it has tarnished these Olympics for me.
- For not having Tiger Woods involved, the PGA turned out to be a stunning success. The final holes were golf at its best. Padraig Harrington was spectacular.
- I thought Oakland Hills regained its reputation during the PGA. I hadn’t heard "The Monster" reference as much in recent majors and the Ryder Cup. Seemed like improved equipment had caught up with it. Not anymore, after they tweaked the course. It was demanding, but fair. And so much for the docile weather conditions in Southeast Michigan, eh?
- Gary Sheffield’s comments about not wanting to DH and playing in Boston were inappropriate.
The Tigers gave him a lot of money, and fans in this town have been unquestionably supportive of him and the Tigers, despite his lack of production. Nobody is going to sympathize with those sentiments.
- The Tigers will win some games in the next few weeks if for no other reason than they are home. The problem is they have to jump over two teams instead of one, and eventually will have to get back out on the road.
- Can’t wait for the Lions second preseason game. Wonder how much time Drew Stanton will get? If it were up to some fans, he would take every snap. Don’t blame them. He’s a local kid with a lot of potential.
Note: The next blog entry will be Thursday this week, and will be back on a regular Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule next week. Thanks for supporting this blog. It’s much appreciated.

Friday, August 08, 2008

High And Lows Of Lions Preseason Opener

These are some observations about the Lions following their first preseason game Thursday.
- Even though Kevin Smith didn’t gain much yardage, he displayed nibble feet, ran with surprisingly low pad level and did show a burst as he hit the hole. He is clearly the Lions best running back. Barring injury, he should be the starter. Seems like he is going to be a productive player this season.
- Calvin Johnson is a special player and that will become evident this season.
- Doing radio following the game, seems like people are overreacting to a couple nice runs by Drew Stanton. Passing out of the pocket will make or break him in the NFL, not his legs. It’s a good element to have, but it can’t be his only strength, and he can’t rely on it all the time. He has to pick his spots.
- Gosder Cherilus is raw and not nearly ready to start. The remainder of training camp and preseason games are very important to him. We’ll see how much he learned from Thursday.
- The Lions looked quicker along the defensive front. There is still a lot of concern at linebacker. Buster Davis, as undersized as he is, just might be a find there. He played well.
- Can’t the Lions do better in the return game than Aveion Cason and Devale Ellis returning kickoffs and punts? They seem to like Ellis a lot, but it hasn’t flashed in games yet.

Random Thoughts

- Seventeen of the Tigers' next 23 games are at Comerica Park. It means they are still technically in the race, but it's difficult to see at this point how their pitching is going to hold up.

- Honestly, as difficult as Oakland Hills is playing this week, I'm surprised anybody came in under par during the opening round. The pin placements were unbearable, especially on the ninth hole, a 257-yard par 3.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Face It: Zumaya Doesn't Have It As Closer

First of all, it should be made clear that Jim Leyland’s decisions by "naming" his closer have backfired on him. It didn’t work with Fernando Rodney. Then, soon as the role was removed from him, Rodney pitched very well Tuesday night.
And Tuesday, again, we saw why Joel Zumaya may not be the Tigers closer of the future after all - and why the Tigers should start developing him to be a starter.
In his career, Zumaya is 3-for-15 in save situations. People who are enamored with his big-time fastball aren’t looking at the results. If he is the next Goose Gossage, he sure has gotten off to a rocky start in the role. Goosage, by the way, began his career as a starter.
They should make Zumaya a starter to protect his arm by stretching it out regularly, and it would help him develop his off speed pitches. Zumaya has been trying to shake off the rust since he returned. How about this: Don’t name anybody closer and just do it by committee between Kyle Farnsworth, Zumaya and Rodney the rest of the season. None, none at this point, seem like good options.

Random Thoughts

- How will the rookies do in the Lions preseason opener? They all got to camp pretty much on time. They are all being counted on heavily to contribute this season. It will be interesting to see how they perform in Thursday’s preseason opener against the Giants. Running back Kevin Smith and linebacker Jordon Dizon will particularly be under the microscope.

- Two games sum up the Tigers’ season: Todd Jones blowing the save on the Friday night against the White Sox in Detroit, and Tuesday’s loss.

- I love Olympic sports, but must admit I have an uneasy feeling about this summer’s game being held in China. Hopefully nothing goes haywire and the games come off without a hitch and no political turmoil.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Where Do You Begin With The Fingers Of Blame?

There are a number of directions the finger of blame can be pointed for what is rapidly turning into a lost season for the Tigers:
- General manager Dave Dombrowski, for not thinking more about a balanced lineup and pitching when he put together such a high-priced club. And for putting so much faith - and money - in aging veterans such as Gary Sheffield, Kenny Rogers, Edgar Renteria and Todd Jones, who clearly aren’t the same players they used to be.
- Manager Jim Leyland, because his team was obviously not prepared for the start of the season. Nor have his strategic moves exactly been working.
- Tigers players down the lineup, for underperforming based on their recent past.
It’s gotten to the point now where it’d almost be helpful if the White Sox or Twins took off on a hot winning streak. If there was ever a season that needs to be put out of its misery, it’s this one for the Tigers.
Leyland’s rant the other day was coming sooner or later. Seemed like he felt pretty good about his team after it survived that 13-inning marathon in Cleveland. What happened the next four games was inexcusable. The Tigers should be playing with a sense of urgency, but it’s something they haven’t done all season.
I thought it was almost laughable that Leyland is threatening to remove players from their regular spots. Who is he going to replace them? There aren’t a lot of options - not good ones, anyway.

Random Thoughts

- Many think the key to the Lions’ offense is the running game, but actually it is the passing game. The Lions have to use Calvin Johnson and Roy Williams effectively enough that opposing defenses don’t creep eight defenders at the line at of scrimmage. If they are forced to keep four defensive backs deep, it will great help the Lions running game.

- Count me among those looking very much forward to the PGA Championship this week at Oakland Hills. Just because Tiger Woods isn’t there doesn’t mean it won’t be a great tournament. Actually, I have a strong feeling it is going to be. Oakland Hills itself should not underestimated. It is one of Michigan’s great treasures.

- Seeing Pudge in pinstripes reminds me of seeing Lance Parrish in a Phillies uniform back in the day. Something just isn’t right about it.

Friday, August 01, 2008

On Pudge, Scotty, The Bullpen And Lion Rookies...

Trammell was the Tigers manager. Seems like his teammates respected Pudge’s place in the game more than liked him, or thought he was that much of a differencemaker. Jim Leyland seemed to fall in the same category, and unlike Tram, did stand up to Pudge when necessary. There were no tears shed when he was traded to the Yankees. Mostly just shrugs.
But I have to admit, I found him to be fascinating player. He is an incredible athlete. Definitely a cut above any catcher I have ever seen so regularly, including Bill Freehan and Lance Parrish.
Even at 36, that remains the case. The way he receives pitches. His footwork behind the plates. His arm. Pudge is exceptional. There has never been another player like him. It made the deal, especially for Kyle Farnsworth, who represents such a retread around these parts, difficult to stomach.

Random Thoughts

- Being with the club in Cleveland, I have never seen Leyland as uncomfortable about one aspect of his team as he is currently with his bullpen.

- Jimmy Devellano, Ken Holland, Jim Nill, Steve Yzerman, Mike Babcock - how much brain power is needed? Scotty Bowman will be missed only for the memories. And it’s understandable why he is going to Chicago. Family comes first.

- Can the Tigers go 35-19 in their last 54 games to win 90 games?. They are 32-22 in their previous 54, believe it or not.

- I have a feeling this is going to be the Lions best rookie class in a long time. There two keys: Can Kevin Smith stay healthy - always an issue for an NFL running back. And when is Gosder Cherilus going to emerge? He is massive. Look for Jordon Dizon to be a pleasant surprise.