Friday, November 28, 2008

Be Careful What You Ask For About Lions And Turkey Day

Any local sentiment for the Lions losing the Thanksgiving Day game is misguided.
As difficult as it may seem now, there is no guarantee the Lions will be awful forever. What if they were to make the right moves after this season, hire the right people and have a turnaround in a couple years - like the Tigers from 2003 to 2006? Weren’t the Tigers in just as precarious a position then when it came to the future?
How would there be any benefit to losing the Thanksgiving Day game then? Or if the Lions remain perpetually stuck in the mud?
There is also the psychological factor involved. We don’t need to lose things around here. We need to gain them.

Random Thoughts

- Can there be a worse symbol for the Pistons than Allen Iverson missing practice? Wasn’t that the last thing expected after the trade? Doesn’t he need as much practice time as possible to blend in with his new teammates? There are no excuses for him missing Thursday’s practice and it doesn’t represent a promising sign for the Pistons. There is no sugar-coating it.

- Rudy Darrow might be the most intriguing of the Tigers’ relief pitching prospects. He has a terrific sinking fastball with 90-plus velocity and misses a lot of bats. It was a good sign he held his own at Double-A Erie late last season and during the Arizona Fall League. Consistent command is his issue. He needs a quality second pitch, too. But the promise is definitely there.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Wilson Perfect Fit For Tigers Shortstop, But...

For the longest time, I’ve looked at Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson and figured him to be the ideal fit for the Tigers. He is solid defensively and still has above average range. He’s a pretty good hitter. Wilson had some injury issues last season and missed a lot of games, but there is no reason to believe they will linger. He is not cheap, but not necessarily overpriced. A lot of issues would be solved for the Tigers if they were to acquire Wilson. The question is the cost to trade for him. The Pirates would take Tigers shortstop prospect Cale Iorg in a heartbeat, but he has a chance to be an exceptional player given his tools. That isn’t going to work. The idea is to find a bridge to Iorg. The Tigers have shortstop depth in the minors, but not top of the line other than Iorg. It was also be unwise, considering the gaps in their bullpen, for the Tigers to part with pitching depth.

Another thing: Having seen Wilson play a lot down through the years, it’s never been a question about him being a good player. It’s more like has he been beaten down by playing with such a losing franchise for so long, will he be able to perform under the spotlight with a contender?

Random Thoughts

- It wasn’t good for the Lions the Titans lost Sunday. They will come into Ford Field Thursday anything but overconfident.

- I know I’m in the minority about this, but I am not sure if getting Antonio McDyess back will benefit the Pistons that much. They needed to change the tempo at which they play offensively more than anything else. Seems like McDyess - who is understandably popular with fans - would put them back in their old sets.

Friday, November 21, 2008

So Far, The Celtics Have Just Been Better

The bad news is it has been made perfectly clear the Pistons aren’t as good as the defending world champion Boston Celtics. One loss at home. One loss on the road. Both games rather lopsided by the end.
The good news is the Pistons’ have some time to work on it.
The problem is defense. The Celtics are just so much better defensively than the Pistons. That has not changed since the trade for Allen Iverson.
The trade was still the right one. I think with Iverson, the Pistons will have a much better chance of getting by the Celtics in the playoffs than if they had remained in the Chauncey Billups’ mode. They are also more capable of beating other teams - as impressive victories over the Lakers and the Cavaliers displayed - with Iverson. The Celtics are the standard, though. So far, it hasn’t looked too good.
A key could be the bench. Seems like the Celtics, who aren’t supposed to have great depth, get better bench play head-to-head against the Pistons. Iverson, too, makes the Pistons more capable of penetrating the wall that is the Celtics defense at the crucial juncture when games are decided.
But it sure didn’t turn out that way in the first two meetings between the teams.

Random Thoughts

- It seems like the Lions are inching their way toward selling out the Thanksgiving Day game against the Titans. That would be terrific. The last thing anybody wants thrown in this area’s face is another negative element - on national TV - when we’re already getting hammered so much daily because of the auto industry’s situation. Besides, as bad as the Lions are, most people want to see the Thanksgiving Day game.

- Somehow,, Michael Curry is going to have to make sure the Pistons run more set plays for Richard Hamilton. The Pistons won’t win if he gets just nine shots like Thursday night in Boston.

- Oddest retirement of all time: Mike Mussina after winning 20 games. Doubt he will come back. It’s just not his nature to be insincere.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Intangibles On Wolverines Side Saturday

There are two ways of looking at the Michigan-Ohio State game Saturday. The most obvious is that Michigan is going to get crushed. It’s unlikely Ohio State coach Jim Tressel is going to pull any punches. If the game does get out of hand, expect the Buckeyes to pour it on.
But the other side is opportunity. Michigan’s season is this game. If the Wolverines win it - as improbable as it may seem - virtually all that happened before will be wiped clean.
All of a sudden, Rich Rodriguez won’t be such a bad coach. The future would look a lot brighter.
It would be viewed as one of the greatest victories in the history of Michigan football.
With that on the line, don’t be surprised if Michigan gives an inspired effort. Ohio State’s motivation will be low compared to usual for this game. The Buckeyes have beaten the Wolverines like a drum in recent years. Michigan has not looked impressive in the least. Overconfidence could be an issue. The intangible factors are clearly on the Wolverines side.

Random Thoughts

- Logic doesn’t dictate this, but it is reality: It is going to be very difficult Saturday for Michigan State fans to root for Michigan on Saturday - even if a Wolverines’ upset gives the Spartans a crack at the Rose Bowl.

- It would be a good trade to deal Dontrelle Willis to Boston for shortstop Julio Lugo. I don’t see where it would be a good trade to deal Nate Robertson for Lugo, though. Robertson makes less money than Willis, and while he may have had an off season in 2007, he appears more ready than Willis for a bounce back season.

- Don’t know why. Call me crazy. I just have a feeling the Lions best chance to win a game the remainder of this season will be Sunday against Tampa Bay. Seems like having so many ex-Bucs will work in the Lions’ favor.

Monday, November 17, 2008

If The Lions Win, Is It Good News Or Bad News?

The oldest shtick in town is hammering Rod Marinelli with questions week after week after games or during those ridiculous news conferences.
The only thing worse than the questions are the answers. Where it was serious business before, it has become a comedy act by now.
It was obvious long ago that Marinelli should be out. The Lions have lost 17 of their last 18 games and are 10-32 overall with Marinelli as head coach. Not exactly where he should be during the third year of his program.
The Lions could have made a change at head coach earlier in the season - and it might have benefitted them. They didn’t. So they - and Lions fans - are stuck with Marinelli. That ship has already sailed. It’s whether he is going to be fired after the season that is the real issue.
Seems likely, but, remember, with William Clay Ford, nothing is certain. It would be wise for the Lions to bring in a new general manager and different coach to work in tandem rather than just anointing some football czar like they did with Matt Millen and others (Bobby Ross, Monte Clark, Russ Thomas) in the past. I’m not sure they have it in them.
Martin Mayhew has certainly tried some good things as interim general manager (the Roy Williams trade for draft picks, the signing of Daunte Culpepper), but his task was daunting. This is a team that can’t even win a game, and Mayhew is tied tightly to Millen and the Lions’ haunting past.
I still believe the Lions will win a game, maybe two. They were 0-12 in 2001 - and won twice.
The danger in that is it might get Ford to think they are heading in the right direction, and actually retain the not-so-dynamic duo of Marinelli and Mayhew.
Wouldn’t that be an unbelievable - and most undesirable - outcome?

Random Thoughts

- The loss to Phoenix aside Sunday night, the Pistons blended remarkably well with Allen Iverson during their West Coast trip. Their victory over the Lakers was particularly impressive. Now if they can just get Richard Hamilton going. That part of the equation is still, obviously, a work in progress.

- Kevin Smith is a keeper for the Lions. Seems like the tougher the game, the harder he runs. I can see him as a 1,000-yard rusher in the future. With six games left, it’s not out of the realm of possibility he will push toward that level this season.

- Of course, a $140 million, six-year contract offer by the Yankees to C.C. Sabathia is ridiculous. But the Yankees must make a splash in the free agent market after not making the postseason and opening an extraordinarily expensive new stadium. At least they are offering it to the best free agent. Just wonder how Sabathia, a West Coast guy, who has pitched in the Midwest in Cleveland and Milwaukee, will handle the intensity scrutiny of New York media.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Come On, Admit It, Ozzie Is A Hall Of Fame Goalie

I have come to the conclusion there is a segment of Red Wings fans, not a small one, either, Chris Osgood will never win over - regardless of what he accomplishes.
They don’t believe he belongs in hockey’s hall of fame. They always view him as the Red Wings’ weak link. And I don’t understand why.
Osgood has 370 career wins. He’s won 65 percent of his games. He has been the primary goalie for two Stanley Cup championship teams. Even though his goals against average is high this season, he does have a sterling record. He was the best goalie in the NHL both during the regular season and the playoffs last season.
He got scorched for seven goals by the Penguins Tuesday, but much of that was because of the pressure applied by the Penguins, an incredible individual effort by Jordan Staal and poor defense in front of him.
To say Osgood has strictly been the benefactor of a superior team is not true. He did play other places and maintain his career record. While Osgood didn’t do well in the playoffs at other outposts, it should be noted the Red Wings have made the playoffs 17 straight years and won the Stanley Cup championship four times.
Osgood was the primary goalie for two of those runs. Give credit where credit is due. He is a great goalie. He is worthy of the hall of fame.

Random Thoughts

- What I can’t figure out about the notion of the Tigers trading Magglio Ordonez is who would take his place in the lineup. I did like some things Matt Joyce did last season, but is he ready to be an every day player in the major leagues? Will he ever be? I’m not sure. The Tigers need to be careful about their offense. They might not get much production from the catcher, third base and shortstop positions.

- What I have liked best about Allen Iverson in his last two games on the West Coast is the way he has distributed the ball. He has gotten his points, but he has been anything but a ball hog.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tigers Face A Different Landscape This Off Season

About this time, the past two off seasons, the Tigers had already made big trades.
Last year, it was acquiring Edgar Renteria from the Atlanta Braves. Two years ago, it was getting Gary Sheffield from the Yankees.
It seems highly unlikely the Tigers will make any major moves early this off season.
Their priorities are obvious. Pitching. Catching. A shortstop. Identifying the issues is easier than actually filling them.
I’ve read reports the Tigers are interested in signing Francisco Rodriguez. Don’t see that happening. His a risk, despite his stellar numbers, because of the salary he will command, and because he doesn’t throw as consistently hard as he used to, an indication he might struggle to match his past performances.
Brian Fuentes would be a perfect one-season fit for the Tigers, but so is he for several other teams. He’ll be overpriced and want too many years for his value.
J.J. Putz is intriguing, but how healthy is he? And do the Tigers have the prospects to interest anybody - at least those they can afford to unload - for such a deal.
The key isn’t necessarily who the Tigers acquire as much as the development of Ryan Perry and Casey Fien, and the return to health of Joel Zumaya, which is becoming increasingly iffy. I do believe the Tigers will find a veteran closer of substance, but it’s not going to matter if their bullpen depth isn’t much better. It’s what made them in ‘06. It’s what broke them in ‘07 and ‘08.
The starting pitching rotation will be difficult to change. The Tigers are boxed in, because of long-term deals with Nate Robertson, Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman. They need them to be healthy and throwing well. A reasonable expectation from those three before last season would have been combining for 40 victories. Instead, they combined for 10. Some of that was made up by an unexpected season by Armando Galarraga, but was negated by Justin Verlander’s subpar performance.
Like it or not, the Tigers are dependant on those three pitchers - and Verlander to pull himself together. While there is some potential help arriving from the minor leagues to benefit the bullpen, it’s not there for starters - at least until Rick Porcello is ready. And that might be later instead of sooner given his youth.
The Tigers catching as it stands is awful. They need to find at least one veteran to fill the spot. Ideally, it would be a couple. I don’t see them signing Jason Varitek for what he wants, or re-signing Pudge. They need an adequate defensive catcher first, and will likely sacrifice that spot in the lineup. That makes it more important that Brandon Inge picks it up offensively at third base, and Carlos Guillen has a bounce back season.
Will the Tigers trade Magglio Ordonez? It’s possible, not probable. Thing is, he is their most popular player. It’ll take front line pitching to do it - or an every day catcher. I do agree with some reports I’ve read that the Angels would be the ideal trading partner with the Tigers should an Ordonez deal come down.

Random Thoughts

- Even with Rodney Stuckey out, the Pistons went to a small lineup Tuesday night and it worked very well. Allen Iverson was terrific. He not only scored, but hustled defensively and did an excellent job of distributing the ball. Will Bynum is a better player than I thought. The Pistons have very good depth right to the end of their bench.

- What happened to the Red Wings Tuesday? Real simple: Who wanted that game more? There’s your answer. The Penguins are going to be formidable as long as they have two No. 1 overall picks, and two No. 2 overall picks in their lineup. Jordan Staal is coming of age and it will negate a lot of the Penguins’ losses.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Prospect Of 0-16 Makes Lions Accident By The Side Of The Road

Everybody has been in the traffic jam when it isn't rush hour, and none of the lanes are closed. Yet, the cars move slowly, or not at all.
It's because of an accident on the shoulder of the road. And the "rubber neckers," who just have to stop to take a look.
The Lions are that accident by the side of the road. The only difference is few are stopping to look.
The eyeball test on how many people were actually at Ford Field for the Lions' 38-14 loss to Jacksonville Sunday is about 40,000 - 45,000 tops.
And what they witnessed was the Lions taking awful to another level.
The possibility of the Lions ending this season as the first team in NFL history to go 0-16 is very real. Daunte Culpepper showed some arm strength and mobility, but he is way too little, far too late. The Lions' defense was scorched. The Jaguars, who had lost to the only other winless team at the time last week, the Cincinnati Bengals, beat the Lions in every way.
Drew Stanton made his NFL debut and seemed to either make a good play or get sacked. Obviously, he should start from this point on because the Lions have to determine whether he is their quarterback of the future before the NFL draft. It was impossible to get much out of his performance Sunday because he only really played, other than an early series, at what was essentially garbage time.
Either way - Culpepper or Stanton - the Lions appear doomed.
First of all, the small crowd was embarrassing. The lack of excitement at an NFL game in this town stunning. The Lions have pretty much been bad my entire life, but never like this.
There is a danger, with an entire nation held hostage by the Lions, that the Thanksgiving Day game will not be sold out. The Tennessee Titans are 9-0. The game could be a rout. It's the last scenario the Detroit area needs or deserves.
The Jaguars were primed to be beaten again. Linebacker Mike Peterson, perhaps their best defensive player, didn't play Sunday because he was suspended by the team and booted from two practices last week. It doesn't matter the situation of the opposition, though. The Lions find a way to be the great elixir.
This time it was their defense. For Jaguars' QB David Garrard, whose arm strength was better than I had anticipated from seeing him play on television, it was like stealing candy from a baby. There are so many holes in the outdated Tampa 2 defense it was if Garrard was competing in a 7-on-0 drill. Slant patterns aren't supposed to be that easy to complete. The Lions run defense is brutal. And while Lions deserved some credit for selling out in terms of effort in recent weeks, that wasn't the case Sunday. They rolled over - and were rolled over.
There was some imagination from the Lions' offense Sunday, although it was difficult not to wonder how much sense it made.
Stanton came in for a goal line package. He did throw a touchdown pass on his first NFL attempt. Yet, logically, it does not make sense to start Culpepper after just three full practices - presumably because of his experience - and then put in Stanton for his NFL debut at the most important portion of a drive.
It wasn't like the Lions went to some sort of spread formation package designed to take advantage of Stanton's mobility (he took the snap under center). Or if Culpepper wasn't moving well (he looked plenty mobile Sunday).
Can't argue with the result. Stanton was deliriously happy after completing the TD toss to wide open tight end John Owens. Too bad those turning to local television for the game saw the Steve Martin movie "Shop Girl" instead because of the local blackout.
The silence at Ford Field at times Sunday was scary. There wasn't that much booing, except at halftime. Culpepper and Stanton both got modest cheers as they ran onto the field for the first time as Lions. Nothing more. You could hear this little rumble at times, however. It was as if Lions fans were grumbling to themselves. Perhaps they wondered why they were the few and not-so-proud to actually show up for this game.
Ultimately, the Lions will be become intriguing. It will be for the wrong reasons.
Going 0-16 has its advantages. It equals the accident by the side of the road. People will have to watch more and more as the season goes on and the consecutive losses mount.
Even if they don't want to.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Now That He's Here, How Will Pistons Use Iverson?

Trading for Allen Iverson has obviously injected a lot of life into the Pistons and their fan base, but now the interesting part begins.
How are they going use him? He is not a point guard. Neither, really, is Rodney Stuckey. I can see where the Pistons go to a much smaller, quicker lineup - Stuckey, Iverson, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace. It fits Hamilton very well to be with two players, Stuckey and Iverson, who penetrate the lane so well.
There is still some size there - Walter Hermann, Amir Johnson, Jason Maxiell - for Michael Curry to mix and match as needed
Love how Iverson talks about this being his best shot at an NBA title. He’s motivated. That was lacking from the Pistons.

Random Thoughts

- Want to know the difference between the Pistons organization and the Lions organization? Just look how both have handled this week.

The Pistons are using Iverson to sell tickets by the boatload. See how Joe Dumars handled himself in regard to the trade. Then look at the Lions with the Daunte Culpepper signing. It’s why the Pistons remain one of the best organizations in professional sports - and the Lions one of the worst.

- Having said all that, it wouldn’t surprise if the Lions won this week. They have been playing hard and the Jaguars seem to be divided and confused.

- I still don’t understand why the Tigers don’t make Brandon Inge their catcher. It is so much easier to find a third baseman than a catcher. As for Inge, his value is so much greater as a catcher. Just look at the list of free agent catchers for proof.

Note: I will be writing my column for Monday’s paper from the Pistons-Celtics game, but will attend the Lions game Sunday as well and will have a blog posted on it Sunday. Thanks for supporting this blog. Terrific insight with the comments.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Stanton Not Starting Sunday Doesn't Make Sense

Correct me if I'm wrong, but haven't the Lions already admitted Drew Stanton is never going to be their starting quarterback?
How else can it be explained if the Lions start Daunte Culpepper, as expected, with just three days of practice Sunday against Jacksonville?
Is Stanton so bad the Lions had to literally pull Culpepper, who had announced his retirement, off the street to start Sunday.
I don't have an issue with the Lions signing Culpepper. They needed the presence of a veteran QB. I do, however, find it bewildering if they go with him over Stanton, who was with the team throughout the entire off season program, training camp and most of this season, to start this game.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Iverson Deal A Gamble

Did I like the Allen Iverson deal by the Pistons? Yes, but mostly for personal reasons. Of all the NBA players, I enjoy watching him play the most.
I have always been fascinated by how hard Iverson drives to the basket, and how tough he is physically despite a frail appearance. Even at 33, Iverson has extraordinary quickness and shoots well.
I know Joe Dumars has to shake up his team at some point. But is it too radical a change? Is it too early?
Those are legimate questions to ask. It's understood Chauncey Billups has slowed down, but Iverson isn't exactly in his prime, either. The Pistons are obviously thinking of going smaller, which is the trend in the NBA, and Iverson would help pick up the tempo.
It's just the thought of Rasheed Wallace and Iverson on the same team does seem a bit disconcerting. Michael Curry will have his hands full, that's for sure.
As for freeing cap space for the future, that's good. But there is no guarantee the Pistons will be able to use it. LeBron James and Chris Bosh are going to have a lot of teams after them - including their current ones. It would be a shame if the Pistons had tons of cap space and no way to use it. That means the Iverson trade is just as much about winning now and heating up what had become waning fan interest as the future.
It's still a gamble, but one worth taking.

Random Thoughts

- I didn't like the Lions' loss Sunday, but thought the effort was there. That wasn't the case earlier in the season, which made the Lions' current plight even more upsetting. It's too late for Rod Marinelli and his staff. This is his third season and 15 losses in the last 16 games makes his recovery nearly impossible. But at least some of his message is finally getting through.

- The Tennesse Titans are a bland team offensively, but they have standouts everywhere on defense. They are a classic example of why you want to build an NFL team defense first.