Thursday, May 28, 2009

Red Wings Winning Big In The Grit Department

Regardless of what happens in the final against Pittsburgh, this should be the postseason during which the Red Wings put to rest questions about their competitive character.
It had been an issue in the postseason, when they upset in early rounds by Anaheim, Calgary and Edmonton. There was a thought that perhaps the reason the Red Wings coasted to the Stanley Cup title last spring was mostly because they drew every break in regard to the schedule.
Not this postseason. Getting an Anaheim in the second round was a tough draw. The Red Wings have had to overcome serious injury issues, particularly on defense.
And they have tough players. Daniel Cleary and Darren Helm are the consummate playoff-made forwards. Niklas Kromwall is a fierce open-ice hitter. Johan Franzen and Tomas Holmstrom give the Red Wings a special element in front of the net. This isn’t only a finesse team, it is a gritty team.

Random Thoughts

- You get the feeling the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals aren’t necessarily over? Me, too. Can’t help but think it will be the Kobe-LeBron matchup.

- Take Rick Porcello and Ryan Perry away from the Tigers and where would they be? Good young pitching cures a lot of ills, doesn’t it. It was good drafting and money well-spent by the Tigers organization.

My column in Friday's Oakland Press about Sidney Crosby:

My column on the Red Wings in Thursday's Oakland Press:

My column in Wednesday's Oakland Press about Mike Babcock:


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Inge, Magglio Will Find Their Level

Is Brandon Inge having a terrific season or did he just have a really good month of April, which is skewing his overall stats?
Inge hit .319 with seven home runs and 18 RBI in April. He walked 13 times and struck out just six times. He had 10 extra base hits in 69 at bats.
This month, Inge is hitting .247 with five home runs and 15 RBI. He has walked just six times, but struck out 27 times in 81 at bats. He has just seven extra base hits this month.
His OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) was 1.114 in April. It is .764 in May.
Inge is a .239 lifetime hitter. His career OPS is .706, but he was higher than that - but still in the .700s - during his most productive major league seasons in 2004-2006 when he exclusively played third base.
What is happening is that Inge is finding his level as a hitter. He is going to hit some home runs, he is going to strikeout a lot, he won’t walk that much and is prone to slumps. He also saves the Tigers runs with his glove at third base.
Conversely, it wouldn’t surprise me if Magglio Ordonez starts hitting the ball with more authority. You see some signs of that lately with a hitting streak, but he hasn’t really begun to sting the ball yet. Changes are he will.

Random Thoughts

- Can you imagine an Orlando-Denver NBA Final? I’m sure David Stern couldn’t, either. At least if it does happen, we’d know this much for certain: The conspiracy theory about the NBA would be shattered. It would be the nightmare matchup compared to the dream one with LeBron and Kobe.

- The Lions signing of offensive tackle Ephraim Salaam didn’t get a lot of attention, but it was a solid move. Salaam is a versatile player with a lot of smarts. He has played a lot at left tackle. He is at least another viable option off the bench besides George Foster.

Column I wrote for Sunday's Oakland Press on NHL Officiating:


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

First Actual Proof For Dontrelle

Just got done watching a replay of Dontrelle Willis’ outing Tuesday night (I was at the Red Wings game) and it was impressive. He has quieted down his delivery from back when he was with the Marlins. I do still think the odds are against him, but that sure was a good sign he might be able to turn it around. Hadn’t really seen any tangible proof of it before Tuesday.

Random Thoughts

- The Red Wings will probably sweep Chicago, but the Blackhawks are really going to be good in the future. They have tremendous speed. Next season, they will be the biggest threat to the Red Wings. And it won’t be as frauds like the Sharks.

- Hosted a radio show Monday night with Lions defensive end Cliff Avril. Seems like he has a pretty good head on his shoulders. Obviously, he has speed and he did have five sacks a rookie last season. He might turn out to be the edge rusher the Lions have been missing for eons.

- All you need to know about the American League, and why the Tigers will be in contention this season, is that the Rangers had won seven straight games entering Tuesday and have an excellent overall record. The Rangers aren’t that a good of a club, but who, honestly, in the American League is? It’s one of those parity years. Postseason spots are up for grabs, even for clubs as flawed as the Tigers and Rangers.

- I still see the Nuggets beating the Lakers in seven games.

My column in Wednesday's Oakland Press about Game 2 of the Red Wings-Blackhawks series:
My column in Tuesday's Oakland Press about how the Red Wings live up to their Original Six status - and the Blackhawks don't:


Monday, May 18, 2009

The Curious Case of Armando Galarraga

A month ago, Armando Galarraga had essentially replaced Justin Verlander as the Tigers’ staff ace.
Now there is the thought he might be replaced in the Tigers’ starting rotation because of ineffectiveness.
What a turnaround, eh?
There are a lot of things that can be figured out in baseball. Often pitching isn’t one of them. Looking at the DVR of Galarraga’s dismal 41-pitch performance against Oakland, there is no falloff in velocity. There has been, however, a noticeable difference in late movement. It’s obvious he is not as confident throwing first-pitch fastballs for strikes as he had been earlier this season, and throughout last year when he won 13 games and was easily Detroit’s best pitcher.
It’s been like Galarraga had it one day - and the next it was gone. You didn’t hear grandiose explanations about what is happening from manager Jim Leyland, did you? It’s because he doesn’t have any.
The Tigers have played reasonably well and I expect them to be in contention. But in order to get the maximum out of this season, they need a quick bounce back from Galarraga. Justin Verlander appears to have returned to form and there is no reason to expect Edwin Jackson won’t continue pitching well, but Rick Porcello is still very much at the beginning of his learning curve - and it could take time. To me, Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman remain iffy options. Willis still looked shaky in his start against Minnesota, and I hear Bonderman isn’t throwing hard - and the Tigers biggest hope after he had surgery is that his velocity would return. It had fallen off a few miles an hour last season before he had the surgery.
Galarraga is a key for the Tigers. They need him to be one of their workhorses. It will be the first major test for new pitching coach Rick Knapp. Wonder if he will pass it.

Random Thoughts

- In retrospect, the Red Wings were wise to re-sign Johan Franzen before Marian Hossa. Hossa is a terrific player, but Franzen is more valuable to the Red Wings.

- Who in this town isn’t rooting for Chauncey Billups and the Nuggets to oust Kobe Bryant and the Lakers from the NBA’s Western Conference finals? Billups never said anything remotely bad about the Pistons’ trading him. He just went out and proved he was the wrong fall guy for the Pistons’ stagnation in the playoffs.

- Right-handed reliever Casey Fien has thrown six straight scoreless outings for Toledo. But there is one major hurdle he must get over before considered major league ready. Can he get left-handed hitters out?

My column in Monday's Oakland Press about Game 1 of The Red Wings-Blackhawks series:

The latest edition of "The Book and His Boss" about steriods in baseball:


Friday, May 15, 2009

On Scotty, Verlander And Chauncey...

- Mike Babcock downplayed it after the Red Wings clinched their series against Anaheim, but it would be naive to believe Scotty Bowman won’t be a factor in the Western Conference finals against the Blackhawks. Nobody knows the Red Wings organization nor team better than Bowman, nor can find the small things that can make a difference in a series. The guy may be a little strange, but he is as close to a hockey genius you will find in this world. And I don’t believe that is an exaggeration.

- I fall into this trap, too, and it’s overrating strikeouts by pitchers. Sure, missing bats is a tell-tale sign a pitcher has great "stuff." Yet, it ‘s also often inefficient. Justin Verlander’s best start as a Tiger, other than his no hitter, was in a 2006 when stymied the Twins without a single strikeout in eight shutout innings. In that game, he threw but 103 pitches. While he struck out 13 hitters Thursday, but it caused his pitch count to rise to the point he had to be removed from the game earlier than ideal based on the way he was still pitching.

- I wouldn’t be surprised if the Denver Nuggets, with Chauncey Billups at point guard, wins the NBA title. Would you?

My Column in Friday's Oakland Press about Game 7 between the Red Wings and Ducks:


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Perhaps Not So Surprisingly, The Ducks Showing Some Championship Pedigree

I know there is a lot of disappointment in this town over the Red Wings’ Game 6 loss to Anaheim Tuesday night - and there should be.
But, honestly, I don’t think the Red Wings played that poorly. I was more impressed with how the Ducks responded.
That team was done after Game 5, wasn’t it? The Red Wings thrashed the Ducks up one end of the ice and down the other. They had no jump at all. If it weren’t for two goal posts and a cross bar hit by the Red Wings, it would have been 6-1 or 7-1.
I’ve seen the Ducks as formidable, but may not have given them enough credit for having a championship pedigree. To me, they were a one-year champions - not a team that was going to win multiple Cups in a short span. That will likely prove to be true. I do expect the Red Wings to win Game 7 tonight.
Yet, you must to give the Ducks credit for their propensity to keep coming back from the dead. They made deadline trades that were for the future more than now, and were hopelessly out of the playoff race, and still somehow got it. They proved to have a lot more pluck than the consistently disappointing San Jose Sharks in the opening round. And they have certainly given the Red Wings all they can handle, despite the Red Wings superior depth and playing what is essentially a journeyman goalie in Jonas Hiller.

Random Thoughts

- Another benefit of Joel Zumaya returning is Jim Leyland can use Ryan Perry in a longer role. This will help stretch out his arm and allow him to work on all his pitches. I still wouldn’t be surprised if Perry is the Tigers’ closer by the season’s end.

- I’m not sure if the Cavaliers will lose a game in the Eastern Conference finals, either.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Were The Tigers That Good Or The Indians That Bad?

This week in Minnesota will be an interesting one for the Tigers. It will telling whether their success in Cleveland over the weekend was really because their pitching is that good, or whether it was because the Indians are just that bad.
The Indians aren’t beating anybody, but they do lead the American League Central in runs scored. The Tigers three starting pitchers over the weekend didn’t just pitch well, they also threw well. In other words, it wasn’t like a fluke they won with, for the use of a better term, their "stuff."
Verlander was brilliant Friday. The complaints about Edwin Jackson’s inconsistency are being proven false. He couldn’t be more consistent. Porcello has been everything advertised from his pitch command to his poise. The Tigers did beat a couple really good starters in Cliff Lee and Fausto Carmona, although Carmona has struggled to return to the form he displayed in 2007.
Curtis Granderson’s "for the ages" catch on Friday probably saved the weekend. The series have taken on an entirely different tone had Grady Sizemore’s drive cleared the wall.
But every year, there are certain turning points that either keep a team going or start to drop it out of contention. That was probably one of them - a sign the Tigers will contend this summer.
There were also contributions from players it is not expected. The Tigers are hurting offensively with Magglio Ordonez slumping and Carlos Guillen hurt. It helps the Tigers a great deal when a role player like Jeff Larish comes through. It’s another sign of a contending team - unlikely heroes.

Random Thoughts

- Chuck Daly’s passing has invoked many memories - all of them good. He was a great coach and a terrific motivator. People sometimes forget how much success he had at Penn and Boston College before becoming an NBA coach. Honestly, I have never met anybody who didn’t like Chuck Daly. That says a lot given his profession often involved saying "no" and cutting players. It’s been a sad past year for the Pistons’ family on a number of levels. William Davidson, Will Robinson and Chuck Daly were true giants - for all the right reasons. Hearts out to them.

- Count me as among those skeptical about Dontrelle Willis’ start on Wednesday. The Twins are as good as it gets at waiting out pitchers and forcing deep pitch counts. It will be a lot different than the minor leagues where the hitters tend to swing at a lot of pitches out of the strike zone.

My column in Tuesday's Oakland Press on Chris Osgood:

My column in Monday's Oakland Press on the Red Wings-Ducks Game 5:


Friday, May 08, 2009

Franzen Has Been A Playoff Marvel

There are a number of things that stood out in the Red Wings’ 6-3 dismantling of the Anaheim Ducks Thursday night.
The way Red Wings coach Mike Babcock shuffled up his lines, most notably putting Marian Hossa, Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula together. The way the Red Wings didn’t cave after Anaheim scored less than a minute into the game. The way the Red Wings broke through against Ducks’ goalie Jonas Hiller, who looked more like the journeyman he is rather than the star he had played like previously this postseason. Hossa finally notching a goal.
To me, what stood out most, however, was Franzen. What a great playoff performer he has become. In his last 24 playoff games over the past two seasons, Franzen has 19 goals. He has six goals in 10 games this spring, proving his incredible playoff numbers last year were not a fluke.
To put Franzen’s statistics into perspective, San Jose’s Joe Thornton - proclaimed by CBC’s Don Cherry to be the greatest hockey player in the world - has 12 goals in 76 career playoff games.
A couple other factors in this series.
- Brad Stuart has been excellent. He has logged more playing time than even Nicklas Lidstrom as Babcock double shifts his defensemen with Brian Rafalski out.
- Chris Osgood has not been spectacular, but good enough.
- Darren Helm is a really, really good player. He’s been getting to the net and winning faceoffs. His speed sets the Ducks back on their heels.
- The Red Wings forecheck was very effective Thursday. They need to press Anaheim’s defense more during Game 5 Sunday
- It was sure weird seeing Jean-Sabastien Giguere in a mop up role.

Random Thoughts

- I don’t expect much from Dontrelle Willis when he returns next week. The Tigers have to find out sooner instead of later, though. The Twins are traditionally very patient hitters. Look for them to wait Willis out. It will be the ultimate test for him in that way.

- Anybody surprised Manny Ramirez was on performance enhancing substances? He arrived in the game at the height of the steroid era. It also helps to answer the question why so many teams were hesitant to sign Ramirez as a free agent last winter.

- So Brett Favre says he is going to stay retired. Wonder how many weeks it will be until he announces his return?

This is my column in Friday's Oakland Press about the Tigers:

The latest version of "The Book And His Boss."


Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Foote Will Provide Lions With Much Needed Backbone

Don't forget to checkout "The Book And His Boss" with myself and Jeff Kuehn three times per week at

There is little doubt Larry Foote will help the Lions. The unknown is to what degree.
Foote will play next season at 29. His production has waned the past couple seasons. It remains to be seen how well he will fit in the middle of a 4-3 scheme rather than as an inside backer in a 3-4, which is the defense they run in Pittsburgh.
But he does have a championship pedigree. A new team in his hometown could revive his career. He is also a standup guy. All you have to know about Larry Foote is his reaction a few years ago when he learned he had fathered a son nearly a decade earlier. He accepted the son - no questions asked. The Lions are a team badly in need of backbone. Foote, like Julian Peterson, will provide plenty of that.
Just don’t expect the Pro Bowl or Ray Lewis, but he is definitely an upgrade.

Random Thoughts

- The way Rick Porcello bounced back Tuesday from a poor start last week against the Yankees is solid proof the kid has what it takes to be a front-line starter. Even the best pitchers get racked around. The ones that get over it quickly are the pitchers that thrive. Porcello has an exceptional feel for pitching.

- There is an opportunity there for Clete Thomas. Looks like he is intent on taking advantage of it. He has shown flashes before, though. Sustaining it has been a different story.

This is the column I wrote for Thursday's paper about the Red Wings-Duck series:

This is the column I wrote for Wednesday's Oakland Press about whether the Pistons should consider signing Ron Artest as a free agent.


Monday, May 04, 2009

Baseball's Parity Could Greatly Benefit Tigers

Don't Forget to check out "The Book And His Boss" video at

One of the things I love about baseball is that each season takes on a life of its own.
Predicting the outcome of given seasons in any sport is difficult, but in baseball it’s become next to impossible. The exceptions are the Yankees and Red Sox in the American League, but even that is starting to change.
Last year, Tampa Bay was in World Series. The year before, the Colorado Rockies - after they were basically finished in that season. In 2006, it was the Tigers. Nobody could see any of it coming. The Yankees didn’t make the postseason for the first time in eons in 2008, and the Rays outlasted the Red Sox in the postseason. Neither the Yankees nor Red Sox are imposing this season.
This year, it’s the Toronto Blue Jays that are out to a remarkably fast start. Do I see it continuing? No, not really. I figure the Blue Jays will get exposed next week on a West Coast trip - which is the gauge I usually use to separate the pretenders from the contenders. Roy Halladay’s a great pitcher, but I’m not sure if the rest of that staff will hold up. I’m also not convinced Aaron Hill will go Norm Cash on the American League and continue to hit .361 this season.
It’s more like every team is kind lumped together in the A..L. I don’t think you will see teams on either extreme of wins and losses this summer. That could bode well for the Tigers. Their start has been more encouraging than discouraging. Their starting pitching rotation could be very good. Joel Zumaya throwing well again is a huge bonus.
I honestly had no feel how this season would play out for the Tigers on opening day. Now? I get the sense they will be in contention this summer, and have a chance to reach the postseason.

Random Thoughts

- Speaking of the Blue Jays, Jason Frasor has been a savior for their bullpen with a 4-0 record. If only Dave Dombrowski could have the Hiram Bocachica trade back. Frasor was the player to be named later in it with the Dodgers for the long-forgotten outfielder. Ouch.

- It’ll be interesting to see if Mike Babock shuffles up his lines Tuesday night against the Ducks. The best bet: He puts Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk on the top line. Also, don’t be surprised if Darren Helm sees more ice time. He’s been playing too well to just be taking shifts with the fourth line.


Friday, May 01, 2009

Why Not Just Take A Linebacker And Defensive Lineman Early In The Draft?

Would Larry Foote help the Lions? Yeah, he is definitely better than their current choices at middle linebacker. Would Kevin Carter help the Lions? Probably, although at 35 you wonder how much he has left in the tank.
None of the above is the issue. It’s how the Lions are building toward the future and just completed the draft that’s perplexing. In the draft, they didn’t select an interior defensive lineman until the fourth round, and they didn’t take a middle linebacker until the third round. Both those players have to be considered developmental players - linebacker DeAndre Levy and defensive lineman Sammie Lee Hill.
Foote will probably effective for a few more years, but why not just take a middle linebacker early in the draft? Certainly the Lions had the option to do so. Carter and defensive tackle Grady Jackson are in their mid-30s. How is that a building plan, when your great weakness is the front seven defensively, and you plan on building through the draft?

Random Thoughts

- The Tigers need more offensively from Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez if they are going to stay in contention this summer.

- It will be interesting to see how Jim Leyland deals with Rick Porcello now that he has been rocked around a bit. It happens to every pitcher. The best pitchers - regardless of age - bounce back from it quickly. We’ll see what Porcello has in that regard.

- Call me crazy, but I see Carolina coming out of the Eastern Conference. The Hurricanes got hot at just the right time. Beating New Jersey with those late goals seems to make the ‘Canes a team of destiny. Wonder who Kwame Kilpatrick will be rooting for if there is a Red Wings-Carolina final? Just a thought.