Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Did Magglio Just Earn His $18 Million?

Me? I think those two hits producing five RBI the last two nights by Magglio Ordonez were worth the $18 million he will be paid next season. They might have been what sealed the division title for the Tigers. Means a lot of money in postseason ticket revenue. Means much better ticket sales for next season. Also, theTigers lineup seems stronger for the postseason with him in it than it would have been otherwise. Give credit where credit is due. Ordonez deserves it.

Random Thoughts

- One reason to think the Tigers might have a chance to go far in the postseason despite their so-so regular season record: The last two times the Tigers were in the playoffs, an 87-win team (Minnesota in 1987) and an 83-win team (St. Louis in 2006) won the World Series.

- Don't know of a more important contribution to the Tigers lately than that of Zach Miner.

- A key for Michigan State Saturday against Michigan will be containing Wolverines running back Carlos Brown. State's secondary lacks speed. If he breaks into the open field, not sure if the Spartans have anyone on defense who can run with Brown.


Magglio's Lack Of Run Production Is A Major Issue

I thought Magglio Ordonez's two-run double Tuesday night was the key hit in the Tigers' victory over the Twins, but in a way it only accented what I can't stand about baseball statistics.
A lot of people are looking at Mags and seeing a .350-something batting average since the All-Star break. I look at his stats and see only 16 RBI in a lot of at bats in that span. He might hit .300 this season, but he has only seven home runs and 44 RBI. To me, that can't be a productive season by any stretch of the imagination. I don't care what his average is...

- That was Fernando Rodney's best outing of the season Tuesday. Uncharacteristic defensive blunders by Placido Polanco and Curtis Granderson followed by absolutely clutch pitching by Rodney. He has gotten better later in the season. The Demon Drop outings have been fewer.

- Watch out for Bears running back Matt Forte. He might be the most underrated running back in the NFL and has been off to a slow start. He is due for a breakout game and it could come Sunday against the Lions.

- The best player in the Big Ten few talk about is Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker. He will be an early-round NFL draft pick and is a remarkably productive player.

- Great idea by the Pistons to have an open practice Oct. 10 for their fans.

My column in Wednesday's Oakland Press about the Michigan-Michigan State game:


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Another Reason The World Baseball Classic Must Go

One of the reasons I feel the World Baseball Classic must go: If the Tigers reach the World Series and it goes to a Game 7, it will be played Nov. 5 in Detroit.
Baseball? In Detroit? On November 5? The mean temperature that day is 46. The average low is 39. The record low is 18. It is rapidly approaching winter at that point. It's not like the weather is any better in New York or Philadelphia or Boston at that time. How about Minnesota when the Twins get their outdoor park?
There is no crying in baseball - nor should there be baseball in November. Period.

- I've written it before. I'll write it again. Another statue should be added to Comerica Park. The '84 Tigers should get their due. I believe the statue should of Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell together.

- Predicting football games is an odd venture. Convoluted thinking seems to rule - at least in my mind. But here we go...
Although I think Michigan has a better team than Michigan State this season, I still believe MSU will win Saturday. Here's why: Michigan isn't as good as its 4-0 record indicates, and the Spartans not as bad as their 1-3 record suggests. Given the game is in East Lansing, Saturday will present a leveling of water.
Told you - pretzel logic.

- Anybody still want Matthew Stafford replaced as the Lions' starting quarterback?


Sunday, September 27, 2009

On Stafford, The Tigers' Lost Sunday And UM-MSU...

- Matthew Stafford played well, but was far from the main reason the Lions won Sunday. The Lions beat the Redskins because they stopped the run and ran the ball effectively. Stafford fed off that. Not the other way around.

- Kevin Smith's shoulder injury is a major concern. The dropoff from him to Maurice Morris is major. The Lions' offensive coaches will have to come up with more packages for Aaron Brown and fullback Jerome Felton. They are both better suited as specialists than every down backs.

- As dramatic as the Tigers' victory was Saturday night, the overall series in Chicago was disappointing. The White Sox have tanked on their season, and the Tigers had the pitching matchup clearly on their side Sunday. With Zack Greinke pitching against the Twins in Kansas City, it was a very good opportunity to start inserting the dagger. Instead, the Tigers took a lot pressure off the Twins heading into this weekend's series.

- It will be interesting to see how Michigan reacts to its first road game Saturday in East Lansing. That reason - and perhaps a sense of desperation - will give MSU a chance to beat the Wolverines. But the Spartans' problems are obvious, and not necessarily easily corrected. Their run defense is not good. They aren't running the ball effectively. And State's quarterback play has been spotty.

- Yeah. I did think of Marty Mornhinweg and the "we'll kickoff" overtime game against the Bears, when Redskins' coach Jim Zorn accepted the Lions' penalty rather than having Jason Hanson kick a 50-yard field goal. That, and not kicking a field goal earlier, ultimately cost the Redskins the game. And perhaps Zorn his job.


Friday, September 25, 2009

The Case For Justin Verlander

If I had a vote for the American League Cy Young Award, and the vote were held today, I'd vote for Justin Verlander. This is why:
- Name me one game either Zack Greinke, who has emerged as pretty much everybody's darling for the Cy Young, or Felix Hernandez, who has also been brilliant, has pitched under pressure?
Every outing, Verlander has been on the spot. The Tigers don't score a lot of runs. They've been in this constant struggle to hold onto first place since May 10. Seems like every game Verlander takes the mound holds a "must win" meaning to it. Verlander has pitched tough innings under difficult circumstances. That means a lot more than splitting hair with stats.
Oh, and by the way, Verlander does lead the league in strikeouts. He does have a 17-9 record.
Verlander's overall ERA is 3.41, but he allowed 21 earned runs in his first 21 innings and four starts this season. Since then, his ERA is 2.83.
Then there is the matter of the best pitcher. Do Greinke or Hernandez throw harder than Verlander? No. Are their off-speed pitches better. Not really. What about track record? Overall, who has been better in their careers. Despite last season, Verlander is still 20 games over .500 in his career - and the winningest pitcher in the major leagues 26 or younger.
Not to belittle Greinke or Hernandez. They are both having great seasons. It just seems like all the focus is on one stat - ERA. I'm not sure, in the same circumstances, Greinke and Hernandez would be able to perform as successfully as Verlander has this season. He's won. His team is in first place.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Oh Boy, I'm Picking The Lions To Win Sunday...

I believe this week, against the Redskins at Ford Field, presents the Lions with their best chance yet this season - by far - to win.
I’m even going as far as predicting the Lions will beat the Redskins Sunday, albeit it in a close decision. Here’s why:
- The Redskins are a talented team, but they still seem to be in search of themselves after replacing Joe Gibbs with Jim Zorn as head coach prior to last season, and committing to Jason Campbell as the starting quarterback.
- I know Zorn from his days with the Lions. Excellent QB coach. Terrific person. Just don’t see him as the head coaching type, especially in that zoo.
- Campbell is not without weapons - Santana Moss, Chris Cooley, Antwaan Randle El, Clinton Portis. He just doesn’t seem to come up with the big throw when needed. Last week, the Redskins only had nine points in a narrow victory over a Rams squadthat isn’t much more talented than the Lions overall. They were at home, too.
- The Redskins’ offensive line is long in the tooth and not as effective as it used to be.
- The Redskins still remain a collection of stars rather than a cohesive unit
Now, are the Redskins better than the Lions on paper? Absolutely. Have they dominated the Lions in the past to unprecedented degree? For sure.
But the Lions did make some progress from Week One to Week Two. In their first two games, the Lions were not only playing teams that were clearly superior to them in regard to talent, but also that are playing particularly well.
The Redskins aren’t as good as the Saints and Vikings, and they aren’t playing particularly well.
I expect both rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Lions’ defense to play better this week and the losing streak to end.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Make Or Break Time For The Spartans

Michigan State's football season, at least the part of it that is going to represent progress, comes down to these next two early-season games.
Lose at Wisconsin and/or to Michigan at home, and the Spartans will likely take a step back from last season.
It does seem like the Big Three is back, with Ohio State. Michigan and Penn State clearly being the best three teams in the conference. And then there are the usual "others" fending for spots behind them. One of those "others" is Wisconsin. The Spartans' season last year, their best in nearly a decade, was made by tight victories over Wisconsin and Iowa, and a nice road victory at Northwestern. However, traditionally MSU has played poorly in Madison. The Badgers aren't that good, but Saturday will definitely be challenging - and perhaps defining for the Spartans.
Again, those three games will probably hold the key again.
But the Spartans aren't out of anything yet. There is no Ohio State on the schedule. If they win the next two games - and it will be like the Central Michigan and Notre Dame games didn't happen.
It wasn't good what ocurred to State QB Kirk Cousins at the very end of the Notre Dame game, but next time I would expect he will complete those throws and not be intercepted. He is not as athletic as Keith Nichol, but he is an accurate passer, who is still lacking experience.
When Mark Dell is healthy, he and Blair White are a very good receiving tandem. State's tight ends, as a group, might be the best in the country. Injuries on the offensive line have not helped the running game, but haven't see that much flash from Larry Caper, Caulton Ray and Edwin Baker. It doesn't make you appreciate Javon Ringer. Wisconsin is very inexperienced at linebacker and has struggled to stop the run. It is the Badgers' weakness.
What is inexplicable is State's defense. Based on personnel, it should be better, and given Mark Dantonio cut his teeth on the defensive side of the ball - and I've always thought highly of Pat Narduzzi.

Random Thoughts

- It does take away from the game when an umpire like Paul Schrieber squeezes the strike zone like he did Tuesday during the Tigers-Indians. A lot of those pitches weren't borderline. They were strikes. That should have been a much quicker-paced game, but dragged as a result.

- Just watched the Redskins-Rams. It was a weird game. Both teams did make some plays offensively, but score was only 9-7. Looks like Washington is vulnerable to off-tackle runs. Jason Campbell remains a mediocre quarterback. This is easily the Lions' best chance to win a game so far this season.

- Key for the Tigers is sweeping this series. The Indians have nothing left in the tank. The Tigers can't afford to make it difficult on themselves in the last 10 games.

My column in Wednesday's Oakland Press. It's no mistake the Red Wings, Tigers and Pistons win and Lions lose:


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What If Ernie Sims Wasn't Drafted By The Lions?

Ernie Sims is the latest Lions' player I'm wondering about.
Not because Sims isn't a good player. He is. Not because he isn't tough nor hardworking nor talented. Not because I look at Ernie Sims and see part of the Lions' problem.
I just wonder how things would have worked out for Sims had he been drafted by another organization.
Would he be a playmaker? Would he be a Pro Bowl-caliber player?
You wonder how many players the Lions' losing culture has hindered down through the years.
For example, what if the Lions had drafted Andre Johnson instead of Charles Rogers with the second overall pick in the 2003 draft? Johnson might be the best receiver in the NFL right now. It's not like he was selected by a winning organization, either. The Texans have mostly struggled. But how would it have gone had he been a Lion. Conversely, how would it have gone for Rogers, who has had persistent trouble away from football, had he been drafted by Houston - or any other organization other than the Lions.
I feel for Sims, who hurt his shoulder in the Lions' loss to the Vikings Sunday. An injury is an injury. It can happen any time to any player on any team. Yet, I can't help but think somewhere else Sims' career might be going better.

Random Thoughts

- Matt Millen is dreadful on Monday Night Football. He adds absolutely nothing. Can't understand ESPN's fascination with him.

- Peyton Manning was beyond incredible Monday on that final drive against the Dolphins. Right now, he is the best quarterback in the league, although Drew Brees is running a close second.

- If Rick Porcello wins 15 games and the Tigers capture the American League Central, how can Porcello not be Rookie of the Year?

- I think one of the most intriguing players in the NHL this season is going to be Marian Gaborik. Seems like he was held back by Jacques Lemaire's system in Minnesota. If healthy, he will have a huge season for the Rangers. Certainly the skill is there in abundance.

My column in Tuesday's Oakland Press about the Tigers


Monday, September 21, 2009

Time For Tigers To Take True Control Of AL Central

This is the week the Tigers should take control of the American League Central.
The Tigers should crush Cleveland in Cleveland. Edwin Jackson, Rick Porcello and Justin Verlander vs. that lineup?
In the meantime, the Twins will be in Chicago facing mostly difficult pitching matchups.
Then again, the Tigers should have pummeled Kansas City in Kansas City. Obviously, they need to respond with more urgency, not less, after their big victory in Minnesota Sunday. It can't be like it was following their last huge road victory in Tampa.
This is a club that, for some reason, seems to get a little too comfortable when things start going well.

Random Thoughts

- Even though the Lions haven't come close in their first two games, and the mistakes continue, I see signs they are better coached from the standpoint they are being put in position to make plays.
They not only blitz more, but guess right. They did make it difficult for Adrian Peterson to get his yards. They did get to Brett Favre a few times. There weren't a bunch of receivers running down the field open, which was so often the case in the past, particularly last season. The Vikings just have much better athletes on offense than the Lions on defense.
It's predictable what teams are doing to Matthew Stafford. What he does best is throw deep. What they have done is take away the deep throws. You'll know he'll have matured when he starts picking apart defenses for doing so.

- A couple scouts I've talked to from other organizations rave about fullback Jerome Felton. The Lions need to take advantage of him as a receiver more. He is also a pretty good inside runner.

- The one thing about Michigan State's season is that it is still all there for the taking - despite the losses to Notre Dame and Central Michigan. It's all about a weakened Big Ten. The Spartans are more than capable of winning this week at Wisconsin. They do have Michigan at home - and it will be the Wolverines' first road game. State doesn't play Ohio State this season. After the next two weeks, there might a completely different feel about the Spartans' season.

My column in Monday's Oakland Press about Lions-Vikings game


Sunday, September 20, 2009

On Stafford And The Tigers Mr. Clutch

There are a lot of things to like about Matthew Stafford. He has the big arm, pretty good mobility and, for the most part, a good feel for the game.
What has to be questioned about his long-term potential is whether he can stop throwing interceptions at the worst possible times.
That was his biggest issue at Georgia. It was a problem in the preseason. It certainly has been troubling since the start of the regular season.
Just when you think Stafford is going along fine - boom - there comes the interception card.
They don't come on deflected passes, either. Or throws where he is trying to fit the ball between defenders. Or where a great play is made by a defensive player.
We're taking about right in-between the numbers turnovers.
It could be that he is overaggressive sometimes - as Lions' coach Jim Schwartz stated following Detroit's 27-13 defeat to the Vikings Sunday.
Or could it be a quirk Stafford can't overcome? Time will tell.

Random Thoughts

- Honestly, when you come right down to it, and with due respect to Miguel Cabrera, is there a more valuable position player on the Tigers than Placido Polanco? Big game Sunday from a big-game player. Without Polanco, the Tigers wouldn't have won a game in Minnesota all season. One of the great mysteries - what happened to Polanco in the 2006 World Series. It was so out of character.

- Baseball's a weird game, isn't it? The deck was so stacked against the Tigers Sunday. Give Nate Robertson and Zach Miner credit for coming through when it seemed highly unlikely.

My column in Sunday's Oakland Press about Michigan State


Saturday, September 19, 2009

On Tigers, Michigan And Big Ten...

The headlines say the Tigers lost a 2-1 lead and were defeated in the late innings by the Minnesota Twins Saturday.
In reality, the Tigers lost when they couldn’t put away Carl Pavano earlier in the game. The Twins’ comeback was inevitable. Justin Verlander certainly did his part.
Time after time, the Tigers couldn’t come up with a clutch hit. It’s been that way a lot this season, but is finally catching up to them.
The Tigers just aren’t that good offensively. Ultimately, it could cost them the American League Central title.
That, and playing with a lack of urgency against Kansas City in recent weeks. The Tigers needed a cushion coming into this series against the Twins. They never win at the Metrodome - at least not when it matters. It was like the Royals shot the Tigers between the eyes.
Could prove to be fatal. What a shame.

Random Thoughts

- Michigan did what it had to Saturday against Eastern Michigan. The Wolverines didn’t pass the ball all that well, but did they really have to? Excellent running attack. Impressive victory. That’s especially true considering how tough the Eagles played Northwestern last week - and how the Big Ten overall has struggled against the Mid-American Conference.

- All of a sudden, Lloyd Carr’s final recruiting classes aren’t such a hindrance to Rich Rodriguez, are they? Amazing. Carlos Brown was a big-time recruit. Alabama wanted him badly. He has great speed and displayed it Saturday.

- Speaking of the Big Ten, one of the great excuses the conference apologists often make about its poor Rose Bowl record is having to essentially play a road game in Pasadena. Well, USC did win at Ohio State last week, and Cal did win at Minnesota Saturday. Oh, and Northern Illinois won at Purdue - another Big Ten embarrassment against the MAC. Seems like the Big Ten doesn’t have too many excuses other than it isn’t that good. At least Iowa beat Arizona. Then again, how did USC do at Washington? Does say much for Ohio State, does it?

- Michigan State has taken an obvious step back. My column in Sunday’s Oakland Press will focus on the Spartans’ loss to Notre Dame.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Much Weight On Porcello's Young Shoulders

- Rick Porcello has received tons of praise from Day One for his incredible poise for a 20-year-old kid, but we’ll really see if it holds true tonight against the Twins. This is by far his biggest test yet. A lot of pressure. Not an easy place to pitch. The Tigers desperately need Porcello to stop the bleeding.

- Michigan has been impressive so far, but games at Michigan State and Iowa early next month will determine if the Wolverines are, indeed, that good. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but it is a distinct possibility Michigan could win the conference title. Name another Big Ten team that has looked really good so far this season? I can’t name one, either.

- If the Lions win just a couple games and start showing any level of progress, selling out Ford Field will be the least of their problems - even in these difficult economic times.

- Isn’t it amazing how quickly the Tigers starting pitching went from a huge strength to a concern?

- Monte Clark was a good man and an excellent football coach. People sometimes forget what a good player he was in the 1960s as one of the primary blockers for the great Jim Brown. He will be missed.

- Even after the cleaning up on the Tigers, the Royals still have the fewest wins in the American League.

Caputo and His Boss video on Tigers


Thursday, September 17, 2009

It Does Seem Like Adrian Peterson Is About To Destroy The Lions

The Lions have sometimes done well in their encounters with Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson. Relatively well, anyway.
It might be different this week.
You can’t stack up at the line of scrimmage and throw your safeties inside to just attack Peterson anymore.
Brett Favre isn’t what he used to be, and his timing with receivers has been off a bit, but he is still Brett Favre. Give him the edge of throwing with that safety in the box - and he will find a way to take advantage of it. Should be interesting how the Lions scheme to stop the Vikings. Not sure they can.
Over and under on Peterson rushing Sunday: I say 180.

Random Thoughts

- Wasn’t surprised by the length of Ernie Harwell’s speech Wednesday night. He is a brilliant story teller, but in personal conversations he is inevitably short and to the point. He got to the point quickly Wednesday - and it was wonderful. Thought he looked good, too, and walking proudly and strongly onto the field despite his ailment.

- Jimmy Howard wasn’t tested much by the Flyers Wednesday in the Red Wings preseason opener - just six shots. His development is the most important factor for the Red Wings this season. Howard must give the Red Wings a reasonable facsimile of what they got last season from Ty Conklin


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Little Bit About Ernie

Great line from Ernie Harwell when I talked to him this afternoon. I said, "Ernie, I always tell people you're a tough guy...
And before I could get out the rest he blurted out - "AND MEAN, TOO!!!"
It made me laugh, because there is an element there that is so true about life. Being tough doesn't mean you're mean. Ernie Harwell is definitely tough, but obviously not mean. There is a big difference when you think about it. Sometimes it's the difference between a person with character and an unsavory character.
What's always amazed me about Ernie is the clarity of his memory. If you ask him about the gloves they used to leave on the field between innings, or the old Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants, etc. he is always been able to paint a vivid picture. He is the best baseball historian I've known. A suggestion: Get his audio scrapbook. It's a true treasure.

My column in today's Oakland Press about two Lions' tormentors being rolled into one Sunday at Ford Field:


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tigers Are Nothing Else If Not Dramatic

I don’t know if the Tigers are, honestly, that good, but they are certainly dramatic.
A 3-run home run in the bottom of the ninth to tie. A run in the 10th to win.
It doesn’t get much better than that. And it has been a season of such dramatic comebacks like the one the Tigers made Tuesday night against Toronto.
The Tigers have been resilient. Honestly, it was difficult to believe they weren’t collapsing when they lost five straight games to the Royals and Blue Jays - both dreadful clubs playing out the string. Well, here are two wins in a row. The Tigers lead in the American League Central is 5 1-2 games. Justin Morneau is out for the year for the Twins. Aubrey Huff is paying dividends for the Tigers.
Seems like the division title is in the bag, but you just know the Tigers aren’t going to make it easy. I mean the Royals are in town. They might be the worst team in baseball. Name a Tigers fan that isn’t thinking fearfully, though,"Oh boy, the Royals again." Bet there aren’t many.

Random Thoughts

- Looking at Oakland University’s basketball schedule for this ucoming season, my only question is where are the Lakers? Aren’t they the only power missing? The Golden Grizzlies have road trips to Kansas and Michigan State. They likely will be the top two teams in the nation when the preseason polls come out. Oakland also plays at Memphis, Syracuse and Oregon. This figures to be Oakland’s best team ever. And it, obviously, will be severely tested.
No Michigan this season. It looked like Michigan was going to back out of its contract with Oakland, but did a reversal, but it was too late for this season. Michigan has a contract to host Oakland in Ann Arbor and for a game at The Palace.
Expected to be on Oakland’s schedule next season: Kentucky.

- The Lions are honoring Ernie Harwell as an honorary captain Sunday. Don’t think I’ve ever seen Ernie at a football game, although I know he call a lot of them early in his career.

- Name one player on the Lions defense Sunday that even remotely stood out? I can’t think of one, either.

My column in Tuesday's Oakland Press about how Mid-American Conferrence football is wrongly overlooked:


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Lions Disappointing, Stafford Needs To Be Held Accountable

It was a disappointing effort by the Lions in New Orleans Sunday. The only reason it wasn’t worse is because the Saints shot themselves in the foot a couple times with turnovers.
The Lions had way too many penalties. They didn’t run the ball well. Their defense was brutal. Drew Brees is a really good QB. Nobody is going to dispute that. But six touchdown passes? That is ridiculous. So is New Orleans getting 515 yards in offense.
Matthew Stafford wasn’t even mediocre. He missed several throws. He remains a turnover machine. Some will write that off to growing pains and correctable mistakes. Some of it is true. But it would be naive to think the untimely interceptions aren’t a long-term concern. Stafford had the same issue at Georgia and during the preseason.
If he doesn’t play better this week against Minnesota - especially when it comes to taking care of the ball - Lions coach Jim Schwartz should consider starting Daunte Culpepper in Week 3 vs. Washington. Accountability is an important factor. Understanding it is a key part of Stafford’s development. Perhaps the most important part.

Random Thoughts

- We’ll understand more about Tate Forcier’s moxie when he plays a big game on the road. But his poise is beyond impressive. He is way better than I thought. And I thought Forcier was pretty good.

- Didn’t seem like he had his best stuff Sunday, but Rick Porcello might have tossed the six most important innings by a Tigers’ pitcher this season.

- I think Notre Dame has a very good team and won’t lose more than three games this season. I believe the Fighting Irish will beat Michigan State Saturday.

- Brandon Minor is going to have a big season for Michigan. Didn’t realize he was capable of playing that type of physically dominating football. He was as good blocking as he was running the football Saturday against Notre Dame. He might be an NFL player.

- Central’s upset of Michigan State aside, Northwestern had to hang on against Eastern Michigan and Indiana against Western Michigan. Is the Big Ten that bad or is the MAC that underrated?

- Hey, doesn’t seem like such a big deal these days that Michigan didn’t land Terrelle Pryor.


Michigan Has Taken Back This State From MSU

My column in Sunday's Oakland Press:

Friday, September 11, 2009

Some Random, Rambling Thoughts

- Honestly, I don’t know what is more pathetic - the Tigers’ getting swept in Kansas City or the Twins inability to take advantage of it.
- I DVR’d Central Michigan’s game at Arizona, and the Chippewas’ offensive line really struggled to protect QB Dan LeFevour, especially when CMU went to a total spread offense and emptied its backfield. LeFevour had no time whatsoever to throw. It’s why the Chips got just six points. It will continue to be a problem Saturday against MSU. Central does have a great player in middle linebacker Nick Bellore. Defensive end Frank Zombo is tough, too. Not sure if the Spartans will be able to run the ball effectively. Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol will be forced to throw. You’ll get much more of a feel for the Spartans’ QB competition from this game.
- It’s difficult to discern and still falls under the category of the great unknown, but I have a feeling Notre Dame is much improved this season and will beat both Michigan and Michigan State.
- Great pitching matchup Sunday at Comerica Park between two rookies. Toronto’s Ricky Romero is every bit the Rookie of the Year candidate as the Tigers’ Rick Porcello.
- I do believe the Lions will lose Sunday, but suspect they will cover the spread. The Saints defense was mediocre last season and I don’t where it will be improved. We’ll see if new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will make that much of a difference. He is known for blitzing. A good test for Matthew Stafford.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Difficult To See Where The Lions Defense Is Improved

The Lions have made an upgrade at linebacker. Julian Peterson is still a very good player - and it was evident in the preseason. Larry Foote is solid in the middle. There is still some tread left on his tires, so to speak. Ernie Sims will be better, if for no other reason than the linebackers surrounding him, are better. I just wonder when the day will come when Sims will actually make a big play or two.
In the secondary, I don’t know if the Lions are improved, though. I didn’t see much from Anthony Henry to suggest he can still play cornerback. He didn’t have a bad year for Dallas last year. We’ll see. I didn’t think Phillip Buchanan was impressive in the preseason, either. Again, we’ll see. He has played well in the league in the past - the recent past.
Rookie Louis Delmas didn’t play well in the preseason games. The Lions are throwing him into the fire. Against Drew Brees and the Saints Sunday - it will be difficult for Delmas not to get burned. The rest of the Lions’ safety corps is comprised of marginal NFL starters at this stage of their careers.
But at least the back seven is workable. The front four...
The Lions really need Grady Jackson to still be a top player. Can’t envision him being that at 36. They need Landon Cohen, who has gotten much stronger, to emerge. Again, a long shot. Jason Hunter was a special teams player for the Packers. He is the Lions starting defensive end. His career high for tackles in an NFL game is two - during his first three years in the NFL. Dewayne White and Cliff Avril are good edge players, but not strong at the point of attack.
That whole defensive line is pretty much a stop gap, which is amazing because all the Lions seemed to do during the Rod Marinelli era was draft defensive linemen. Most of them are gone.
Scheme does count. Jim Schwartz was a defensive coordinator. Gunther Cunningham is one of the more decorated defensive coordinators in NFL history.
It take all their skills to get this defense out of the bottom quarter in the NFL this season.

Random Thoughts

- The first preseason college basketball magazine is out and lists Michigan State as No. 2 nationally. Athlon’s has Kansas No. 1. Didn’t the Spartans beat Kansas twice last year? They must really think the Spartans will be hindered by the losses of Goran Suton and Travis Walton. They will be missed, obviously, but the Spartans have plenty to make up for it.
Athlon’s picks Oakland to win the Summit League and reach the NCAA tournament.

- Notre Dame’s wide receivers Michael Floyd and Golden Tate aren’t good football players; they are great football players. Michigan’s secondary will be severely tested Saturday at The Big House.

- The Tiger losses the last two nights in Kansas City were disappointing. It’s like they gave back the momentum they gained in Tampa Bay. Had they won both games, the A.L. Central race is over. As is, it is game on. The Twins are hovering again.


Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Perplexing Case Of Fernando Rodney

The way 2009 is playing out, the Tigers are going to have some interesting decisions to make after the season.
The most intriguing may involve closer Fernando Rodney, who is having a career year at just the right time.
Rodney is 32-of-33 in save situations, which represents great success in Tigers’ history, because that is what Willie Hernandez was in 1984 when the Tigers swept to the World Series championship. "If it was good enough for Willie to win the MVP and Cy Young Awards, it should be good enough for the Tigers..."
Yeah, then again, the Tigers signed Hernandez long term after that season, and it wasn’t long before his failures became as source of constant consternation for Tiger fans, who booed him louder than any athlete in the history of this town.
And besides, Rodney’s numbers across the board don’t remotely compare to those of Hernandez in ‘84.
On Rodney’s side: He does throw very hard. His changeup is one of the best in the game. When his velocity is up like this - consistently in the mid-to-high 90s - there is no way hitters can adjust to his changeup.
Not on Rodney’s side: In the past, he hasn’t been able to pitch through ailments. When his velocity goes down because of them, hitters are able to adjust to his changeup. Also, he walks too many hitters.
There is another issue. I guess you could call it the knucklehead factor. Rodney has done much this season to dismiss the notion in his regard. Yet, it glaringly came to the forefront the other day in Tampa when, after one of his typical hold-on-for-your-life saves, Rodney chucked the ball into the press box, narrowly, from my understanding, avoiding serious injury to people up there.
It was selfish. Extremely immature. And could hurt his team greatly because he has been suspended for three games, pending appeal.
The Tigers will have to back track their bullpen while he is out. Brandon Lyon has to become the closer. Bobby Seay or Ryan Perry the setup men. It has a domino effect that could greatly hurt the Tigers.
Do you really want the Tigers to roll the dice with a megabuck, multi-year contract with Rodney? The Tigers clearly don’t. Nor do they trust any recovery from Joel Zumaya. It’s why they drafted college closers with their first four picks in the 2008 draft. One of them, Perry, might be ready to close as soon as next season. Another, Cody Satterwhite, will likely be ready at some early point of next season for the major leagues. The Tigers did trade reliever Brett Jacobson to Aubrey Huff. They didn’t want to - that was evident by how long they waited to pull the trigger on the trade, only do it after Ryan Raburn struggled so in place of Inge in a Sunday loss to Kansas City. (Jacobson, by the way, struggled to close the season in Baltimore’s system).
Unless Rodney is absolutely stunningly effective the rest of this season and the postseason, I’d say "bye, bye" to him after this season.

My column in Wednesday's Oakland Press. Matthew Stafford isn't fighting the curse of Bobby Layne as much as the memory of Joey Harrington


Monday, September 07, 2009

Why I Agree With The Decision To Start Stafford

Winning the starting quarterback job was the easy part for Matthew Stafford. Now the tough part begins.
Can he take it?
Because he is going to have bad games. Real bad ones. Maybe as soon as the season opener at New Orleans. He is going to get booed. It is entirely possible he will get benched at some point this season. How will he react to adversity?
That’s the part we don’t know about Matthew Stafford. To this stage, we understand he has an incredibly strong arm and decent mobility and a certain gunslinger mentality. He is extraordinarily talented, but what about the intangibles?
I think it is the right decision by the Lions. He played well in three of the four preseason games. I also think he gives the Lions a better chance to win now because defenses must respect his arm. It’s unlikely they will put an extra defensive back in the box to shutdown the run - like they would with most rookie quarterbacks - and dare him to beat them deep. Not with Calvin Johnson on the outside.
It should help Kevin Smith gets some yards. The more likely scenario is defenses will drop defenders back, and try to disguise coverages. Stafford was intercepted a lot in college and during the preseason. Can he recognize those coverages? Will he understand the value of taking care of the ball?
At least this way, he will learn. I’m convinced - especially after talking to Peyton Manning following the Lions preseason game vs. Indianapolis recently - Stafford wasn’t going to learn much on the sidelines.
Daunte Culpepper doesn’t present the same deep threat. You would likely see eight in the box. It would hinder the Lions running game.
But like I’ve said and written before, it would not have been a travasty had Culpepper been named starter. He did perform better than I expected during the preseason.
Yet, that would have just been delaying the inevitable growing pains Stafford must endure. Better to get them out of the way sooner instead of later.


Tigers Prove They Are Legit

The Tigers should have erased all doubts this weekend about their legitimacy. If anything, they are peaking at the right time.
Tampa Bay was 100-47 at home the last two seasons before the Tigers went in there and swept the Rays. Playoff-caliber teams rally. The Tigers have done so over and over this season. Brandon Inge's homer Sunday was just the latest example. If the Tigers win 15 of their final 26 games, they will reach 90 wins. That's not a fraud.
Pitching and defense are the keys. The Tigers have both. Their bullpen has been remarkable.
There are other things to consider about the Tigers. This is a very emotional year for baseball fans in this area for a number of reasons. This could be a special run for the Tigers for those factors. I wrote about those in my column in today's Oakland Press. It's linked below.
My column in Monday's Oakland Press about the Tigers:

Also, my column on the Michigan-Western Michigan game in Sunday's Oakland Press:

Have a great Labor Day - and thanks for reading this blog. It is greatly appreciated.



Friday, September 04, 2009

My Thoughts On Ernie Harwell

Ernie Harwell is a friend of mine. He has had a profound impact on my life. He hasn’t rescued me from a fire or lent me a large sum of money to get out of debt - or anything like that.
His impact has come from little messages. A phone call here. A short note there. Perhaps an e-mail. Most have been complimentary - when I’ve been feeling down. I don’t know if it has been coincidence or not, but his timing has been uncanny - and uplifting. Other times, Ernie has reminded me about how one should act professionally and personally. When you add all those "little" messages together, they present one "big" impact. What a good man.
I feel for Ernie in his situation of being diagnosed with cancer. I also know him well enough to understand he is at peace. It’s sometimes forgotten how tough he is - the man was a marine, you know. I feel for his wife, Lulu. I’ve had some nice talks with Lulu that I remember well and treasure. She makes a great chicken salad sandwich, too. As good as Ernie is, she is his better half. Ernie would be the first to tell you that.
I’ve gotten a lot more out of knowing Ernie than he could ever have gotten out of knowing me.
And thing is, the way I feel is the way all people feel. Like Ernie is their good friend. Like all those little messages he has delivered down through the years have added up to one big impact in their lives.
It’s why he so loved. A truly gifted and great broadcaster. A better person.

My column in today's Oakland Press on perceptions and realities about the Tigers:


Thursday, September 03, 2009

Opener Against WMU Recipe For Disaster for Rich Rod And U-M

I understand Michigan has often played terrific teams to open football seasons in the past, but this is the most ominous-appearing opener in recent memory for the Wolverines.
Not because Western Michigan is a great football team. It’s because the Broncos are a good football team by Mid-American Conference standards - and are a state rival Michigan is expected to dominate based on tradition alone.
These days, that makes WMU a recipe for disaster for U-M.
It’s the ultimate - "nothing to lose but everything to gain" game for Western. It’s the quintessential "only something to lose" game for Michigan.
Western was 9-4 last year, and did beat Illinois in a game that drew a shockingly small crowd to Ford Field. Broncos’ quarterback Tim Hiller threw for more than 3,700 yards and 36 touchdowns last season. He is very good.
But it’s also true, WMU is not returning its best offensive player other than Hiller, wide receiver Jamarko Simmons, nor its best defensive player, safety Louis Delmas, now with the Lions.
In these games, on the road against BCS teams to open seasons, Western usually scores some points, but its defense gets scorched. They allowed 47 points at Nebraska last season, and 62 to Rich Rodriguez’s West Virginia squad in 2007. They also lost at Indiana in 2006 and Virginia in 2005.
Now those are openers. Western did win at Virginia in 2006, and play Florida State and Iowa tough in late season games in 2006 and 2007.
Clearly, the Broncos aren’t a cream puff to add to a BCS school’s schedule for a 12th game.
It’s not good for Michigan that every day seems to bring more clouds hanging over Rodriguez. The Wolverines’ best running back, Brandon Minor, reportedly is banged up. They will be playing freshmen quarterbacks. Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson are both very talented, but freshman do tend to drop the ball - literally.
The sharks will be hovering and smelling Rodriguez’s blood Saturday. It will be difficult to envision him surviving a loss in this game - and it doesn’t appear to be an easy one for Wolverines to win.
Question is: Can he bring his team together and have it develop a bunker mentality that comes with such an "us against the world" scenario? Or are Rodriguez’s players smelling the blood, too, and viewing it "his problem" not "our problem?"

Random Thoughts

- At this stage of his rookie season, Justin Verlander was 15-7 with a 3.27 ERA. He was 23 years old. When he was 20 years, the same age as Tigers rookie Rick Porcello, Verlander was 7-6 with a 2.40 ERA for Old Dominion University. It was his sophomore year.

- The Tigers can’t be that bad a team. Verlander (Cy Young), Jim Leyland (Manager of the Year). Miguel Cabrera (MVP) and Porcello (Rookie of the Year) have all moved into legitimate contention for postseason awards. The best chance to win one in my opinion: Leyland.


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

On Nate, New Lions QB, MSU RBs and Tigers Indoors

Nate Robertson will get another start for the Tigers Thursday.
It’s iffy how well he will do, although the Indians are not a strong hitting club.
Robertson doesn’t throw quite as hard as he used to. There isn’t nearly as much bite to his slider, which is his key pitch. And even at his best, he was essentially a .500 pitcher. Dave Dombrowski made a mistake giving him such a big and lengthy contract.
But Nate Robertson has a good quality that may trump others. You hear it said a lot, but I’ll say it again - he’s a bulldog. He will fight the good fight. He reminds me a little bit of Walt Terrell back in the day. He didn’t bring that much with him to the mound, either, but he got the most out of what he had. Robertson was throwing a little better against Tampa Bay Saturday than earlier in the season, although I’m not sure if the results weren’t misleading. But he did earn another shot, right? Glad he is getting it. It’s not like the Tigers are overflowing with options for the final spot in the rotation.
Random Thoughts
- Birmingham Brother Rice’s Caulton Ray winning the starting running back spot at Michigan State surprised me. The redshirt freshman is in a tough fight as a 3-star recruit competing against incoming freshmen, Oak Park’s Edwin Baker and Battle Creek’s Larry Caper - both 4-star recruits.
Ray is a little undersized, but is obviously a tough runner, who hasn’t backed down from the competition. It figures to remain fierce.
- It can say much for quarterback Kevin O’Connell, claimed on waivers by the Lions this week, that he was released by New England just a year after being selected in the third round of the draft. It’s my understanding he isn’t much of a downfield passer. Oh, by the way, his college coach at San Diego State was Chuck Long. Yikes.

- Indoor baseball and the Tigers don’t mix. They are 3-10 this season, and 6-21 the last two years, playing indoors.
They have six indoor games remaining down the stretch, three at Tampa Bay this weekend, and later at Minnesota.
The Tigers have lost five of their last six games at Tampa Bay, in 2007 and 2008. They are 3-12 at Minnesota this season and last, including 1-5 this season. Their one victory at Minnesota in 2009 took 16 innings.


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

On Stanton's Injury And Telling Numbers About Porcello and Halladay

Is there anybody in this town who doesn’t like Drew Stanton? Or who doesn’t respect him? That’s the not the issue.
There is a bottom line with Stanton, however, that can’t be denied. He is injury-prone, and it is the biggest single reason we may never find out just what he is capable of doing as an NFL quarterback, at least while in a Lions’ uniform.
There are several aspects upon which quarterbacks judge. Arm strength, speed and mobility, accuracy, feel for the game and durability. Stanton’s arm strength is adequate and he is more mobile than most NFL quarterbacks. His accuracy isn’t bad. Where he has been downgraded by the Lions and NFL scouts is his feel for the game. He doesn’t sit in the pocket patiently and go through the progression of his reads. He tends to see open space and take off. While this leads for positive yardage, it also makes him more vulnerable to injury. That’s especially a concern given his past, both with the Lions and MSU, when Stanton has fought injuries.
This is his third pro season, but he is behind the curve because of injuries. Every time he starts to make progress, he is out for an extended period. What happen this week with a knee injury that required surgery happened his rookie season in 2008. Last season, it was a thumb injury that knocked him out.
Stanton can’t the last the preseason. How is he going to last the regular season, especially as a starter, or even a reliable backup.
Now is that harsh? Yes. Is it fair? No. Not really to Stanton. You can’t help but feel for the kid. The NFL is a harsh world, though. It’s judgments are stark. He has one more year on his contract after this season. Unless he returns in dramatic fashion late this season (the Lions didn’t put him on injured reserve) - which is unlikely scenario - it’s difficult to see his status changing much from this season to entering next.

Random Thoughts

- Fearless prediction: Jarrod Washburn will pitch well in some key games down the stretch and be named as the third starter for the postseason.

- Since the trade deadline, Roy Halladay is 2-4 with a 4.71 ERA. He has allowed 54 hits in 42 innings.
Since the trade deadline, Rick Porcello is 2-1 with a 3.16 ERA and has allowed 25 hits in 31 innings. The Tigers are 4-2 in the games he has started.
The Tigers didn’t even consider trading Porcello to Toronto for Halladay at the trade deadline. To this point, anyway, it’s clearly been the right decision.

- Kirk Cousins is solid. I think he will do fine as Michigan State’s starting QB. I wonder about Keith Nichol. How can he not beat out Cousins for the position? To me, this is shocking. Phil Steele had Nichol as the seventh-ranked quarterback coming of high school his senior year, Cousins was 179th. I use Steele as an example. Other ratings were similar. They aren’t even close in terms of pure ability. And it’s not like MSU didn’t recruit anybody for the position this year. Freshman Andrew Maxwell has a chance to be a very good player. When Nichol gets a chance to play - and he will - he’d better make the most of it.

My column in Tuesday's Oakland Press about the Rich Rodriguez situation: