Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What does Jim Leyland have to do in order to get a contract extension?

My latest column in The Oakland Press: http://tinyurl.com/27d2qnd

2008 or 2009? Which version of the Spartans will emerge in 2010?

While Michigan State head football coach Mark Dantonio's job isn't on the line, like it is for his counterpart in Ann Arbor, Rich Rodriguez, this is nonetheless a fork-in-the-road season for him and the Spartans.
Which team was more indicative of the Spartans under Dantonio? Last year's 6-7 edition that was marred by off-the-field issues? Or the 2008 version that went 9-4 and seemed on the verge of breaking through and becoming a perennial Top 25 team.
The Spartans play old-school football. They set up the pass with the run. Their defense is only as effective as their offense at maintaining time of possession. It will make running the ball a priority this season. State has a veteran offensive line, led by Milford's Joel Foreman. The key will be that offensive line, and the development backs Larry Caper, Edwin Baker and LeVeon Bell, the latter of a true freshman, whose size (6-2, 230 pounds) and power fits MSU's scheme best among its current runners.
Kirk Cousins is an experienced quarterback, and the Spartans have a lot of talented receivers. Keshawn Martin is a true game breaker. But the Spartans won't win if they are forced to pass. Period. Just won't happen.

Random Thoughts

- What will Will Rhymes' batting average be at the end of the season? I predict .265. What will Brennan Boesch's be? I predict .255.

- I am not a betting man, and don't even know what the over-and-under is for the Lions' season opener at Chicago, but I'll go with the over, sight unseen. The Lions will score their share of points, but Mike Martz and Jay Cutler will be licking chops against that defense.

- I have a feeling Manny Ramirez will help the White Sox down the stretch. Last time Ramirez changed teams in 2008, he just took off. But he isn't nearly as powerful as he used to be, although he should be helped by the power-hitter friendly park in Chicago.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Maximizing strengths, minimizing weaknesses key to Lions defense

Looking at the makeup of the Lions' defense, I don't see how it is necessarily going to be "good." Seems more like the goal for the coming season will be making it not "not that bad."
In other words, containing the damage from opposing offenses and quarterbacks such as those in the NFC such as Brett Favre, Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers from picking it apart like roasted chicken.
Thing is, not all parts of the Lions defense are bad. Louis Delmas should be a really good player. Julian Peterson is a playermaker. There are playmakers all along the defensive line. At least part of the defense is better.
Getting most from those players, and minimizing the damage from the weaker areas, will be the key this coming season.

Random Thoughts

- Why should the Tigers consider bringing back Magglio Ordonez? Because as long as he has been out, he still ranks third on the team in RBI.

- Even with Brandon Graham's departure, Michigan should have a good defensive line. Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen, Will Campbell...there are some players there. And it wouldn't surprise me if by the end of the season, linebacker Craig Roh is All-Big Ten and emerges as an All American candidate.

- Miguel Cabrera is obviously the Tigers best position player - by far. Who is No. 2? I say Austin Jackson. He's having a pretty good rookie year by any standard. Better than I expected, that's for sure.


Friday, August 27, 2010

Count me among those who have learned a lesson about Lions' third preseason game

Look, I’ve fallen into the same trap, the one where I point out how the Lions’ third preseason game is the most important, and that it is a litmus test for the coming season.
Hopefully, I have learned my lesson. In truth, there is nothing important about the third preseason game - or any other preseason game for that matter. Not ultimately.
The Lions of 2008 changed the meaning of preseason football forever. They went 4-0 in the preseason. And they were only team in the history of the NFL to go 0-16 during the regular season.
In the third preseason game in 2008, the Lions routed the Cleveland Browns 26-6.
In that game, Oxford’s own Dave Rayner - the former standout kicker for Michigan State - was the star. He kicked four field goals.
He wasn’t even on the team that season.
Yes, on Saturday, when the Lions face the Browns, they will play their regulars more than any other preseason game. And they have tried to simulate a regular season week as much as possible preparing for Saturday’s game.
It’ll be intriguing to see whether the first-team defensive line plays as impressively as it did in the first two preseason games, and whether quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Jahvid Best continue to excel.
But there is a reality here that can’t be denied: You can’t simulate a regular season game.
We’ll just have to wait until Sept. 12, when the Lions face the Bears in Chicago, to really find out whether they are actually improved or not.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

No question the NFL should go to 18 games

I don't know how the labor agreement is going to play out, but there is no question the NFL should go to an 18-game regular season. The sooner the better. With 14 OTAs, and usually five mini-camp practices spread over three days in the off season, players are ready to play after only a couple weeks of training camp.
I do believe, however, there should be consideration to adding two players to each active roster. It would be naive to think injuries would not be more of an issue with two extra regular season games.
Wouldn't the NFL owners easily be able to cover the cost of adding two players per team with the additional revenue from two regular season games?
The answer: Depends on how much the networks are willing to pay for regular season games. Remember, they get summer prime-time programming from the preseason.

Random Thoughts

- One thing I hope I don't see again this season - Jim Leyland calling for Jose Valverde in the 8th inning. Once, twice, three times...come on...that's a recipe for disaster. Enough.

- I'm not sure if the Tigers have a choice about whether to pick up the option on Jhonny Peralta's contract for next season. Who is going to play short? Doesn't seem like they'd go with the combination of Danny Worth and Ramon Santiago again.

- Did you know only four current teams have all-time winning records in Big Ten play: Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State.

Huge high school football game in Oakland County Friday. Biggest opener I can remember. Here's why in my latest Oakland Press column: http://tinyurl.com/3xc5akk


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Johnny Damon's "love" for Detroit might be a bit disingenuous. Who cares?

"Disingenuous" may be a word that fits Johnny Damon's decision to remain with the Tigers.
I prefer "calculated," actually.
Returning to Boston, which claimed him off waivers, might have seemed like an easy decision for Damon, but not when the entire picture is examined.
Fans dislike him intently in Boston because, when was done "cowboying up" with the Red Sox, he signed with the hated Yankees. And the Red Sox didn't do that much to retain Damon, so he has no great love for the organization. It's why the Red Sox were part of his no-trade clause.
Also, the free agent market wasn't kind to Damon last winter. The Tigers were the only team showing genuine interest - and it took a long time for it to develop. He is a year older and not having as good a season in 2010 as he did in 2009. Interest figures to be even less this winter.
Well, not after he said he "loves Detroit" and kissed up to the organization like that. The Tigers will definitely be interested.
I understand what is going on here, and I don't care. All I know is seeing headlines that literally read, "Damon rejects Red Sox, says he 'loves Detroit.' "
Because he has a shot at reaching 3,000 career hits, and played extensively in New York and Boston, Damon is a borderline Hall of Fame player. For him to say that, even if his motives may be purely about getting another fat pay day, only helps this area.
In truth, the Tigers are the destination of last resort for players like Ivan Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, Kenny Rogers and Johnny Damon.
But haven't the Tigers benefited from such relationships?

Random Thoughts

- It seems unlikely the Tigers will bring back both Damon and Ordonez. If given a choice, who would you take? Me? I'd tend to learn toward Ordonez. He is a better run producer and is younger than Damon. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out. Scott Boras is the agent for both.

- What people in this state tend to overlook about Big Ten football this year is that Iowa and Wisconsin have legitimate shots at being Top 10 teams, and that Northwestern has one of the most-improved programs in the country. It won't be an easy road in the conference this season for Michigan or Michigan State.

- Wonder when Ordonez will start kissing up to the town, the organization and owner Mike Ilitch. He has a ways to go to match Damon in that regard, that's for sure.

- Now that his divorce has been finalized, don't be surprised if Tiger Woods makes a huge comeback next season. In retrospect, how was he going to play well this year?


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

On the Tigers' annoying surge, Suh, Rhymes and Shoelace

The Tigers are maddening.
They have beaten the lowly Indians and hapless Royals like a drum the last few days - when it doesn't matter in regard to the standings.
But when they have faced those teams in the past, with something on the line, they have consistently come up short.
On one hand, yes, it would be better if the Tigers close this season strongly - if for no other reason than they have collapsed each year with Jim Leyland as manager.
On other hand, it does mean relatively in the little bigger picture, especially when it is observed just how lame the Indians and Royals are as the Tigers have defeated them with ease the last few games.
Where was this before?
It is a more than slightly annoying aspect about the Tigers.

Random Thoughts

- Forget the stats: Ndamukong Suh has played very well for the Lions in the first two preseason games and should have an enormous impact on the team from the start of the regular season. In his position, "almost getting there" is very important. It looks like he is going to require a double team on most plays. Suh played exceptionally at Denver Saturday, bringing a lot of pressure from the middle of the defensive line.

- Five reasons to not get excited about Will Rhymes: Nook Logan, Luke French, Chris Shelton, Brennan Boesch and Clete Thomas.

- To me, Denard Robinson is by far the best Michigan quarterback. His speed separates him from every QB in the nation, let alone those on campus.


Friday, August 20, 2010

A couple curious things about the Lions' trade for Lawrence Jackson...

A couple curious things about the Lions' acquisition of defensive end Lawrence Jackson:
How do you get a first-round selection from just two years ago for only a sixth round pick if he can play? I've heard the theory it was the scheme in Seattle - a 3-4 and the Lions play a 4-3.
But Pete Carroll, the Seahawks' first-year head coach, was Jackson's college coach - and Jackson was a terrific player in college. At 267 pounds, he is not a so-called 'tweener in a 4-3? Makes no sense.
Also, what is it with the Lions and the Seahawks?
Nate Burleson, Maurice Morris, Julian Peterson, Rob Sims, Will Heller, Jackson - seems like they get an inordinate number of the Seahawks' castoffs.

My latest Oakland Press online commentary: I choose Bobby Thompson's HR over Roger Clemens' downfall, don't you? http://tinyurl.com/27dwpk3


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Gardner slide was clean,so Tigers retribution misguided

Brett Gardner’s slide was hard and clean. While it was unfortunate that Tigers’ second baseman Carlos Guillen injured his knee on the play, and it requires a stint on the disabled list, any retribution by the Tigers’ Wednesday night was misguided.
Jeremy Bonderman was warned by home plate umpire Eric Cooper after hitting Gardner in the first inning Wednesday. The presumption is he threw at him intentionally because of the play Monday.
Guillen did complete the double play, saving an improbable victory for the Tigers Monday. It was a great play on his part. If anybody ever questions his desire, all he has to do is pull out a clip of that play.
But if Gardner hadn’t made that slide and not attempted to break up the DP in such an aggressive manner, he would been held accountable by his manager and teammates for lack of effort. Taking out a player in that circumstance is part of the game - like collisions at home plate between base runners and catchers.
Just as misguided, however, was Yankees’ pitcher Chad Gaudin drilling Tigers’ first baseman Miguel Cabrera in the back with a pitch late in the game. Cabrera hit two home runs earlier.
How could Cooper have not warned Gaudin? I don’t blame Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland for being livid.
There was no consistency there - and typical of the shoddy umpiring in the major leagues this season.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

In defense of Justin Verlander...

Justin Verlander has the same career ERA as Jack Morris did, 3.90. He has 10 more wins - with several starts remaining in the current season - than Morris did at age 27.
In his career, on a club with questionable offensive firepower much of the time, he is 27 games above .500.
He has rarely missed a start because of injury. Since 2006, the Tigers, overall, are 34 games above .500. They are only five games above .500 in decisions not involving Verlander.
Since the start of the 2009 season, Verlander is 32-17 - 15 games above .500. In decisions not involving Verlander over the same time period, the Tigers are nine games below .500.
It's not exactly like the Tigers' hitting attack is carrying Verlander, is it?
At the age of 27, Roy Halladay, went 8-8 with a 4.20 ERA during an injury-plagued season with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Verlander really struggled Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium. His command of his fastball was awful. Yet, he still managed to pitch five innings, allowing just three runs in a band box ball park against baseball's most formidable team. He kept the Tigers in the game.
Yet, there are people out there, who evidently think Max Scherzer, based on a few good starts, is actually the Tigers' ace. Look - and I can almost guarantee you Max Scherzer feels this way - he can only hope to be as good as Justin Verlander some day.
They are probably the same people who in June were referring to Scherzer as a bust and Brennan Boesch as the next Ted Williams.
Yeah, there are times, considering the level of his ability is so high, you can't help but think Verlander could be even better.
It shouldn't, however, diminish what he has accomplished, which has been considerable.
Nor take away from the notion Verlander is the very least of the Tigers' problems.

Random Thoughts

- If only Demar Dorsey had gotten into the school, Donovan Warren not left for the NFL, Boubacar Cissoko not gotten in trouble with the law, Justin Turner not left the program and Troy Woolfolk not suffer a serious ankle injury, Michigan's football secondary would be terrific.
Michigan had many issues last season. I thought the secondary was the biggest one. Can't imagine how it won't be again in 2010.

- Hey, the San Francisco Giants are in contention for a postseason spot behind the 1-2 punch of Aubrey Huff and Andres Torres. No, that isn't haunting Tigers. Nah, not in the least...


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What Michigan football and "It's A Wonderful Life" have in common

What does Michigan football, under the guidance of Rich Rodriguez, and the old Christmas movie classic, "It's A Wonderful Life," have in common?
"Every time a bell rings, an angel earns its wings."
What is this? Clarence the Angel and George Bailey heading to the bar? Is that Nick behind the bar ringing the cash register as Clarence and George are about to get thrown out? Why, Tate Forcier is getting treated like Uncle Billy when he lost the money.
Is Jim Tressel really Mr. Potter? Will Rich Rodriguez find Zuzu's pedals?
Sorry. I know that is very sarcastic. Actually quite cynical. And I really don't like sarcastic and cynical people. Honest.
But I couldn't help it.
Legendary coach Fritz Crisler put "wings" on Michigan's helmets during the late 1930s so passers could better find receivers. It was a practical reason, not a punitive one.
Earn their wings? Seems like a dangerous way of messing with a great tradition, doesn't it?

Random Thoughts

- It is going to be an interesting end of the summer and early fall for the Pistons.
From an ownership standpoint, I am told it will sort out soon, and that there is more interest in the franchise than many thought, which is why Mike Ilitch was suddenly so public with his interest.
With the economy still sputtering, the Pistons at a low ebb on the floor and Karen Davidson obviously anxious to unload the team, it was expected to be a buyer's market. It's not necessarily turning out that way.
Also, the Pistons have done little to improve the team on the floor. Tracy McGrady would have been a terrific signing - if this were 2003. Right now he ranks as a just another bargain-basement signing that makes little sense - unless Joe Dumars pulls some other moves to improve the Pistons' decided lack of balance on the floor.
Every other move they make falls under the category of a moot point.

- For all the things that have gone wrong for the Tigers this season, Max Scherzer is one of things that has gone right. With Justin Verlander and Scherzer leading the starting rotation, the Tigers could be formidable deep into the future. That will especially be true if Rick Porcello gets his act together and Andrew Oliver develops.

- Bland as it may be at times, I am very happy for the existence of the NHL Network. I miss hockey very much this time of the year. And I can always see a game.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Golf let Dustin Johnson down - not the other way around

Golf let Dustin Johnson down. Not the other way around. He got jobbed.
What were those officials thinking when they made the ruling, before the tournament, that bunkers, not maintained outside the ropes, would still be considered bunkers? It was simply bad thinking - and greatly marred the tournament. Also, crowd control wasn't exactly good at that tournament. It's was unreal how the gallery was allowed to crowd Johnson as he approached the shot in question.

Random Thoughts

- Granted, he was running against third-team players in a preseason game, but I did think Tim Tebow was impressive during his debut. At one point, he dove toward the end zone, was hit hard by two defenders and did a helicopter whirl in the air - ala John Elway in the Super Bowl.
Obviously, he does not have the kind of arm strength Elway possessed, but he is a superior athlete otherwise, and with an uncommon drive. I don't know if he'll be a great player in the NFL, but I'd be surprised if he isn't, at minimum, a very good one.
I like his chances of becoming a quality QB more than those of Brady Quinn.

- On the first play of the Atlanta-Kansas City preseason game, running back Michael Turner of the Falcons broke into the open field. He was tackled one-on-one by Chiefs' first-round draft choice Eric Berry. I think Ndamunkong Suh is going to be a terrific player, but it wouldn't surprise me if Berry is just as good - and at more of a position of need, at least currently, for the Lions.

- Brennan Boesch's batting average has fallen to .127 - in more than 100 at bats - since the All Star break. Yet, Tigers' manager Jim Leyland hit Boesch third Sunday. I can understand the reasoning behind not sending him to the minor leagues this close to the September callups, but to keep featuring Boesch in such a prominent spot in the lineup is more than a little peculiar.

My latest column in The Oakland Press - Lions preseason opener presents a mixed bag: http://tinyurl.com/2324o3k


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Will a combined Pontiac High become a football power?

My latest column in The Oakland Press: http://tinyurl.com/2uqn4v6

Thursday, August 12, 2010

On Verlander, Inge and Michigan's secondary woes...

In the last 365 days, Justin Verlander is 20-10 with a 3.63 ERA. This season, he is six games above .500 on a team that is four games below .500 overall. He has 13 victories - with probably nine more starts remaining this season. Yet, there are many fans who claim he isn't that good. Why?
The record is a matter of record, and Verlander the least of the Tigers problems.

- One of the more understated factors as the Tigers complete this season is Brandon Inge's status. Will the Tigers re-sign him or let him go as a free agent? Can they do better at third base? Would Inge take a hometown discount to remain with the Tigers or want to test the open market? To be honest, I'm not so sure on any of those fronts. He is not a young player any more, and his offensive numbers are shaky, but Inge could help a contending team because of his defense and because he is not that bad a hitter - if placed in the bottom third of the order.

- J.T. Turner just leaving Michigan's football program was stunning. Perception was the Wolverines' secondary couldn't be that bad because of Turner and Demar Dorsey - and neither is there.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wrong messages doomed Tigers season

I don't see a lot of excuses for the Tigers right now. Carlos Guillen and Brandon Inge are back in the lineup. These aren't the Detroit Mud Hens like a couple weeks ago. They have added Jhonny Peralta, whose RBI production this season wasn't that far off the injured Magglio Ordonez's.
Tampa Bay is a really good team, but the Rays had been playing poorly coming to Comerica Park.
The White Sox have been hot, but those games were also in Detroit. The Tigers played tremendous baseball at home the first half of the season.
It's one thing to play bad baseball, it's another to be the worst in the major leagues. And that's exactly what the Tigers have been since the All Star break.
There were a couple wrong messages sent out. One was by general manager Dave Dombrowski when the Tigers were injury-plagued, but still very much in the race. He didn't move fast enough - and the season just went by while the Tigers were fielding the Detroit Mud Hens.
And secondly, when owner Mike Ilitch said Dombrowski and Leyland were going to be back. Now I really don't have any issue with that notion, but why say it when there is a third of the season remaining? Doesn't make for much accountability for the remainder of the season, does it?


Monday, August 09, 2010

On Delmas, Levy, Tiger, Edmonds and the Red Wings...

The best news from the Lions' training camp so far is that safety Louis Delmas is back on the practice field. Both he and middle linebacker DeAndre Levy missing considerable practice time has been disconcerting. The Lions are counting on these two players so much this season, and they are only second-year players. They can hardly afford to miss work.
- 18 over par? Tiger Woods is totally confused. But it doesn't mean his career is over. I still believe he will win at least five more major championships and break Jack Nicklaus' record. It will just take more time, that's all.
- Jim Edmonds was a really good pick up for the Reds. He can still play. He would have helped the Tigers, too. If only Dave Dombrowski had reacted quicker following Magglio Ordonez's injury...
- When you see how quickly the Blackhawks have had to breakdown their Stanley Cup-winning team from last spring, it only makes you appreciate more how well the Red Wings have adjusted to the NHL's salary cap era.


Wednesday, August 04, 2010

As dire as it seems, makes no sense for Tigers to quit on season

I’m not trying to paint an overly optimistic picture of what remain dire straits for the Tigers’ postseason hopes, honest, but Brandon Inge and Carlos Guillen will be back in the lineup shortly. Inge could return as soon as tonight against the White Sox, and Guillen could be back within the next week or so.
And down only seven games with roughly a third of the season remaining, I would try to get another bat for the outfield or DH spot - and make a run for it.
Too soon to give up. There will still be trades. Players just have to clear waivers, that’s all.
Moving Jhonny Peralta to shortstop, will give the Tigers a solid infield offensively, although it might be spotty defensively.
Peralta has been a major league regular at shortstop in the past, and there were obvious range issues as he outgrew the position physically. Second base is a relatively new spot for Guillen.
But the run production will be much better - and it’s not like the Tigers are taking gold-glove performers off second base and shortstop to make room for Guillen and Peralta.
Albeit against tough competition, the Tigers are at home. That should help. There is speculation mounting they might look at trading Johnny Damon, but if I think the Tigers should just go all-out and see what happens.
And then re-evaluate their circumstances following the season.

My latest column in The Oakland Press: Everything worked out for Suh, but just in the nick of time http://tinyurl.com/2ekq86u

My column this week about how the Lions offense is way ahead of their defense: http://tinyurl.com/27jb43s


Monday, August 02, 2010

Boesch's slump bringing back memories of Chris Shelton

It's not just that Brennan Boesch's batting average has been dropping that is sending up red flags, but his lack of run production is stunning.
He has had opportunity after opportunity to drive in runs - and just hasn't done it.
He has one RBI in his last 16 games. That was with a sacrifice fly. Boesch hasn't driven in a run with a hit since the first inning of the Tigers' July 9 game against the Twins at Comerica Park. He drove in that run with an RBI single off Francisco Liriano. He has three RBI since - two on groundouts, the other with the above-mentioned sacrifice fly. That is in 78 at bats.
Hate to say it, but he is starting to be remindful of Chris Shelton.
I think Boesch is more athletic than Shelton, and therefore has a better chance of becoming a long-term major league player and regular, but it doesn't make this skid any less alarming.


Sunday, August 01, 2010

Jose Valverde's 60-pitch night not exactly a feather in Jim Leyland's cap

My latest column in The Oakland Press: http://tinyurl.com/2fp5qyw