Friday, April 29, 2011

No excuse for the way the Tigers have played first 25 games this season

The Tigers can take much of the wind out of the Indians' sails this weekend in Cleveland, or they can just put some momentum behind the Tribe. Bottom line.
The Tigers have pitching matchups that should favor them the first two games of the series. Max Scherzer vs. Jeanmar Gomez tonight. Rick Porcello against Alex White, a terrific prospect, but making his major league debut, Saturday. The Indians are riding a bunch of castoffs, including former Tigers' washout Jack Hannahan. There is no excuse for the Tigers not to capture this series.
Then again, there was no excuse to lose three straight games to one of the worst teams in baseball at home this week - the Seattle Mariners. Or two out of three at home earlier this month to Kansas City.
Except for a three-game series against the White Sox, who were struggling mightily at the time, the Tigers have played mediocre baseball so far this season. If anything, they haven't played as well as their 12-13 record indicates.


Red Wings and Sharks more different than alike

My column in Friday's Oakland Press:

Did the Lions make the right choice in Fairley over Amukamara?

My column about it:

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Best, worst and likely scenarios in this NFL Draft

There is so much uncertainty about who the Lions will select with the 13th overall pick in tonight's NFL Draft that most of the mock boards have them choosing an offensive tackle, either Anthony Castonzo from Boston College or Tyron Smith from Southern Cal.
They are both good football players, but don't equal the value of that pick.
So it will be an interesting selection, to say the least.
This is how I view the draft overall:
Biggest star-to-bust ratio - Cam Newton, quarterback Auburn. Either he is going to play like Michael Vick at his best or Vince Young at his worst. Doubt there will be an in-between.
Most under-hyped player with a chance to star - Colin Kaepernick, quarterback Neveda. This year's version of Josh Freeman, except more athletic.
Prospect from a Michigan college most likely to have an immediate impact in the NFL - Nick Bellore, inside linebacker, Central Michigan.
Ideal first pick for the Lions - Prince Amukamara, cornerback Nebraska.
Least ideal first pick for the Lions - Jimmy Smith, cornerback, Colorado.
Player who has fallen down the mock draft boards and likely to star anyway - Brandon Harris, cornerback, Miami.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

On Jim Tressel, the Red Wings and the urban legend known as Jimmy Smith

For the NCAA to come out and say that Jim Tressel lied to them is a tell-tale sign we've only seen the tip of the iceberg. The NCAA isn't exactly known for its backbone. The only reason they are saying this so strongly is because they obviously have something in cement. Next: Another Tressel apology. But it won't mean anything. His job is in jeopardy.

- It's down to either the Predators or Sharks in the next round for the Red Wings. I see the Preds as the better option. They don't have the skill of the Sharks - and the travel would be more tolerable for the Red Wings.

- Did you know Jimmy Smith was a fifth-year senior at Colorado? That he had just three interceptions, three fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles and no sacks in more than 2,900 plays at Colorado? That the media that covers the Big 12 regularly thought so little of his performance, he wasn't even on their All-Big 12 first-team in 2010. That he was just a three-star recruit coming out of high school?
Is Jimmy Smith a player or an urban legend? Seems more like the latter. Any team selecting him in the first round would be reaching.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Is right for fans to boo athletes?

My latest column for The Oakland Press:

Personally, I'd love to see the Red Wings-Blackhawks in the second round

The best-case scenario for the Red Wings, in terms of advancing past the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, would be if Vancouver beats Chicago in Game 7, and/or San Jose outlasts Los Angeles.
The Red Wings would, in my opinion, be much better served in the Western Conference semifinals playing San Jose or Nashville rather than the Blackhawks.
But it could be Chicago. If the Canucks and Sharks both falter, the Red Wings would be the top seed, the Blackhawks the low seed. Nashville and LA would meet in the other semifinal.
If the Blackhawks roar back, at one stage down three games to none in the series, to defeat the Canucks in Game 7, they will be very difficult to knock out in the Western Conference semifinals. Doesn't matter about the home ice advantage.
The Blackhawks have the confidence of winning the Stanley Cup championship last year. If they complete this improbable comeback, it wouldn't be the first time. Remember what they did to the Predators in the opening round last year? While free agency hurt the Blackhawks, they remain a highly-skilled team with more than their share of world-class players (Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa).
But the Red Wings' best matchup aside, what hockey nut doesn't want to see the Red Wings and Blackhawks in the second round? The storyline would be outstanding. The Blackhawks won the Cup last year, but it should noted they didn't beat the Red Wings on the journey. The "Detroit sucks" chants at the Charlie Sheen show in Chicago recently was only the latest of Chicago's increasing bashing of Detroit. The Red Wings went into Chicago with little on the line and knocked off the Blackhawks to close the regular season - a loss that should have cost the Blackhawks their spot in the postseason. Also, the road games would be played at a reasonable hour in Michigan. A joy for all of us who enjoy sleep.
In regard to a second-round matchup, how could it get any better than Red Wings-Blackhawks?

Michigan and Michigan State should benefit greatly from Jim Tressel's troubles

Lions need to clean up in this draft

My column in Sunday's Oakland Press:


Friday, April 22, 2011

It's way too early to give up on Austin Jackson

The idea that after 19 games, Austin Jackson should be dropped out of the lead off spot, or in the opinion of some fans, placed in the minor leagues, is ridiculous.
This is a very short portion of the season. Last season, Jackson went through similar slumps and recovered. He provides the Tigers with their only real speed, and is easily their best defensive outfielder. That alone helps them win games.
The major leagues is a constant game of adjustments. You have to let your best players make those adjustments, and in the roles they are needed.
And make no mistake about it, Jackson is one of the Tigers' best players.
If those goes into June, and the team is getting clobbered, that's a different story. But it's still April, the Tigers are very much in the American League Central race. And if they have a chance to win it, they must have the patience to let Austin Jackson, their one young position player with a legitimately high ceiling, figure it out.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why Rick Porcello was so much better Wednesday against Seattle

Rick Porcello pitching well in Seattle was easily the best part of that series for the Tigers. He worked his two-seam fastball (sinking) with his four-seam fastball (straight with more velocity) like he did as a rookie in 2009 when he won 14 games.
Changing the eye level consistently for the hitters was a key. He was pitching down in the strike zone during his first couple starts, but his two-seamer lacked bite. Hitters were diving out over the plate and hitting his two-seamer. Also, Porcello commanded the ball well in Seattle.

Random Thoughts

- The Tigers are ahead of the White Sox and Twins in the American League Central standings, with a West Coast road swing and a trip to New York out of the way.
Considering the way they have played, which frankly isn't very well, they are in pretty good shape.

- We'll know more about whether Cleveland is that good or Minnesota that bad this weekend when the Tribe visit the Twins.

- Jose Valverde is throwing the ball exceptionally well. The Tigers have one of the best back ends of the bullpen in baseball with Valverde and Joaquin Benoit. It's important Ryan Perry comes through like he did Wednesday so the Tigers can get there.


So far, so great, but the Red Wings face a much tougher challenge in the second round

My latest column for The Oakland Press:


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

If Da'Quan Bowers falls to the Lions at 13th overall, they'd be wise to take him

For some reason, there are NFL "experts" building a groundswell that Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers will fall to the 13th overall pick, and perhaps the Lions, in the draft.
I don't see it, despite a knee issue and great defensive line depth in this draft. Bowers is a superior player and athlete.
That's why this draft is far more dicey than most. Defensive line, including end, is a strength for the Lions. Perhaps their lone one.
But make no mistake, Bowers would be bargain at 13th overall given his upside - and he was an extremely productive player in college.
He is not just a top pass rusher, but stout and plays the run well. He is versatile enough to move inside and play tackle.
The Lions, however, don't have two starting linebackers, and they are lacking legitimate starting corners at this stage other than nickel back candidates. They have tendered Chris Houston, a pending free restricted agent, but who knows what that will mean when there is a new collective bargaining agreement.
The Lions' offensive line played well last season, but has some older players. The upside for offensive tackles in this draft is limited, though. I'm not sure you'd get high-end value at 13th overall - or any other offensive spot. All the upside is on the defensive line, with a player like Bowers perhaps dropping.
Of course, this would be a lot easier for the Lions to sort out if their roster was primarily set after the free agent signing period. In the land of the unknown, it might make sense to just take by far the best player, which Bowers would be - even if it is overkill at the one legitimate position of strength on their football team.
I do know this, the Lions would be a lot better served if Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara falls to 13th overall, which some people are projecting he might.
I don't see that, either.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

On the Red Wings, Tigers, UM spring game...

Replay of my livestream video chat today:

What I liked most about the Tigers Monday

The Tigers remain a flawed team, but I get the sense that we haven't even begun to see how effective Max Scherzer can be.
He hasn't pitched that well early this season, but he is 3-0 and his ERA is 4.30.
We dwell so much on what the Tigers don't have that we don't focus on what they do have. With Scherzer joining Justin Verlander, the Tigers could very well have the best 1-2 starting pitching punch in the American League Central.

- It was a good move by Jim Leyland to put Ryan Raburn at second base. While he will remind no one of Lou Whitaker there, it is by far his best position defensively.

- Miguel Cabrera may appear to be overweight, and his off-the-field issues have become a constant concern. But what a great hitter - easily the best I have ever seen play for the Tigers


Star power aside, depth is the Red Wings' greatest strength

My latest column for The Oakland Press:

Monday, April 18, 2011

Surprised the Tigers didn't score runs with that lineup yesterday? I'm not

The Tigers had Casper Wells, Ryan Raburn, Donald Kelly, Brennan Boesch, Alex Avila and Will Rhymes leading the charge Sunday against a starting pitcher who won 18 games with an ERA below 3.00 last year.
Surprised they didn't score many runs? I'm not.
In my opinion, Tigers manager Jim Leyland needs to play proven regulars more often. That's what you have a $105 million player payroll for. The lineup he sent out against Oakland's Trevor Cahill Sunday didn't have much of a chance.
There were three, for certain, long-term major leaguers in the batting order - Austin Jackson, Miguel Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta. And Jackson is in a nasty slump to start the season. Brandon Inge isn't that old. He was rested. Magglio Ordonez has some obvious injury issues. Victor Martinez is also ailing, with a "tweaked" groin. If they're not playing, Inge certainly should be. So should Ramon Santiago, who is a much better hitter than Rhymes.
If players are slumping, the best get way to get out of it, especially early in the season, is by playing. At least they have track records.
Also, the top of the order is killing the Tigers. With Jackson slumping, and Rhymes hitting .222 with few walks, there always seem to be two outs when the Tigers get to the middle of their lineup.
Also, Scott Sizemore is hitting well at Triple-A; get him up to the major leagues. Every hit he gets at Toledo is a waste. The Tigers should ride the hot hand at second base - if they can find one. Maybe Sizemore would be it for awhile.


Red Wings need to dispose the Coyotes as soon as possible

My column in Sunday's Oakland Press:

Friday, April 15, 2011

Walk off wins at home mean less than victories on the road

My latest column about the Tigers for The Oakland Press:


Some thoughts on Jhonny Peralta

I don't view shortstop as a weakness for the Tigers. Jhonny Peralta makes the routine play, has driven in more than 80 runs each of the last three seasons, doesn't strike out that much and his three walks Thursday night were a key for the Tigers in their victory at Oakland.
Is he Derek Jeter in his prime? No. Does he have range like Alexei Ramirez? No. But he isn't a problem. He is a solid veteran everyday player in his prime. He's played well for the Tigers to this point. They are a better team with him than without him.
The Tigers have other issues - bullpen depth, concerns about starting pitchers Brad Penny and Rick Porcello and reliance on several apparent 4-A players - that are far, far more pressing.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Barry Bonds did something wrong beyond lying to the grand jury. But what, exactly?

Barry Bonds was judged guilty by a jury of his peers Wednesday for lying under oath to a Federal grand jury.
Yet, I don't know if it sent shock waves throughout the baseball world as much as draw a collective shrug of shoulders.
What Bonds exactly did or didn't do regarding performance-enhancing substances remains a mystery. Like before, when he was hitting all those home runs, we only know it was something.
As a Hall of Fame voter, I remain as much in limbo as ever on the issue. Bonds, A-Rod, The Rocket Man...the best players I recall seeing...all did something.
But exactly what?
As for punishment from the court, it will be, to say the least, interesting. Every legal expert analyzing this case doesn't anticipate Bonds, who is now a convicted felon, getting jail time. House arrest? Wearing an orange vest cleaning up Bay Area highways? What is the appropriate punishment for the crime?
The trial itself was surreal. It was widely anticipated, but continually delayed, so by the time it finally arrived, it was almost as if baseball fans did not want to know what they, well, really don't know about Barry Bonds.
When little was really settled on that front in court, well, they really don't care.
It's, "Hey, the Tigers just won two games in a row...."
I think there will only be outrage in 2013 if Bonds gets enough votes to enter the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.
I doubt that will happen, although, personally, I have yet to decide what I will do with my vote.
To this stage, I haven't voted for Mark McGwire or Rafael Palmeiro.


Red Wings just a much more skilled team than the Coyotes

My latest column in The Oakland Press:


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Prediction: This will be the playoffs when goalies re-establish their dominance

I have a theory about this year's Stanley Cup playoffs, and if it actually becomes a reality, it would put the Red Wings' Jimmy Howard even more under the spotlight.
I think this is going to be the year of the goalie. In the recent past, goalie, as odd as it may be considering deeper history, has kind of been the forgotten position.
Patrick Roy retired. Martin Brodeur got older and the Devils slid overall as a team. Roy and Brodeur were replaced by a new wave of goalies, led primarily by the Buffalo Sabres Ryan Miller and the Vancouver Canucks' Robert Luongo, who squared off in the gold medal game of the 2010 Olympics.
But Miller and Luongo have not been successful in leading their teams anywhere close to capturing the Stanley Cup.
In the meantime, you had untested Cam Ward take the Carolina Hurricanes to the Cup in '06, a resurgent Chris Osgood - 10 years removed from his most previous Cup title and making just $825,000 at the time - win it in 2008, and another unproven youngster, Antti Niemi, lead the Blackhawks to the championship last spring.
None of the primary goalies in the final four last season were retained by their teams.
But I see this trend as an aberration. Luongo and Miller (the latter bothered by injuries this season) are going to have their year in the playoffs. It's just a matter of when. I view the New York Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist in the same light. He is a great player - and could be very threatening to the Washington Capitals in the opening round.
And another goalie, not too many people talk about, but could very well be the world's next great goalie, is the Los Angeles Kings' Jonathan Quick. The Kings are being dismissed because the San Jose Sharks are being viewed as the chicest pick to emerge from the Western Conference, and LA has an injury to its star, Anze Kopitar. But Quick could steal a series or two. Remember that 51-save shutout of the Red Wings this season at Joe Louis Arena? He is capable of brilliance.
This could also be the year for Tim Thomas, who has displayed resiliency. The Boston Bruins have a solid team in front of him and had a very good regular season.
We'll see how Howard matches up to the field starting tonight against the Phoenix Coyotes, who have a solid goalie in Ilya Bryzgalov.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The "long season" theory is flawed. The Tigers' shaky start could mean everything

If there is trepidation about the Tigers' 3-7 start, there should be.
They haven't had a winning season after starting 3-7 or worse since 1980. Since then, the Tigers have gone 3-7 or worse to begin the season 11 times - and had a losing record each year.
It doesn't mean the season is over. Even championship clubs go through 10-game periods in which they compile a 3-7 record or worse, but it's naive to believe the beginning of the season does not mean more in the grand scale of things. It does - often setting the tone for the whole year.
And the Tigers' best seasons have been fueled by solid or great starts.
The last five times the Tigers have reached the postseason, their 10-game record was: 9-1 (1968), 7-3 (1972), 9-1 (1984), 6-4 (1987) and 6-4 (2006). The '87 team was the only one to come back from what was a very rough start. The Tigers were 11-19 at one point that season before rallying to win a major league-best 98 games.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Despite inherent fears, the Red Wings should rollover the Coyotes

My latest column for The Oakland Press:


Some thoughts on the Tigers after nine games

Anybody who is surprised Ryan Raburn is struggling defensively shouldn't be. He has been an error-making machine regardless the position and level since he signed with the Tigers long ago. He has to hit - really hit - to justify his spot on the field as a regular. He hasn't done that so far this season. Austin Jackson's slump has hurt the Tigers. He had some obvious flaws as a hitter last season, but they have been totally exposed this season. The good thing about Jackson is that he displayed the ability to make adjustments last season. Can he do it again? Andy Dirks is a low-ceiling prospect, but is off to a good beginning at Toledo. He might be able to add something to the Tigers' outfield, especially with Magglio Ordonez slumping. Subpar starting pitching has been hindering the Tigers mightily. The starts by Brad Penny and Rick Porcello have been particularly disturbing. We'll see if Penny does better at home. There is a bottom line about Porcello. His two-seam fastball made him when he won 14 games as a 20-year-old rookie in 2009. It was a nasty pitch that summer, particularly during the second half. It has far less bite these days making him very hittable. The Rangers are off to a fast start and remain formidable. There aren't a lot of breaks in the schedule. Kansas City at home is one of those breaks. The Tigers' failure to take advantage of it is disappointing. Starts like the one today separate the very good from the elite. We'll see what Justin Verlander has in that regard.


Has Joe Dumars used up his slack?

My column in Monday's Oakland Press:


Friday, April 08, 2011

Livestream before Tigers home opener

I will be part of this today. Check it out:

Opening day special

My column in Friday's Oakland Press:

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Finally, the Tigers played like a legitimate contending team

What I didn't like about the Tigers' first four games of the season is they played sloppy baseball. It was more about how they played than just they had lost three of four.
Wild pitches. Fly balls dropping in the outfield that should have been caught. Pitchers endlessly falling behind in the count. Hitters swinging at bad pitches and giving away at bats.
The Tigers played much better Wednesday, beating the Orioles. You know, like they may have a chance to win 90 games.
Forget about Justin Verlander's ERA. He will pitch well enough to win. He's like Jack Morris in that respect. He has proven it continually in his career - and did again Wednesday.
Alex Avila, obviously, needed that game. It had been a long time since he had flashed that type of power. The key for him is becoming productive against good major league pitching. The Orioles didn't present that Wednesday. Brad Bergesen is, at best, a low-end starter. I still feel the Tigers would be better served with Victor Martinez catching two thirds of the games.
Two other factors. Austin Jackson is slumping and needs to get untracked. Also, Will Rhymes isn't as much of a threat at the plate as Ramon Santiago. That remains crystal clear.


Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Why I still feel Daniel Thomas would fit the Lions

Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas didn't have a particularly good pro day workout Monday, but that might not necessarily bode poorly as far as the draft is concerned. It may drop him down, out of the second round, maybe even the third, which could put him in a better position for the Lions to draft him.
To me, Thomas, who gained over 1,500 yards and scored 19 touchdowns last season, would be the perfect complimentary back to Jahvid Best. He is 6-0, 230 pounds and strong. He missed the Senior Bowl and the combine because of hamstring issues. He only ran one 40-yard dash Monday, about 4.6, but is probably capable of running better when he is fully healthy, which will be at some point after the draft.


Tuesday, April 05, 2011

On the Tigers' starting pitching and Rodney Stuckey

There have been many disappointing aspects to the Tigers' 1-3 start, but I think the most disturbing is the starting pitching. Brad Penny's disastrous start in New York aside, much more was expected of Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello. And I'm not just referring to their final line in regard to runs and hits, but their balls and strikes ratio. Both should win in the major leagues consistently, but won't if they don't start commanding the baseball better and get ahead instead of behind in the count.
These are two former No.1 draft picks, who have pitched in the major leagues awhile with some degree of success. Time to put the learning curve behind them and start pitching quality baseball. Yeah. Even on the road against tough lineups (Yankees) and hot teams (Orioles).

Random Thoughts

- Seems like the Pistons' problems with Rodney Stuckey began when they didn't extend his contract, which made business sense because of the upcoming collective bargaining agreement showdown between the league and its player's association.
It now makes basketball sense to discard Stuckey.
A. Because he isn't that good of a player.
B. When the going got really tough and the Pistons needed him to be a solid leader, he was anything but one.

- Brayan Villarreal has a chance to be very effective in a long relief role for the Tigers this season. He keeps the ball down, throws hard and isn't afraid to throw strikes. He has been impressive so far.

- Kemba Walker was the best player in college basketball this season, not Jimmer Fredette. UConn deserved the NCAA title on that kid's grit alone.


Red Wings have responded typically

My latest column in Tuesday's Oakland Press:

Replay of my video live chat Monday

Monday, April 04, 2011

What seem to me to be obvious things about the Tigers' lineup

The thing that struck me most about the Tigers' victory over the Yankees Sunday was just how much more threatening their lineup was than in the first two games of the season.
That Victor Martinez should be catching most games, and that Ramon Santiago should be starting most days at second base.
That those two veterans - one a premier free agent and a lifetime .300 hitter (Martinez) - should flip-flop projected roles with Alex Avila and Will Rhymes.
It also opens up the designated hitter spot for any one of three outfielders with a lot life in their bats - Magglio Ordonez, Ryan Raburn or Brennan Boesch. It seems like at this stage of the season anyway, all three of them should be in the lineup on a daily basis.
It also keeps Jim Leyland from having to manage like a National League manager in the American League during the late innings. The Tigers don't have a third catcher on their roster.
The downside is that it takes away from the Tigers making defensive replacements at shortstop in the late innings. But that wouldn't be the case if Danny Worth replaced Rhymes and the Tigers used Santiago as their primary second baseman, working Worth into the rotation at second.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Can Tiger Woods make up for lost time at The Masters?

My column in Monday's Oakland Press:


Friday, April 01, 2011

Just some thoughts on the Tigers...

Losing the opener does, obviously, put more pressure on Brad Penny in his second-game start Saturday. The Tigers themselves think more of Penny than their fans.
It was billed he was signed to be their fifth starter, but it's clear the Tigers think he is their second-best starter, which he may very will be - if he stays healthy. Ah, but that is very big "if."
Also, Max Scherzer was really good in the second half of last season, but you wouldn't have known it based on his spring training performance. We'll see if that means anything Sunday.

- I'm all for the theory it's only one game and a long season, but it is imperative the Tigers get off to a good start. We've seen a couple seasons get away from the Tigers very early within the last decade. Remember 2008 and 2002?

- It's not necessarily a road series against a top club like the Yankees that is going to make or break the Tigers. It's series like the following two - against Baltimore and Kansas City. In order to win 90 games or so remain in contention, and perhaps earn a postseason spot, the Tigers must clean up on traditionally struggling clubs like the Orioles and the Royals.


Opening showed why the Yankees are the Yankees - and the Tigers are the Tigers

My column in Friday's Oakland Press: