Wednesday, August 31, 2011

For the Detroit Tigers, so far anyway, this season playing out almost exactly like 2009

Not saying it is going to happen again, but to just let you know.
The Tigers have the exact same record after 136 games they had in 2009 - 75-61. In 2009, they were seven games up with 26 remaining. Right now they are six games up on the White Sox, and either 6 1-2 or six games up on the Indians, depending on the Indians' game Wednesday night against Oakland.
Minnesota caught the Tigers in 2009 by going 18-8 down the stretch compared to Detroit going 11-15.
Do I feel the Tigers are better prepared this year than 2009? For sure. But the series against the White Sox this weekend is going to be interesting, to say the least.


Best sign yet the Tigers are going to win the A.L. Central

The Tigers win Tuesday is the kind teams that reach the postseason routinely procure.
A really good outing by the starting pitcher (Doug Fister), a gutsy call by the manager that turns out for the best (Jim Leyland using setup man Joaquin Benoit instead of closer Jose Valverde in the ninth inning of a tie game at home) and improbable heroes (slumping Magglio Ordonez delivering the tying hit with two outs and backup infielder Ramon Santiago a walk-off home run).
And the meaning of the victory. If the Tigers had lost it would have been their third straight defeat against clubs considerably below .500. The White Sox would have just been four games back.
Huge win. Certainly one of the biggest of the season, and perhaps the best sign yet the Tigers won't collapse down the stretch this time.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Thoughts on Tom Kowalski

I am deeply saddened by the passing of Tom Kowalski.
I worked for many years with Tom at The Oakland Press, and he was largely responsible for me getting a staff job because he went to bat for me when I needed it most. It was typical Tom. He had a big heart. Tom was always willing to help with a problem, might it be moving, might it be putting in the VCR you couldn't figure out, or with sound advice about what was going on if you were troubled.
He was a great beat writer. Not only his reporting skills, but Tom was an incredible writer. He was also a great competitor. If you were on the Lions' beat, you had your hands full not only beating Tom on stories, but just keeping up with him. I especially appreciated his courage. He was respectful, but never afraid of those he was covering. And Tom was fun. He had a great sense of humor.
Like many people, I will miss him very much. My thoughts and prayers are with his loved ones.

Why the NFL would be foolish to "target" the Detroit Lions Ndamukong Suh

Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, before he has even begun his second regular season in the NFL, has already been fined three times by the league - $7,500, $15,000 and $20,000 - for rough play.
He has also been outspoken in defense of his actions, and in protest of the NFL's actions against him.
It's led to speculation Suh is going to pick up an unnecessary rough penalty - or something similar - at the worst possible time. Or is going to ultimately be suspended by the league.
But Suh's different. This is why:
- Unlike many NFL players who get in trouble with the league, Suh, by all accounts, stands for everything it wants from its players. There is little chance he will get in trouble off the field. He is very bright, goal-driven and likable.
- He is extremely popular with fans, not just here in Detroit, but nationally. ESPN has featured him several times. CBS discussed him continually during its broadcast of the Lions-Patriots preseason game Saturday. The NFL Network made a point of featuring him during the lockout.
- Suh isn't a dirty football player. Sometimes he is overly aggressive. There is a difference. He doesn't take cheapshots with helmet-to-helmet hits, or aim at knees.
- He is a tough player in a rugged game. Everybody is for player safety, but nobody is for the wussification of the NFL. Ndamukong Suh is a lot of things. A wuss isn't one of them.
If anything, he should be the poster child for the NFL.
Not public enemy No.1.

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

For Red Wings legend Mickey Redmond, the end was just the beginning

All things considered, I'd take Shaun Hill over Drew Stanton as the Detroit Lions No. 2 QB

I like Drew Stanton as a player. He is one of those quarterbacks who doesn't necessarily turn heads in practice, but tends to do so on game day - when it really matters.
In that regard, he is the consummate "gamer."
There seems to be a growing contingent who feel Stanton - who played well in his late-season starts in 2011and tends to show well in the preseason - should be the Lions No. 2 quarterback ahead of Shaun Hill.
I'm not one of them. If something were to happen to Matthew Stafford, I believe Hill would be more capable of getting the ball to the playmakers on the Lions' offense. And there are plenty of them.
At this stage, isn't that what the Lions need if Stafford goes out? Somebody managing the offense more than a so-called playmaker? More of a sure factor than an "X" factor at QB?
Hill has a 13-13 record as an NFL starter. He was 10-6 before coming to Detroit and taking the brunt of the Lions woes the first 12 games of last season. Like Stanton, he turned it around when the team did as a whole. He is the ideal backup QB for the Lions.
Having stated that, however, I do believe Stanton has advanced past the point of being a No.3.


Detroit Lions finally look like they are in the Patriots league

My column in Sunday's Oakland Press:


Friday, August 26, 2011

Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland handled Brandon Inge incident perfectly

There is a lot that goes into being a major league manager. Filling out the lineup card and handling the pitching staff are only a couple aspects.
Another is dealing with situations like the one that transpired Wednesday night when Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge's throw to second base - instead of the obvious plays at third or first - might have cost the Tigers a victory in a pennant race.
Inge is a matchstick among Tiger fans. And they were upset after the game, not only with the play itself, but also Inge claiming he made the right play.
It would have been disingenuous of Leyland to outright defend Inge on that play. Nobody would have bought it. It was clearly a mistake, which Leyland stated.
But he did so in manner that didn't throw Inge under the bus, either. He was respectful of his player at a time when it is particularly needed by that player.
I'm not sure a less experienced manager would have handled it as well.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Real simple: If Brandon Inge goes to first base, the Detroit Tigers probably win Wednesday - this is why

It was the worst possible decision, at the worst possible time.
Tigers' third baseman Brandon Inge had an easy out at first base Wednesday on a routine ground ball. He didn't take it. He went to second base instead - and the result was the deciding run scoring in the Tigers' 3-2 10-inning loss to the Rays.
In my opinion, there is no defending Inge on the play.
This is why:
- The runner, Sean Rodriguez, on first base had a lead. There were two outs. He was running on the crack of the bat. He has above-average speed. It was going to be a close play at second base - regardless if second baseman Ramon Santiago got to the base right on time for the throw.
- Santiago, with two outs and a force at any base, was playing deeper than usual, and therefore had a longer run than usual to the base. It added to the margin of error of Inge going to second base.
- The ball was essentially hit right at Inge. His momentum wasn't moving toward second base. That was not a factor.
- If Inge threw to first, the hitter, Elliot Johnson, would have been out by a wide margin. The game goes on. Real simple.
- Third base was the second-best choice. Either tagging the runner, or if he stopped, Inge running over and tagging third. The force was on.
But first base was so routine. It should have been Inge's decision even before the ball was hit.
In my opinion, it was a mental error in the heat of a pennant race by veteran player put into the game for defensive purposes.
As you know, if you have read this blog before, I feel a lot of the criticism of Inge is over-the-top, unnecessarily personal and mean-spirited. But there is no defending what happened on this play. And, no, I'm not buying his explanation afterward.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why the Justin Verlander "value" bandwagon is somewhat disingenuous

I find the Justin Verlander "value" bandwagon to be somewhat disingenuous based on the perception of him in the past.
While it's true, Verlander has taken a step forward this season, his "value" to the Tigers has been considerable for quite some time. He was underrated. Consider:
From 2006 through 2010, Verlander compiled an 83-50 record. The Tigers overall during that same time period were 424-387.
Simply put, the Tigers were 37 games above .500 overall. Yet, they were just four games above .500 in decisions not involving Verlander.
He's been a terrific pitcher a long time. Among the best. He just hasn't really gotten credit for it until this year.


Saturday's preseason test against the Patriots not meaningless for the Detroit Lions

Preseason football does mean something. Especially when it's the third game, the most important dress rehearsal for the regular season.
Particularly when the New England Patriots, arguably the premier team of this generation, is coming to town, selling out the game at Ford Field. And it is on national television.
The Lions will be under the microscope Saturday. Such circumstances have destroyed the Lions before. Remember against the Rams in 2005? Monday Night Football? Third preseason game? The Lions donning their ill-fated black uniforms for the first time. The Rams' Stephen Jackson running right over the Lions. Penalty flags dropping all over Ford Field's turf. It was awful. And did set the tone for the regular season. In fact, the Steve Mariucci regime never recovered from it.
Whether the Lions win or lose this game is a moot point. The starters will be out by the beginning of the second half. But if it's awful, like that game in 2005, it won't bode well for the Lions, whose fans are seriously buying into what they are selling.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Why we may be overrating Jose Valverde

Common perception (mine, too) is Jose Valverde is a much better closer than the Tigers had in 2009 (Fernando Rodney) and 2006 (Todd Jones), the last two times they played more than the regularly-scheduled 162 games.
"Better?" Sure. The "much" part might be an overstatement. Consider.

Valverde is 37 out of 37 in save opportunities, which is getting a lot of notoriety. But Rodney was 37 out of 38 in 2009. There is unease and anger whenever Tigers Jim Leyland puts Valverde in non-save situations. Another example was Monday, which I'm not sure should count in the angst department (the Tigers held a 4-1 lead when Donald Kelly unexpectedly hit a home run in the top of the ninth, turning it into a non-save situation).
Then it was like he was Todd Valverde or Papa Rodney. Roller Coaster. Demon Drop. A couple runners on. Run allowed. Tying run to the plate. Then save.
But it took 22 pitches to get that save, but at least it wasn't the 60 pitch-debacle last year at Fenway Park. Valverde also had a rough outing the day before against Cleveland - despite picking up the save. He threw 17 pitches in that inning, allowing the tying run to third base. He won't be available tonight.
Valverde's WHIP (walks per innings pitches) is 1.265. Jones blew six saves in '06, but his WHIP was 1.266. Rodney's WHIP in '09 was 1.467.
To claim Valverde is much better in save situations and worst in non-save situations than Rodney is not true. Valverde has a 2.25 ERA, Rodney's was 4.40 in 2009 - although there is little difference between the two in closing games.
Jones had a 3.94 ERA in 2006.
There is the eyeball test. Rodney and Valverde are similar in regard to "stuff." Rodney threw in the high 90s, setting up his changeup. Valverde throws in the mid-90s, setting up his splitter. I'd give the edge in command of the baseball to Valverde compared to the '09 Rodney, especially in his recent outings before the last two. Also command period. Valverde seizes the moment better - and isn't about to draw a three-game suspension for chucking the ball into the stands anytime soon.
Jones was past his prime in '06. His fastball was in the low 90s, and he really didn't have a second pitch of note other than a sloppy curveball. But he was deceptive. He had an ugly motion which made the ball appear later to hitters. But he was solid in the postseason that year. No earned runs and four saves in seven appearances.


Unlike '09, a collapse seems unlikely for the Detroit Tigers this time - this is why

My column in Tuesday's Oakland Press:

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Hockey News bagging on the Detroit Red Wings? Kind of

The Hockey News Yearbook is out and the notion the Red Wings are a favorite to win the Stanley Cup championship has waned.
The Hockey News picks the Red Wings to finish fifth in the Western Conference. They list the Red Wings' odds of winning the Stanley Cup championship at 10-1.
They are the picking the Washington Capitals to capture the Cup, defeating the Blackhawks in the finals. The Hockey News projects the Capitals (6-1), the Penguins (13-2), the Bruins (8-1), the Flyers (8-1), the Blackhawks (8-1), The Canucks (17-2) and the Sharks (17-2) ahead of the Red Wings.
They place the Kings (12-1) ahead of the Red Wings in the regular season, but evidently feel like Detroit will perform better in the postseason. So the Red Wings are either, at best, the eighth- or ninth-best team in the NHL.
I don't believe that. I think they still rank in the Top 5. I mean the Flyers? That could be a disaster after their bizarre off season moves. The Caps to win it all? Aren't they the all-timers when it comes to failing in the postseason?
And I do like the way Ken Holland didn't overreact to the free agent market and tweaked the Red Wings this off season. I also believe the Red Wings have several younger players who will grow into more prominent roles - Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, Jokub Kindl - and Brennan Smith is going to be really good player.
The Red Wings still have, by far, the deepest and best roster in the NHL.


It was redemption weekend for the Detroit Tigers, but in truth they have won nothing

It's too early to give Tigers manager Jim Leyland nor the front office too much of a pat on the back, but they did have a good weekend. Their moves turned out to be right.
Brandon Inge, to chagrin of many, returned to the major leagues Saturday and immediately clubbed a home run and a long, ground-rule double.
Me? I'd have played Wilson Betemit that night and kept Inge in the minor leagues until Sept. 1 when rosters are allowed to expand.
Leyland had been roundly toasted for giving Justin Verlander an extra day's rest instead of pitching him Sunday against Cleveland. The Tigers won the game, sweeping the series, and now it looks good for the Tigers tonight with Verlander on the mound to begin a tough road series at Tampa Bay.
I didn't think it was the issue many fans did, but I would have started Verlander Sunday.
It was redemption weekend in a sense, not only for Inge and Leyland, but center fielder Austin Jackson. OK, so he is not Curtis Granderson. That ship sailed a long time ago. I screamed at the top my lungs about that trade when it was made, but Jackson is a developing player who does many things well. That was a great throw to end Sunday's game.
A word of caution, though, the season is long from over. The Rays have a better record than the Tigers. They have won five in a row. Last week, their pitching staff threw three straight 3-hitters at the Red Sox powerful lineup at Fenway Park.
And don't forget, the Tigers had a 7-game lead with 26 games left after unexpectedly sweeping the Rays on the road in 2009. That was in September - and the Tigers still didn't win the A.L. Central.
Yogi Berra's saying couldn't be more correct than it is about the Tigers. "It ain't over until it's over."
That was a thrilling weekend, but there are many land mines remaining to navigate. Especially the one this week at Tampa Bay.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

It's Michigan State, not Michigan, which has earned respect

My column in Monday's Oakland Press:

Poetic justice for Brandon Inge? Absolutely, but for just one game

I couldn't help but laugh Saturday night when Tigers' third baseman Brandon Inge had a home run and a ground-rule double in his first two at bats upon return to the major leagues.
His situation has become so personalized for a segment of the Tigers' fan base, that when he had initial success, it was like many simply did not want to hear about it, or witness it - even if they are diehard Tiger fans.
"Doesn't mean anything" was their battle cry. Many certainly didn't want any reminders about it on Twitter.
In a sense the decidedly anti-Inge segment - and it's certainly not a majority (most fans just didn't think Inge was playing well and have grown tired of his poor play, but are rooting for him) are right. Two hits off decidedly mediocre pitching doesn't mean Inge is the long-term solution to anything. The Tigers would have won that game anyway. Everybody was hitting.
But it did mean something in this regard.
Whether you love or hate Inge, it was a good story. Nobody should feel sorry for the guy. He has gotten a lot of acclaim and money through the years, and to his detractors it has not been unjustified.
However, Inge did take his medicine and go to the minor leagues. He did keep plugging away. He did get a call back to the major leagues. He did make the most of the opportunity Saturday.
What's wrong with that? Is it something to be angry about?
Tiger fans can only hope manager Jim Leyland doesn't overreact to this, and start playing Inge against right-handed pitching. My best best guess he won't. Wilson Betemit is hitting .309 against right-handers.
A stiffer test for Inge will be when the Tigers see solid pitching, which they inevitably will, probably sooner instead of later this week at Tampa Bay. And whether Inge is able to come through in that circumstance.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

My thoughts on the Detroit Tigers recalling Inge

- I'd play Wilson Betemit most games at third base. Since he was acquired from the Royals, the Tigers are 12-4 in games he has started, 2-8 in the games he didn't start. If it isn't broke, why fix it?

- It's true. Andy Dirks didn't deserve to go to the minor leagues. He's provided more lately than Magglio Ordonez. It's too late to release Mags, and laugh if you want, but some contending team would pick him after he cleared waivers. But winning the division isn't about being fair. Dirks has options remaining, Donald Kelly doesn't. Kelly, not Inge, is the Tigers' emergency catcher. He can also play outfield, including center field. They won't put Inge at catcher because of knee issues. And there are less than two weeks before they can call Dirks back to the major leagues.

- Dirks has done a good job. Don't get me wrong. But the way some Tiger fans fawn over him is a reminder of Brent Clevlen and Clete Thomas and yes, Casper Wells, who many Tiger fans are already turning into a superstar lost because he hit a few homers for the Mariners (they did the same thing about Scott Sizemore). Do the Tigers need an extra outfielder right now? Not really.

- But that's where the rub comes in. Do they really need an extra third baseman? Inge hit well at Toledo. Maybe he did find his hitting stroke. But he was awful earlier this season. Seems like, considering the way Betemit has been hitting, the better move would have been to wait until September to recall Inge. Or at least wait until Betemit went into some kind of slump.


Optimism prevails, but there was little reason to suggest why in Detroit Lions preseason victory over the Browns

My latest column for The Oakland Press:

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Detroit Lions Jahvid Best - Jamaal Charles, Reggie Bush or something less?

We found out this much about Lions running back Jahvid Best as a rookie. He is a spectacular player - when healthy. We also discovered the concerns about his durability are real. He broke down relatively early. This is not questioning his toughness. Just the opposite. Best played - and hard - with the type of injury that would have sidelined many players. It was his M.O. in college, too. Other than the neck injury he suffered at Cal, he played, but was often banged up and it limited his effectiveness
In truth, he is a smaller back with great speed and evade in the open field, who would be better served with lesser touches in more potentially explosive situations.
There are two backs Best could be like. One is Kansas City's Jamaal Charles, who has averaged six yards per carry in the NFL. Charles is about the same size. He started just six games last year (6.4 yards per carry) - and still made All Pro. He averaged less than 15 carries per game. Thomas Jones actually had more carries than Charles for the Chiefs. He did the inside work. Also, Charles had three times more receptions than Jones. The objective: Get the ball to Charles in space, but keep him away from taking the shots in the middle of line.
The Saints used Reggie Bush much the same way. When they didn't, and Bush became the so-called sole featured back, he wasn't nearly as effective.
I think Best is an underrated factor for the Lions this season. The injury to Mikel Leshoure has hurt some of their plans - they obviously have figured this out.
But it does make it imperative the Lions find a second back to compliment Best, an inside runner. Jerome Harrison is a smaller back, too. Mike Bell is a slasher. But are they effective enough? It's one of the remaining puzzles in the preseason. Maybe we'll know more tonight following the second preseason game.
One way or another, Best has to be better than he was last season for all the Lions' hopes to fall into place. The circumstances not only must align, but he must be that good.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Whether Verlander starts Sunday for the Detroit Tigers won't make or break their season

There are reasons Jim Leyland isn't moving Justin Verlander out of his regular turn in the rotation and having him pitch Sunday against Cleveland.

Verlander has thrown a ton of innings this year and the extra day of rest, because of an off day, will help. The rotation is more flexible down the stretch if he pitches Monday at Tampa Bay instead.

Verlander is going to get eight starts - one way or another. It's too early to call any series "must win." Unlike the series on the road in Cleveland - where they had a long losing streak - the Tigers have done well against the Indians at Comerica Park (Leyland did move Verlander up to pitch vs. the Indians in the final game of a recent series in Cleveland, and he won it.)

But having said all that, if the Tigers lose the first two games of their weekend series with the Indians, Leyland has set himself up for criticism. Harsh criticism.

Fans are upset about this. Look. I would start Verlander Sunday, but I don't understand the outrage surrounding it. There is a long way to go in the season. This isn't like when Leyland didn't start Placido Polanco on the final Thursday of the season in 2009, or played Miguel Cabrera that Saturday, after he had a well-documented incident earlier that morning, reporting to the ball park with his face marked up like something from Mapquest. Or started the not-so-legendary Alfredo Figaro on the mound that Saturday.

It's one thing to have a sense of urgency. Another to overreact. Fans are overreacting. But given the Tigers' second-half collapses in recent years, it's understandable.

Where the Tigers really went wrong in re-signing Magglio Ordonez

The reaction when the Tigers re-signed Magglio Ordonez during the off season was mixed. On one hand, he did have a pretty good season in 2010 before he broke his ankle sliding into home plate.
On the other, it was a fairly severe injury and Ordonez is 37 - an age when it is often difficult to gauge whether a player is in the midst of a slump or has hit the inevitable wall in his career.
There was also the cost factor. Ordonez got a high salary - $10 million.
It hasn't turned out well. Not only did Ordonez spent considerable time on the disabled list, but his bat has fizzled in August after he'd shown some life in June and July. The Tigers traded for Delmon Young. Ordonez is on the bench.
Did the Tigers have other options for Ordonez role in the off season? They did.
One was Lance Berkman. Coming off a subpar season, and a less-than-stellar late-season stint with the Yankees, he was a free agent. He signed with the Cardinals for a year and $8 million. Berkman had a monster first half of the season, and is still doing well (.292 with 28 home runs and 76 RBI). He's also been a tremendous postseason performer (.320, 1.001 OPS). And he's OK in the outfield compared to Ordonez. Berkman is 35.
Another option for the Tigers was Hideki Matsui. He had only been a DH for the Angels in 2010, but had a pretty good season statistically (.274-21-84). Like Ordonez, he is 37. The A's signed him for $4.6 million. He got off to a terrible start this season, but has roared back lately. He hit .369 in July and has hit .309 so far in August. And he's another proven postseason performer (.933 OPS). Matsui isn't much of an outfielder, but he has played 17 games in left field. He was a lot cheaper than Ordonez. And it's not like fielding is a strength for Ordonez at this point.

Lions? Tigers? It's Verlander and Suh who really own Detroit

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Detroit Tigers including Ruffin in Fister deal makes it very risky

I'd say the pressure is on Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland more than ever after it was revealed Wednesday that Chance Ruffin was included in the trade with Seattle that sent Doug Fister and David Pauley to Detroit.
But they already received their contract extensions.
Look, Fister must pan out. The Tigers gave up two of arguably their top three prospects (third baseman Francisco Martinez is the other) to get him. Fister still only has 13 major league victories and has never pitched under pennant race pressure before. We'll see how he handles it. So far, it's been a mixed bag.
But let me you ask this, where was the risk involved for Dombrowski in making this deal? There was none.
I probably would have given him the extension, too, but would have waited until the hand played out.
As is, the risk of the Fister trade lies only with the fans, who are waiting on the edge of their seat hoping the other shoe doesn't drop on the Tigers again late this season.


Apparent fine levied on Detroit Lions Ndamukong Suh not-so-funny joke by NFL

This is what happened Friday night at Ford Field.
Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh hit Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton and drove him to the ground after he released the ball. Dalton's helmet came flying off. Suh was flagged.
I understood the flag. I don't understand the $20,000 fine Suh (he tweeted about it Wednesday) received from the league Wednesday as result.
Was it a helmet to helmet hit? No.
Did Suh take some sort of cheap shot at Dalton's knees? No.
The NFL is laughable sometimes. It just goes too far. It's like they understand they have a good thing going, almost a license to print money because we're all so mesmerized by their product, they have taken the fun out of the game.
Example: Kickoff returns. They have basically taken it out because of moving the line up to the 35 where kickers will soar the ball into the end zone for touchbacks. Stefan Logan was one of the best things about watching the Lions last year. He'll only be half as fun this year - on punts.
Suh's play on Dalton thrilled the crowd. This is a lunch bucket town that likes it very much Suh is extremely aggressive on the football field.
It was so loud after the hit, Dalton had trouble getting the signals off on the next play.
Player safety is a concern, but it's impossible to legislate all the risk from the game. It doesn't make every late hit worthy of a fine.
Suh did bend the rules. He was penalized for it, too. But fined?
What a joke. And not such a funny one at that.


The Detroit Tigers Justin Verlander an MVP candidate? What "should be" compared to what "could be"

Justin Verlander clearly deserves consideration not only for the American League Cy Young Award, but MVP as well.
But it's unlikely he will even come close as a starting pitcher if recent history is any indication.
- No starting pitcher has won an MVP award since Roger Clemens with Boston in 1986.
- No starting pitcher has finished above 10th in A.L. MVP voting since Minnesota's Johan Santana was seventh in 2006.
- No starting pitcher has finished in the Top 5 in A.L. MVP voting since Boston's Pedro Martinez was fifth in 2000. Martinez was also the last A.L. pitcher in the Top 3 in MVP voting. He was second in 1999.
- Last year, there were only two starting pitchers in the Top 20 receiving A.L. MVP votes. The Yankees' C.C. Sabathia was 13th and Seattle's Felix Hernandez 16th. To give you an idea where that ranked, Minnesota's Delmon Young, the newest Tiger, was 10th.
- Utterly brilliant seasons don't even bring MVP votes for starting pitchers. When Cleveland's Cliff Lee was 22-3 in 2008, he placed 12th. In 2002, when Barry Zito won 23 games for Oakland, he placed 13th.
But even knowing this, there is a question needs to be asked. Who is more valuable to their team in the American League this season than Justin Verlander is to the Tigers? I mean 14 of 18 victories after his team lost the game before. Another when over Cleveland when the Tigers were tied with the Indians for first place. He's thrown more than 100 pitches in every start this season. All his numbers - ERA, k's, WHIP, innings pitched - are really good. He is on pace to go 24-7 this season. No American League pitcher has won 24 or more games since Bob Welch - pride of Hazel Park High School - won 27 for Oakland in 1990. He was ninth in MVP voting that year, but there were two other starting pitchers ahead of him that season, Clemens and Dave Stewart.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Under the circumstances, was it appropriate for Detroit Tigers fans to cheer so loudly after Jim Thome's 600th career home run?

Fans at Comerica Park gave Jim Thome a thunderous ovation last night when he hit his 600th career home run against the Tigers.
On the surface, that's the way it should be, considering the magnitude of the moment. I mean only eight players in major league history have hit 600 or more career home runs.
But it was a 3-run shot and turned a close 6-5 game into a bit of a rout. It one of two home runs Thome hit Tuesday. The other was a 2-run blast that broke a 3-3 tie.
The Tigers are in a pennant race. Those home runs were extremely damaging to their cause.
Should fans really have been cheering Thome so lustily under the circumstances?
Personally, I had no issue with it. To me, baseball lore trumps all.
Not all Tiger fans, who called my radio show after the game, saw it that way. Nor did my co-host Dennis Fithian.
Some were really upset and felt their fellow fans were dupes.
I'll concede they have a point - especially in regard to Thome, who has just destroyed the Tigers down through the years, and with their division rivals Cleveland, the White Sox and Minnesota. Thome has hit 65 home runs against the Tigers - more than any other club.
"But he is such a nice guy...." And it is true. Everybody likes Jim Thome. Yet, as far at the Tigers are concerned, he's been, figuratively anyway, a smiling assassin.

- Thomas Rawls has been performing very well in fall drills for Michigan, outplaying his three-star status coming out of Flint Northern. The Wolverines will likely get help in their running game from true freshman this season, and perhaps sooner than later, from Rawls and Justice Hayes, a four-star player from Grand Blanc.

- There are a lot of things to like about Michigan State, but nothing more than Kirk Cousins. There is a quality of leadership there that is rare. And he's been through virtually every situation to this point. State may have some issues on the offensive line and a tough schedule, but I still see the Spartans getting to nine wins primarily because of Cousins.


Adding Delmon Young can only help the Tigers

My column in Tuesday's Oakland Press:


Monday, August 15, 2011

Acquiring Young a great move for Tigers

Acquiring Delmon Young in a trade for prospects only helps the Tigers immediate future. He hasn't performed that well overall this season, but has been heating up of late - at least in terms of batting average.
He had a well-documented incident in the minor leagues with an umpire, but is not a clubhouse lawyer like his brother. He does play hard and respect the game.
For the Twins, it's a money dump. Young is arbitration eligible, and due for a big jump in pay. For the Tigers, it's a player they have under control for another year if they choose. He had 112 RBI last year. He is a proven run producer. It's win-win because he is capable of being the best hitting outfielder on the squad. He's gets on rolls.
But it does leave open the future of Magglio Ordonez with the Tigers. The Tigers have some difficult decisions to make in regard to their roster.


On the team the Tigers probably should really be looking out for and the Lions running attack

Count me among those who dismissed the White Sox. Just something about the way that team has played this season, especially given the malaise of such high-priced players as Adam Dunn and Alex Rios.
But maybe we were too quick to judge.
The White Sox have won 8-of-10 games. They are .500, only four games behind the Tigers in the American League Central standings and host the Indians in a big series this week. The Tigers need to take advantage of the Twins and their 25-37 road record this week while the White Sox and Indians are doing damage to each other.

- About the only downside to the Lions' preseason-opening 34-3 victory over Cincinnati Friday was they weren't very effective running the football. Recent free agent signings Jerome Harrison and Mike Bell didn't do much. Not that they had holes to run through...
There will be some good backs cut loose near the end of the preseason, though. Here's one possibility for the Lions: Keith Toston from the Rams. He is a good inside runner, who is getting buried on the depth chart in St. Louis by veteran acquisitions. He ran well against the Colts in the Rams' preseason opener. In addition, he's a good special teams player.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Tigers have made what should be a one-horse race a trio

Error by Detrot Tigers Ryan Raburn at third base was predictable - this is why

Jim Leyland is not alone among managers when it comes to seeing players in positions where they don't really fit - like when he starts Ryan Raburn at third base. (Raburn has 70 errors in 202 professional games, majors and minors, at third base and clearly can't play the position effectively).
I remember Sparky Anderson once put Matt Nokes in the outfield because he thought he was a good enough athlete to handle it. It didn't work.
But in this case, the Tigers got a dose of Raburn at third when he made two errors in a one-run loss to the Royals in 2009.
Leyland hasn't played with that fire much since. Gradually, he's started Raburn at third more - with OK results. But not Sunday. when his error essentially killed the Tigers' chances to rally.
Raburn's fielding percentage at third base, both in the majors and minors, is in the mid-.800s.
It isn't much of a surprise it happened.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Benefits of Suh's aggressive play for Detroit Lions far outweigh drawbacks

Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has quickly gained a reputation for roughing up quarterbacks, even sometimes drawing penalties for his actions.
I don't see it as a bad thing.
It's like a hockey player who sometimes crosses the line, but is aided by it because of the intimidation factor.
Suh is intimidating. He got a penalty for his hit on Bengals' quarterback Andy Dalton Friday, but it was worth it in the message he sent out.
If the league were to fine Suh for this, it would be a joke. He's an aggressive football player, not a dirty one. This wasn't a helmet-to-helmet hit nor a shot to the knees.
And the fans loved it. It was half-full at Ford Field Friday, yet Dalton had trouble getting the next play called out at the line because of the noise level.
How is that "bad" for the game?


Is the Detroit LIons Matthew Stafford for real or a mirage?

My latest column for The Oakland Press:


Friday, August 12, 2011

What we'll get out of tonight's preseason game between the Lions and the Bengals

These are the things I'm looking for during tonight's preseason game between the Lions and the Bengals at Ford Field:

1. The Lions' running backs. Mike Bell or Jerome Harrison? I don't see the Lions necessarily carrying both of them to begin the season. Harrison has the better career stats, but I've always been impressed with Bell. He's a power runner. Hits the hole hard and cuts. We'll see tonight if my perception is right about the two.

2. The Bengals. Rookie QB Andy Dalton and WR A.J. Green. How good are they? Also hope Dan LeFevor gets into the game.

3. Anybody not keeping a close eye on cornerback Eric Wright? He played well for the Browns at times. Last season, though, he was not good. Has he reverted to form?


MVP candidate? Potential Hall of Famer? Some thoughts about Justin Verlander

Justin Verlander has 100 victories at the age of 28.
No other active major league pitcher 29 years or younger has more than 84. Next in line is Ervin Santana, who is also 28. It's not out of the realm Verlander is on a Hall of Fame pace. Even with many more starts remaining this season, he is averaging nearly 17 wins per year in his six full seasons in the major leagues, and has just entered his prime. His high ERA would be an issue. It's what likely has kept Jack Morris out of the Hall so far. (Morris has 254 victories, but his 3.90 ERA would be the highest of any Hall of Fame pitcher - although you'd think it would be considered he pitched smack dab in the middle of the so-called steroids era).
Verlander has lowered his ERA considerably this season. His career ERA entering this season was 3.76. He has dropped it to 2.35 for this year - and lowered it to 3.58 overall.
Verlander has already pitched two no hitters in his career and is an obvious threat to throw more. You can make a strong case he is an MVP candidate this season. Of his 17 wins so far, 13 came after the Tigers lost the prior game. Another victory was against Cleveland earlier this season when both teams were tied for first. His 17 victories represent 27 percent of the Tigers' total victories. He leads the American League in wins, innings pitched, strikeouts and has the best WHIP.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Hey, before hitting the panic button, you just might want to notice Verlander is pitching for the Tigers tonight

The last two nights have been awful for the Tigers. Their lead over Cleveland is down to two games in the American League Central. The White Sox have remained in the race - despite themselves. They are only four back.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland, the first two games after receiving a contract extension, has played odd lineups. Wilson Betemit didn't start Tuesday, Jhonny Peralta didn't start Wednesday. The Tigers had an off day Monday.
The Tigers have lost 13 games in a row at Cleveland.
But there is hope. It comes in the form of Justin Verlander, who starts tonight for the Tigers. He's not only 16-5, but of his 16 victories, 12 have come following Tigers losses. He did down Cleveland earlier this season when the two teams entered the game tied for first place.
Many times this season, Verlander has saved series for the Tigers. That would never be more true than if he wins this game.
He should. Verlander easily has the best fastball in the major leagues right now. He can 100 mph any time he wants. Ubaldo Jiminez, who beat the Tigers Wednesday, has a very good fastball, too, but it doesn't compare - despite what some of the statistical studies may say about him throwing consistently harder than Verlander in recent years.
Tigers win tonight, they have a three-game lead - and all is well. They lose - and panic would set in given their second-half track record in recent years. The lead will be down to one precious game.
It's on Verlander tonight. Pressure? Not really for Verlander himself. More on the Indians who will be facing the best pitcher in baseball.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Too early to call a Tigers loss devastating, but...

It's August 10. The Tigers are still in first place in the American League Central. The nearest team to them in the division standings, the Cleveland Indians, are just a game above .500 overall, and have played considerably below .500 ball (14 games below in their last 68 games) for an extended span.
The Tigers clearly have the best team in the A.L. Central. Blah. Blah.
Still, that 14-inning loss to the Indians Tuesday night (and early into Wednesday morning) was a tremendous blow. Not only did the Tigers burn their bullpen (starter Doug Fister was pulled after two innings and a two-hour rain delay), but the Tigers didn't win a test of will.
Also, they have lost 12 straight games at Cleveland. Last year, their postseason aspirations essentially faded after they were swept by the Indians in four games at Progressive Field immediately following the All Star break.
Three of the four Tigers' losses at Cleveland this year have been by one run.
The Tigers were handed a gift when Chad Durbin replaced Indians' starter Justin Masterson following the rain delay. They didn't take advantage of it. They had several opportunities to break the game open later. They didn't.
And while everyone is focusing on the Indians and this series, the White Sox won Tuesday. They've been awful this season, honestly. And the Tigers have hardly put them away.
Anybody notice the White Sox are only four games out. If they play any semblance of decent baseball, they could push the Tigers right out of the picture.
The big issue that came out of Tuesday's game: Should Duane Below replace Brad Penny in the Tigers starting rotation? Depends on Penny's start Friday at Baltimore, I suppose. But it should also be considered that Below has taken well to relieving, retiring 22 straight batters. Might be a point to not messing with his current role. But it is unusual the Tigers don't have a left-hander in their starting rotation


Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Bell, Harrison good pickups for Detroit Lions - this is why

In the aftermath of rookie running back Mikel Leshoure's season-ending injury, the Lions were smart to give their coaching staff a choice of a couple solid veteran replacements - Jerome Harrison and Mike Bell.
Harrison is a smaller back, but he has the bigger upside. He had a pretty year for the Browns in 2009, averaging 4.4 yards per carry. He had several 100-yard plus games, including a 286-yard game vs. Kansas City that is somewhat legendary. Early last season, he suffered a thigh injury, though, and became a victim of the Wally Pipp syndrome - Peyton Hillis replaced him, and took off to Madden Cover fame.
I've liked Bell as a runner since he was at the University of Arizona. He was an undrafted rookie free agent who fought his way to playing time with the Broncos. He played relatively well for the Saints in 2009. Didn't seem like he was much a receiver. But he runs downhill and hard. He'll break a tackle or two and press the crease.
One thing I very much like about the Lions current coaching staff is their adaptability. We saw a lot of that at the end of last season when the Lions won four straight games at the close despite a rash of injuries.
If there is anything left on the tires of Harrison and Bell - and there is no reason to believe there isn't because they are both just 28 - I think this staff will make the best of the situation.


Monday, August 08, 2011

Timing of Tigers contract extensions for Leyland and Dombrowski curious

My column in Tuesday's Oakland Press:


Tigers contract extensions for Dombrowski and Leyland send wrong message about accountability

I understand why Tigers owner Mike Ilitch gave a long-term contract extension to general manager Dave Dombrowski, and another year for manager Jim Leyland.
Dombrowski has brought organization to the Tigers, who were decidedly dysfunctional before his arrival. Don't forget, he was hired as team president first. I would have given him an extension, too.
But I would have waited.
The longstanding professional sports theory is you don't want your manager or coach to be a lame duck. If that's the case, he loses his authority and the players don't tend to respect him when things go wrong. That's why Leyland got the year.
But I would have waited.
I did think Ilitch was doing something out of the box that was refreshing. He was holding his general manager and manager accountable for results. I mean, the Tigers should win the American League Central. They are the best team in the division, by a wide margin, and have a decent lead with not that much of the season remaining.
The Tigers have had numerous second-half collapses in recent years, though, the most notably in 2009 - after Leyland's contract was extended.
In that sense, I wish Ilitch had followed through and let the season play out before making any decisions. Sometimes a sense of urgency isn't a bad thing.
This was one of those times.


Why Tiger fans are perhaps underestimating the Indians

The numbers don't look good for the Cleveland Indians. They started the season 30-15 and held a 7-game lead in the American League Central on May 23. The common thought at the time is the Indians would fade.
And they have, posting a 26-41 record since, which leaves the Tribe 56-56 and four games behind the Tigers in the standings. Yeah. The Tigers made up 11 games on the Indians in that relatively short period of time.
But like the Tigers, the worst of the schedule is over for the Indians. Ten of their last 13 games were against the Angels, Red Sox and Rangers - the last seven at Boston and Texas.
Much has been made about the Tigers playing only three games against above .500 teams the remainder of the season - Tampa Bay. The Indians are in essentially the same spot. Other than their 12 remaining meetings with the Tigers, their only games against clubs currently above .500 will be on a trip to Texas in September.
And the Indians, like the Tigers, have improved their talent level. Second baseman Jason Kipnis and third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall were not rushed to the major leagues and are very talented rookies. Their play has been spotty since being called up, but the conditions for them to perform improve greatly. And the Indians did add at the trade deadline, front line starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez.
The Tigers have a better team than the Indians in just about every category except one: Bullpen. The Indians have very good bullpen depth.
At the beginning of the year, I made the colossal statement, "The Indians stink." I've been proven wrong. They've actually hung in there pretty well.
Do I think the Tigers will win the division? Yes. But don't be surprised if the Indians make them earn it. Or if the Tigers' falter down the stretch, the Tribe steal it.
That may sound ridiculous, but the landscape of this pennant race are going to change dramatically from this point forward because of the schedule.

Replay of livestream chat Monday with sports editor Jeff Kuehn. We do this every Monday at 12:30 - a live chat is setup to join in the conversation. We got into the Dombrowski, Leyland contract extensions, Tigers pennant race and Lions injuries:

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Unwritten rules out of control in sports

My column in Monday's Oakland Press:


Sunday, August 07, 2011

Tigers, Indians trade deadline deals tested this week

Whether the Tigers made the better move than Cleveland at the trade deadline will be tested this week. Doug Fister, acquired from Seattle, will face the Indians on the Tuesday. He did well his first start in a Detroit uniform at Comerica Park against the Rangers, but this is on the road against the Tigers' nearest competition in the American League Central.
Fister is 0-2 with a 3.14 ERA in his career against the Indians. He is 0-0 with a 2.51 ERA at Progressive Field. He pitched eight innings, allowing four hits and two earned runs at Cleveland earlier this season. The Mariners lost that game, 5-4.
Ubaldo Jimenez pitches against the Tigers Wednesday. The Indians really need him to step forward and be Cleveland's version of Justin Verlander. The general consensus is that Jimenez, who was 15-1 at point of the 2010 season, is a better pitcher than Fister. Is he, really? Jimenez was underwhelming in his first start for the Indians.
We'll know more this week.


It's hot, it's humid, it's high school football

My column in Sunday's Oakland Press:

Friday, August 05, 2011

Five keys to the Tigers winning the A.L. Central

1. A return to form by Phil Coke - I've thought since the start of the season, Coke has been the least of the Tigers' worries, even though he hasn't pitched that well. I like his track record. But this is the first weekend of August, and he is still struggling. The Tigers desperately need relievers who will be solid in the sixth or seventh innings. Coke must be one of those pitchers, along with the recently-acquired David Pauley.
2. The health of Carlos Guillen - The Tigers lineup is just much better with Guillen. It has a domino effect, as well, putting Ryan Raburn in a role he is obviously more suited. But Guillen has a history of getting injured. A relatively long and consistent one. Will the other shoe drop again?
3. Magglio Ordonez being a reasonable facsimile of himself - He hit .294 in July, which isn't bad, but he only had three extra base hits. He doesn't have an extra base hit yet this month. The Tigers need Ordonez in the 3-hole hitting with some power to be their best.
4. Rick Porcello, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister being 7-inning pitchers - Porcello went eight in his last start, Scherzer has gone seven or more in two of his last three outings. Fister went seven in his initial start with the Tigers. What it does is take pressure off a bullpen which remains shaky at the back end.
5. Jim Leyland - The Tigers manager has been presented with a 3-game lead over the Indians, a 6 1-2 game lead over the White Sox and an 8-game advantage over the Twins with 51 games remaining. And he has the best team in the division. No excuses.


Thursday, August 04, 2011

Meet the latest Detroit Tigers scapegoat: Austin Jackson

Tiger fans have apparently developed this habit of seeking a player to pick on. Early this season, it was a slumping Ryan Raburn. Then it was Brandon Inge, who wasn't hitting a lick.
They got their wish with Inge. He is at Toledo (he is hitting .304 with two home runs, six RBI and an OPS of 1.081 since being designated for assignment). They didn't with Raburn, but he has come around at the plate. Wednesday, his eighth-inning home run provided the eventual winning run in the Tigers' 5-4 victory over the Rangers. Since June 29, Raburn is hitting .327 with four home runs and eight RBI in 58 at bats.
Now, it seems, as if Austin Jackson is the player on the hot seat. The Tigers' center fielder got off to a horrible start this season (.181 in the first month), then came around to a degree, hurt his wrist, missed some time and has scuffled upon his return. More and more I'm getting calls on my radio show, "Austin Jackson is (fill in the over-reactive criticism)
Is Jackson an ideal leadoff hitter? Not at this point. Way too many strikeouts, not enough walks.
His batting average is considerably below last season - .247 compared to .293 when I voted for him for American League Rookie of the Year. To top it off, Curtis Granderson, the player traded to the Yankees for Jackson, is having a monster season.
But Jackson is a completely different case than Inge or Raburn. He isn't a veteran player signed to an overblown contract as his career appears to be waning - like Inge. He won't be arbitration eligible until after next season. He isn't a utility player with a questionable glove in his late 20s and early 30s, once considered to be a 4-A player, the Tigers gave an unexpected two-year contract - like Raburn.
He is a decidedly above-average defensive player at a premium position with the Tigers' only real element of speed. He is 24 years old. Yet, already, he has shown his ability to grind through the season and survive slumps, and a willingness to play when hurt. Jackson's .247 batting average isn't that far below the major league average of .254. He is not having a good season, but it isn't that bad.
There is a relatively high probability Jackson is going to be a very good major league player for a long period, that he is just going through growing pains young players inevitably do.
I don't believe he deserves scapegoat status from a growing number of overzealous Tigers' fans.


Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Are the Tigers setting us up for a division title or another fall?

Is it happening?
Or is it happening again?
Is it happening in the sense the Tigers have won two dramatic one-run games in a row over quality teams at Comerica Park.
They are three full games atop the American League. The team closest to the Tigers, the Indians, are one game above .500 and trying to compete in the buzzsaw that is Fenway Park this week.
The White Sox, who are playing the mighty Yankees, just keep scuffling well below .500. The Twins, the nightmare of every Tigers' fan, are eight games back and nine games below .500.
They all lost Tuesday. Looks great for the Tigers.
Or is it happening again in the sense the Tigers are jumping out to a lead in a division they clearly should win, only to be brought down again bitterly at the end?
Brennan Boesch and Alex Avila were really good last night. I've liked what I've seen lately from Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer. The Tigers have a solid lineup. The starting pitching should be OK, especially with the addition of Doug Fister.
But that bullpen is scary. Joaquin Benoit had been pitching better, but last night he unexpectedly reverted to his early-season form.
Dave Dombrowski made some nice moves that have helped put the Tigers in contention, but some just haven't worked. Couldn't they have gotten a little bit more than David Purcey for Scott Sizemore, who homered Tuesday off Felix Hernandez?

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

On the Lions offensive line and overlooked key for the Tigers

The offensive line has long been a source of dismay for Lions' fans, but did play well last year. Only half-dozen teams in the NFL allowed fewer sacks. With pedestrian running backs and backup quarterbacks, the Lions nonetheless ran the ball surprisingly well in a few late-season victories.
Offensive line wasn't a priority in the draft, nor has it been in free agency. While it would hardly be considered a strength, it wasn't viewed as a weakness, either.
Then, days before the lockout ended, it was revealed long-time starting left tackle Jeff Backus has an injured pectoral muscle. His status for beginning the season is up in the air. Also, right tackle Gosder Cherilus hasn't been able to practice fully because of a knee injury.
Yes. It's early in training camp.
But yes, it should be a concern.
Do the Lions have enough offensive line depth? It's a fair question that will be answered during the preseason. We'll see if Jason Fox is the answer. Obviously, this is his shot.

- A key for the Tigers is Daniel Schelerth. He and recently-acquired David Pauley must be able to eat up innings at the back end of the bullpen for the Tigers to start pulling away in the A.L. Central.
Schelerth has a good arm. He has plenty of innings and experience under his belt. It's time to stop being a prospect and become a legitimate major league pitcher.


On the Tigers encounter with Jared Weaver, Verlander, Lions signings

Replay of my livestream videocast with sports editor Jeff Kuehn. We do this live every Monday starting at 12:30 p.m.

Video streaming by Ustream


Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio went too far in defense of ex-Ohio State coach Jim Tressel

My column in Tuesday's Oakland Press:


Monday, August 01, 2011

If anything, it was Jered Weaver who disrepected baseball

The unwritten codes of baseball are usually excuses to get mad at somebody else about one's own lack of performance.
I'm not talking about flatout taunting, but things like staring at a home run for too long.
There was a classic example of it Sunday at Comerica Park when the Angels' Jered Weaver blew his stack and went baseball's version of postal by sailing a 92 mph fastball at Detroit's Alex Avila's head and stomping around like a 2-year-old at feeding time.
First of all, if Weaver had a problem with Carlos Guillen for admiring his home run too long, fight him. He was right in front of Weaver. Go after him, ala David Ortiz.
It was would have been Weaver II in Tigers' lore. Remember Weaver I - when his brother, Jeff, got mouthy and Mike Sweeney of the Royals charged him. His act was such a reminder of his brother's often bush league behavior when he played for the Tigers it was surreal.
This stuff where Weaver throws his mitt in the safety of the dugout and acts "like hold me back" when he is protected is totally chicken, well, you-know-what.
Don't scream and stomp. Duke it out with Guillen.
Secondly, he wasn't trying to hit Avila. That much was apparent. Obviously, Weaver has excellent control. But throwing near the head, in case he misses, could have resulted in dire consequences.
And then to talk about respect for the game afterward?
Weaver couldn't have dissed it any more.