Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Detroit Tigers off season: These should be the priorities

The first Las Vegas odds are out and have the Tigers as a 6-1 favorite to win next year's World Series.
Their starting pitching, even if they can't re-sign Anibal Sanchez, will be among the best in baseball. They'll have Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister leading the rotation. Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly are young and have an upside. Austin Jackson, Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera will be leading the lineup. Victor Martinez will be back at DH, and Omar Infante will be at second base from the beginning of the season. But there are issues.
Torii Hunter: Would fit in perfectly with Tigers
 - The Tigers need corner outfielders. I see Andy Dirks as an every day player, but ideally he has a right-handed counterpart. Avisail Garcia needs more minor league at bats. The Tigers need a regular for one corner outfield spot, ideally a right-handed hitter. Torii Hunter will be 37 next season, but he had an excellent season with the Angels. He would buy the Tigers time until Garcia and/or Nick Castellanos are ready. B.J. Upton is another free agent possibility, although the Rays will try to re-sign him. He had an off season (on base percentage below .300), but he is in prime and the ability is there. Cody Ross, an underrated player. I believe the Tigers will take a run a run Josh Hamilton in free agency.
 - Bruce Rondon should be given first crack at the closer's role. He has an off-the-charts upside. I thought he should have been in the major leagues this season,  but the Tigers need more bullpen depth, and better options should Rondon falter than Brayan Villarreal, Al Alburquerque, Joaquin Benoit and Phil Coke. The list of free agent relievers is long, varied and treacherous. The best reliever in baseball this past season was former Tiger disaster Fernando Rodney, who is now a free agent. It's a position that comes and goes and clubs who bite on long-term closers usually regret it (Heath Bell).
- The Tigers do have pieces to trade, The best are Brennan Boesch, who some scouts will like because he does have a live bat, and Porcello, who at 23 likely hasn't come close to tapping his ultimate potential. Tiger fans have lost patience with both these players, but they could do well elsewhere. There is some risk involved. Also, if the Tigers augment their outfield via free agency, where does Castellanos fit? Has he been passed on the Tigers depth chart by Garcia? Cabrera and Fielder will be at third and first for years.
The Tigers would be wise to hold onto Castellanos for an in-season deal. They will need viable trading chips at the deadline.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What is unusual about Jim Leyland's contract

Deal works for both Leyland and Tigers
The Tigers won the pennant. In those circumstances, the manager doesn't get fired. What is different about the Tigers and their situation with Jim Leyland is they do it on a year-by-year basis.
Normally, a manager on a one-year deal is considered a lame duck, who is doesn't command much respect in the clubhouse because the players figure he won't be there for the long term.
That wasn't an issue for Leyland last season working on a one-year deal. The players know and respect him. So they will do it again in 2013.
It's a good both sides. The Tigers aren't boxed in with Leyland in the long run, nor even the short term if it does wrong early next season. It's good for him because he can go somewhere else. He lives in Pittsburgh. It would not be surprising if at some point his managerial career goes full circle and concludes with the Pirates.
Some fans will be upset there were no coaching changes made after Gene Lamont's mistake of sending Prince Fielder home in Game 2 of the World Series. But with Leyland, like most veteran managers, you get his coaches. It's just part of the deal, and that is probably one of the reasons it is year-by-year deal.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Bitter end shouldn't diminish an otherwise sweet season for the Tigers

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Thoughts after 8 innings, Tigers, Giants, Game 4, World Series

- So far, so good for the Tigers bullpen. It's always a danger zone when it is put in charge of a game. It was important to get through the portion of the Giants order with Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey.
- Miguel Cabrera's wind blown home run aside, both he and Prince Fielder have just not performed up to expectations so far in this series. The back to back strikeouts in the eighth inning were a profound disappointment.
-Great relief work by Jeremyt Affeldt. He didn't have that type of breaking ball when he pitched for the Royals, that's for sure.
- Hey, the season is now in Phil Coke's hands. How does that make you feel?

Thoughts after 3 innings, Tigers, Giants, Game 4, World Series

Finally. Miguel Cabrera came through. Will it be too late? It might have been wind blown home run, but at minimum, it will help Cabrera save face for what has been a tough World Series for him thus far.
- The Tigers are streaky offensively, granted, but the depths they've fallen offensively in the World Series had been ridiculous.
- The bunt play by Quintin Berry was extremely dangerous. Great play by both Giants' third baseman Pablo Sandoval and first baseman Brandon Belt. Better play by shortstop Brandon Crawford on Prince Fielder. Could have been a very big inning by the Tigers.
- Tigers starting pitcher Max Scherzer has excellent movement on his fastball tonight, and has done a good job of wiggling out of jams the last two innings. The problem is typical of this series, though. The Giants are doing a good job of working the count  against him. Buster Posey helped Scherzer out a great deal by swinging at the first pitch, flyiing out to end the third inning with runners on first and third. The Tigers dont want to turn to the bullpen in this game early. It's where they are most vulnerable. They need seven innings from Scherzer.

Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions live to fight for a playoff another day

My column:

For Stafford, Lions it's never too late

Thoughts after 3 quarters, Lions, Seahawks

- Safety Louis Delmas has hurt his knee again. While the Lions defense had played much better since Delmas' return, Ricardo Silva did made did make two nice plays in the third quarter.
On a quick read with the Lions in an all-out blitz, Silva made a nice open field tackle on Seattle running back Robert Turbin. If Silva hadn't made that play, Turpin would have been off on a long gain, possibly a TD,. Also, Silva made a tremendous ball-hawking move to pick off a pass by Seattle QB Russell Wilson.
- Seattle safety Earl Thomas is a great player, but Lions' quarterback Matthew Stafford made an interception easy for him when he tried to fit the ball into double coverage. Tight end Tony Scheffler wasn't remotely open on the play.
- Stafford isn't known for his mobility or athleticism, but it is there, although he rarely uses it. He used it in the third quarter, though, on a scramble for a first down, and by gunning a throw on the run sidearm to Titus Young for a first down. It was a terrific catch by Young. Both Young and Ryan Broyles have had a signicant impact on this game.

Thoughts halftime, Lions, Seahawks

- That was a great throw by quarterback Matthew Stafford to Titus Young, producing the Lions second touchdown. You still see flashes of brilliance from Stafford this season. It's been his consistency that's been the issue. But that was by far the best first-half of football the Lions' offense has played this season.
- Seahawks' offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has chosen wisely to avoid throwing the ball in the direction of Lions' cornerback Chris Houston, opting intead to go after rookie Jonte Green and nickelback Alphonso Smith. It is probably more out of disrespect for Green and Smith than respect for Houston, though. I have been impressed with the progress Green has made. He was awful one-on-one coverage during the mini-camp and training camp workouts I saw. His improvement has been dramatic. The Lions may be developing a long-term player at cornerback, but there will be growing pains in the process We're seeing a lot of them, including a 41-yard pass interference call today.
- The Seahawks are not playing their safeties nearly as deep as the Bears and Vikings did when they faced the Lions this season. Likely the main reason: The skill of their safeties. Earl Thomas is among the best at the position in the NFL. Kam Chancellor is a solid player, too. But the Lions did burn them deep.
- The Lions' two-minute drill at the end of the first half was disapppointing. Conversely, the Lions let the Seahawks move down the field with ease with less than a minute remaining in the half. The Lions were fortunate Seattle didn't tack on a field goal.
- It's incredible just how good the rookie QBs are in the NFL this season. Seattle's Russell Wilson is among them. Watching this game, you'd never guess he is a rookie. He is very decisive and poised. Wilson did have the best passer rating in the NCAA last season, ahead of even Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III and first overall pick Andrew Luck. He does look any less sure of himself in the NFL than he did tearing up the Big Ten at Wisconsin last year.

Thoughts after 1 quarter, Lions, Seahawks

- Excellent scoring drive by the Lions. Amazingly, just their second TD in the first half of a game this season, the first since the opener. They mixed run and pass well, and took advantage of the middle of the field being so wide open.
- The penalty on the punt to extend Seattle's scoring drive was disappointing. The Lions continue to shoot themselves in the foot with too many foolish mistakes, especially on special teams.
- The Lions defensive line is playing very well. That's the best sign of an otherwise disappointing season so far. Well, until Marshawn Lynch broke through on a long run to start the second quarter. Where was the help support from the secondary?

Cabrera, Fielder, Verlander - Detroit Tigers World Series troubles as simple as 1-2-3

My column:
Everything that can go wrong has for Miggy, Tigers

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Thoughts after 8 innings, Tigers, Giants, World Series

- The Giants are just another example of how important defense is when it comes to winning baseball games, and probably in this case, a championship. When Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford made an error in the eighth, it was almost surreal.
- Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder have been beyond disappointing in this series, but especially tonight.
- For the leading hitter in the major leagues this season, Giants catcher Buster Posey has not looked good in this series.

Thoughts after 6 innings, Tigers, Giants, Game 3, World Series

- Two outs, bases loaded, down two runs, the fifth inning, the pitcher on the ropes...Miguel Cabrera couldn't have been at the plate in a more ideal situation. He just didn't get it done. Not a good series for Prince Fielder, either.
- Quintin Berry sometimes struggles as a hitter, but he usually doesn't get himself out. Plate discipline is normally a strength. Tonight, that has not been the case. If he had showed more plate discpline in the fifth inning, he would have drawn a bases loaded walk.
- Overall, not a bad outing for Anibal Sanchez. He did fight through his command issues. Two runs, six innings, seven k's, not bad. Starting pitching has not been a problem for the Tigers the last two games, that's for sure.
- Tim Lincecum in that spot is almost unfair. Giants bullpen is something.

Thoughts after 3 innings, Tigers, Giants, Game 3, World Series

- There were a lot of things the Tigers wanted to see from Quintin Berry in that situation. Swinging at the first pitch wasn't one of them.
- Anibal Sanchez's lack of command tonight is alarming and surprising. The Giants seem to be recognizing his pitches well. They are getting good swings off him. The Tigers bullpen better get ready. It looks like they will be getting plenty of work tonight. Even in the 1-2-3 third inning, Sanchez had to throw a lot of pitches. 62 pitches after three innings is just too many.
- Honestly, I have never thought much about Giants left fielder Gregor Blanco before this postseason. He was the very definition of just another player. His career OPS is well below .700 and he's bounced around a lot in his career. Given his play both offensively and defensively in the series, he has all the makings of  a classic World Series hero, who has essentially come out of nowhere.

Friday, October 26, 2012

If Detroit Tigers don't win World Series, decision to send Prince Fielder home will live in infamy

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Thoughts after 8 innings, Tigers, Giants, Game 2, World Series

- What really hurt both Drew Smyly and Octavio Dotel out of the Tigers' bullpen were the walks. They don't happen, the Giants probably don't get either run.
- You must give the Giants credit for doing what the Tigers don't do well at the plate. That is working the count and being tough outs in clutch situations. Dotel did get the borderline calls before Hunter Pence hit his sacrifice fly, but Pence hung in there incredibly well with two strikes.
- Doug Fister deserves so much more than a losing decision in the World Series based on the way he pitched tonight.

Thoughts after 7 innings, Tigers, Giants, Game 2, World Series

- I'm sorry, I just don't see Drew Smyly as a situational left-hander. The bad part is he didn't throw strikes tonight. Usually, he is pretty good about that, but has trouble keeping the ball in the park, but this a park it is difficult to hit homers. But the Tigers don't have many options in these situations. It is one of the downsides to using Phil Coke as a closer. Perhaps Darin Downs should have been added for this series instead of Jose Valverde. Of course, that is the ultimate in hindsight 20-20 vision.
- The Giants have a good bullpen, and will be seeing the bottom of the Tigers' order. They can match left-handers situationally. So if Andy Dirks does come up in the eighth as a pinch hitter, he will see a lefty. The key for the Tigers in the eighth, even if they don't score, is to get enough aboard so they can give their big guns another shot in the ninth.
- The Giants had the bases loaded with nobody out in the seventh. It could have been a lot worse.

Thoughts after six innings, Tigers, Giants, Game 2, World Series

- The Tigers are making Madison Bumgarner look like Clayton Kershaw. He has had some big-time success, winning 16 games this season. But his ERA was over 5.00 after September 1, and he was lit up like a Christmas tree by the Cardinals in the NLCS. Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder both ripped shots off Bumgarner the second time they faced him. Maybe the third time will be a charm. Omar Infante did hit some loud fouls off him in the sixth.
- The deeper Doug Fister goes in this game, the better. You'd have to think the Giants would win a battle of the bullpens. The Tigers are getting better swings on Bumgarner than the Giants are on Fister. That's why Pablo Sandoval's two-out single was huge. It drove up Fister's pitch count above 100.
- Who'd win a 40-yard race between Prince Fielder and Sandoval? My money would be on Fielder.

Thoughts after 3 innings, Tigers, Giants, Game 2, World Series

- Tigers third base coach Gene Lamont made a mistake sending home Prince Fielder in the second inning on Delmon Young's double, period. I am all for aggressive base running but not with a player that big, that early in a game. If the Giants had executed a simple left-to-short-to-home relay, Fielder would have been out by several feet. The only reason the play was that close is it took Giants left fielder Gregor Blanco forever to retrieve the ball, and because he overthrew shortstop Brandon Crawford, and second baseman Marco Scutaro caught the errant throw instead. It was a great tag by Giants' catcher Buster Posey, but it did kill a rally. And for what reason?
- Everybody should be thankful Doug Fister apparently wasn't seriously hurt when he took a line drive off his head. What a scary play. He did a terrific job of pitching out the jam after that, too, despite being squeezed by home plate umpire Dan Iassogna.
- Madison Bumgarner is not crafy as Barry Zito, but has better so-called stuff. He has struggled lately, and the Tigers were on the verge of getting inside his head in the second. Now he is gaining confidence.

Why the layoff isn't why the Detroit Tigers lost World Series opener to Giants

No excuse necessary:  Verlander was just hit hard
I don't know if the Tigers will win the World Series. I do know this: It is not over simply because they didn't win Game 1. If they win tonight, the series is even and the Tigers will be in tremendous shape coming home for three games.
But I strongly don't believe they lost Game 1 because they were off awhile after sweeping the Yankees in four games, while awaiting the outcome of Giants and the Cardinals in the NLCS.
Justin Verlander had pitched 262 innings before Wednesday. The extra time should have helped him, not hindered him. His issues were not command of the baseball. Instead, the Giants put together several good at bats against Verlander. They didn't give in to him at all. Pablo Sandoval had the game of his life, and did hit Verlander hard in the All Star Game, too.
Offensively, it should come as little surprise the Tigers struggled against soft-tossing lefty Barry Zito. The Tigers have been a flawed team all season. One of those flaws is hitting against that type of pitching. It was one of the reasons manager Jim Leyland was so determined to bring along Ryan Raburn when it became apparent to everyone else he was a lost cause, and stuck with Delmon Young. The Tigers have dodged the bullet with their flaws remarkably well in the postseason, including the lefty issue. Brett Anderson, Tommy Milone and Andy Pettitte all pitched well against the Tigers in the ALCS and ALDS before they broke through against C.C. Sabathia.
The comparisons to 2006, and the layoff before the Tigers were beaten in five games by the Cardinals, aren't valid. That year, the Tigers opened the World Series at home. It made the Game 1 loss more devastating. Verlander was a rookie. His subpar outing was more understandable. Zito may have seen better days, but he is a former 23-game winner and has a Cy Young Award. The Cardinals' Anthony Reyes, who stymied the Tigers in Game 1 in '06, was one of the worst pitchers in history to win a World Series game.
Also, in 2006, the Tigers won Game 2 behind a terrific pitching performance by Kenny Rogers, who was pitching on eight days rest. The layoff didn't bother him, did it?
There were no excuses for the way the Tigers performed Wednesday. They were simply beaten by a team which was better that night. It remains to be seen if the Giants are better in a seven-game series.
If the Giants do beat the Tigers, it won't be because of the layoff, though. They were the world champs in 2010, remember? They also won six more regular season games than the Tigers in 2012, while playing in a much stronger division.

Detroit Tigers better wake up or the San Francisco Giants will roll to World Series title

My column:
Kung Fu Panda and Giants sent a message in Game 1

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Thoughts, middle of the 5th inning, Tigers, Giants, Game 1 World Series

- I know people are frustrated by the way this game has gone, but reality is the Tigers were one big hit away in the fifth from being back in it. But they didn't get it...
- All you ever hear about this ball park is how difficult it is to hit home runs. Then Pablo Sandoval hit three home runs in his first three at bats of this World Series. Two were off Justin Verlander, truly a great pitcher,  the other against Al Alburquerque, who hasn't allowed a regular season home run in 56 2-3 innings (he did allow an HR in last season's ALDS vs. Yankees). Amazing.
- Verlander is going to be roundly criticized for his performance tonight. It will be pointed out constantly how he has not performed well in three World Series starts. Verlander is the best pitcher of his generation, but there is little doubt his World Series performances have tainted his reputation. There will likely be a Game 5 in this series Monday night at Comerica Park. If it does, indeed, take place, it will in some respects be a defining game for Verlander, who will make the start.
- Verlander has accomplished more to this stage of his career than Jack Morris, but there is no question that when it comes to the postseason, Morris was better. He had two starts in the 1984 World Series vs. the Padres. Both of them were complete-game victories. It says a lot about Morris, who also had a 1-0, 10-inning shutout of the Braves for Minnesota in the 1991 World Series.
- After The Panda, Giants left fielder Gregor Blanco has had the second-most impact in this game by a position player. He is flashing serious leather.
- Never thought I'd see the day Tim Lincecum, still at an age where he is considered in his prime, would be a middle reliever. He did a great job getting out of the jam.

Thoughts after 3 innings, Tigers, Giants, Game 1, World Series

- Pablo Sandoval is one of those weird hitters, who is impossible to gauge when using basic baseball logic. He was down 0-2 in the count at the most difficult park to hit a home run in the major leagues, while facing the best pitcher in baseball, when he lined a solo home run off Verlander in the first inning. Then an opposite field shot to make it 4-0. What he does best is put the ball in play. Sandoval strikes out remarkably little for a middle-of-the-order hitter. He only had 12 home runs this season
- Verlander's pitch count is way too high, , after three innings. It's imperative he gets through seven innings. Starting pitching is the Tigers' strength. The bullpen is their weakness. It is the bottom line. Angel Pagan's grounder hitting third base wasn't only costly because it led to a second Giants run, and then a huge inning, but it also elevated Verlander's pitch count. All two out RBI.
- The Tigers should do better the second time around against Giants' starter Barry Zito. Austin Jackson and Miguel Cabrera both got really good swings the second time they faced him.
 Jhonny Peralta continued his stellar play at shortstop in the postseason, getting Marco Scutaro on a slow roller. He wasn't making that play much this regular season. All he has done in the postseason is make that play. It's a stunning transformation.
- It's already apparent the Giants are much better defensively than either the A's or the Yankees. The Tigers will have to earn their way on. Left fielder Gregor Blanco made an excellent diving catch to rob Miguel Cabrera to end the third. Shortstop Brandon Crawford made a difficult play on a slow roller hit by Avisail Garcia look easy.
- Watching pitchers hit is entertaining only in the sense it is comical. The at bats by Zito and Verlander were unusually lame even by the standards of pitchers.

All things considered, it is Detroit Tigers time to win the World Series

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Disappointment only begins to describe the Detroit Lions

Monday, October 22, 2012

Thoughts after 3 quarters, Lions, Bears

 - The Lions defense has held them in this game, but if the offense keeps this up, the dam will break and the Bears will romp. One TD scoring drive, and the Lions would be right in this game.
- The Lions lack of proficiency in the scoring zone is alarming. Where was a lead back in that spot? The Lions do have a package with a tight end leading up through the hole in short yardage situations. Joique Bell is a good inside runner. It's why they gave him the ball, not to go into a high-flying act. Bad and costly mistake. 
- This is a massively huge fourth quarter. The Lions win this game, their chances of going to the playoffs will go up dramatically. If they don't, and it will probably be too big a hole to crawl out. So where is the urgency? The Lions desperately need a stop on this Bears' possession and to score quickly early in the final quarter.
 - Stefan Logan's performance has dropped off dramatically from two years ago. He hasn't been threatening returning kicks for awhile, and now he is dropping the ball. He was lucky that ball bounced back into his arms last week. He wasn't so lucky tonight.

Thoughts halftime, Lions, Bears

- It seemed like Bears linebacker Lance Briggs wanted the ball more than Lions running back Mikel Leshoure, didn't it? And it kind of summed up the first half. The Lions are extremely fortunate to be down just 10-0. Their first-half ineptitude offensively is stunning given their weapons.
- That was a big-time play and clean smack down by Ndamukong Suh on Bears' QB Jay Cutler. His off-the-field incidents have become annoying, but Suh is having a very good season. He has 3.5 sacks in 5 1-2 games and has made his share of plays. He nearly blocked a field goal in the first half, too.
- Dropped passes continue plague the Lions. The usual suspects are Titus Young and Brandon Pettigrew. Tonight, though, it was the most unexpected source: Calvin Johnson. His drop on the Lions' first possession was a terrible mistake. It set the tone for nearly the entire half. That would have been a huge play. Instead, it was a killer. Nate Burleson dropped a first-down pass in the half. too. There is no excuse for it.
- There was a reason Alphonso Smith was cut. We are seeing why tonight. I doubt anybody in this town is surprised. The Lions made a fundamental mistake as an organization by not doing more to augment their secondary during the off season.
- Other than a long romp by Matt Forte, the Lions defense has been good against the run has been solid, but it has been negated their inability to get off the field on third down. The most costly play was when they had the Bears pinned against their own goal line, and Cutler hit Brandon Marshall with a first down pass, which took Chicago out of trouble. The Bears didn't score on that drive, but they picked up a lot of yardage in field position, despite the blocked field goal by the Lions. It should have been a quick turnaround and points for the Lions.
- Lions' linebacker DeAndre Levy is having one of his best games. He is not only making tackles, but leaving his imprint with hard hits.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

One close victory, and Michigan Wolverines own Michigan State Spartans again

Thoughts after 3 quarters, MSU, Michigan

Time is running out on Denard Robinson. Michigan desperately for him to make a play, the type he has made so often against every other conference or rivalry opponent the Wolverines have faced since he became the starting quarterback except Michigan State.
- It was a horrible missed call by the referee. Anthony Rashad White clearly should have been flagged for hitting Robinson late, and to the head, on his long pass attempt to Devin Gardner.
- MSU's touchdown drive was as unexpected as it was impressive. It was an excellent mixture of the play calls. Where was the controlled passing game before that drive? The drive was almost blown up by the bizarre wide receiver pass call in the scoring zone, but the Spartans' Tony Lippett turned a broken play into a big play. That's what your best athletes are supposed to do. It is something MSU's best players have done far too little of, however, to this point of the season.

Thoughts MSU, Michigan halftime

- The Wolverines are winning this game, but the story of it so far is how well the Michigan State defense has throttled Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. This game very well could determine Robinson's legacy at Michigan. So far, the Wolverines' defense and a missed field goal by MSU kicker Dan Conroy has helped Robinson. Upcoming: The most important half of football Denard Robinson has ever played.
- If Michigan State's offense is going to be remotely effective, the Spartans must throw the ball deep down the field. That's true even if those passes aren't completed. It's ridiculous how close to the line of scrimmage the Wolverines defense is playing to stop MSU running back Le'Veon Bell. And MSU did have success throwing the ball to Bennie Fowler for a 45-yard gain.
- The best position unit on the field today by far is Michigan's linebackers.
- It's amazing how the Spartans gave up a timeout to ice the kicker with 1:12 remaining in the half rather thinking they could use it during a two-minute drill to possibly add points. Not only did Michigan's Matt Wile nail the kick anyway, but the Spartans offense did nothing with the 1:07 they had left in the half after the field goal. There is a totally different mindset with the Spartans offense this season compared to last when Kirk Cousins was the QB, and B.J. Cunningham and Keyshawn Martin his primary receivers.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Baseball tidal wave carried Detroit Tigers to World Series

Thoughts after 8 innings, Tigers, Yankees, Game 4, ALCS

- If the Tigers close in the ninth, enjoy this moment. The Tigers will have won just six pennants in the last 72 years. They also have proven to be superior to the Yankees in the last seven years. They may be lacking a world title since 1984, but the Tigers have still established themselves as one of baseball's best franchises.
- I can tell you this: There is no way Jim Leyland would ever handle struggling star players like Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson like Joe Giradi did. I cringed when both appeared in this game as pinch hitters. It was just so wrong.
- Phil Coke, the most trusted man with a lead, big or small, in Detroit. Who would have thought?

Thoughts after 4 innings, Tigers, Yankees, Game 4, ALCS

- This is now officially a beating rather than a ball game.
- You don't see Miguel Cabrera pull too many fastballs into the left field seats, but he really did a tremendous job of turning around a cutter by Yankees' starter C.C. Sabathia. It was a majestic home run that was remindful in terms of its distance, location and trajectory of Magglio Ordonez's pennant-deciding homer in the 2006 ALCS off Oakland's Huston Street. Any chance of a Yankees' comeback ended with that shot, and it was fitting who clubbed it.
- Jhonny Peralta has likely earned himself a contract with the Tigers because of this postseason performance. His defense hasn't only been stellar, but he is the ball well, too.

Thoughts after 3 innings, Tigers, Yankees, Game 4, ALCS

- People bemoan about how high the pitch counts for Tigers starting pitchers Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer get early in games. I look at it more as accepting a minimal downside for something that is exceptionally good. They both throw hard and miss a lot of bats. In their case, it is a sign of how difficult they are to hit. Also, there is nothing that can benefit a pitcher more than the ability to strikeout a hitter. Even inducing ground balls for double plays isn't necessarily as good because there is an element of chance with a batted ball. That is not the case when a hitter can't put it in play.
- I didn't realize before this series just how aptly named Nick "Swisher" is...Brutal.
- Tigers rookie outfielder Avisail Garcia has gotten more than his share of seeing-eye groundballs and bloop hits, but it is to his credit he hangs in there so well and makes contact against some of baseball's top left-handers, like C.C. Sabathia.
- Prince Fielder is not a good defender, so his error in the top of third is understandable. Supposedly, his counterpart at first base with the Yankees, Mark Teixeira, is an excellent fielder. His misplay on groundballs by Fielder and Andy Dirks in the bottom of the inning was less understandable. By the way, in my opinion, that should have been called an error on Teixeira on the ball hit by Fielder.

Thoughts after 2 innings, Tigers, Yankees, Game 4, ALCS

- Andy Dirks has been a terrific offensive player for the Tigers this season, but there were times when his defense seemed to dropoff. He played more of a speed game in the past, too. Perhaps that's because he had an Achilles tendon issue during the season. He is running better now. That was a terrific running catch he made in the second inning on Mark Teixeira. He has also proven he can hit left-handers. C.C. Sabathia threw him a big, bending curveball and Dirks hung in there nicely to drive a base hit to center field.
- Max Scherzer has all his pitches working. The Yankees are doing more waving than swinging so far.
- Miguel Cabrera just missed getting the fat part of the bat on his fly out to left his first trip to the plate. It'll be interesting to see if Sabathia pitches him any differently to lead off the third.

Thoughts after 1 inning, Tigers, Yankees, Game 4, ALCS

- I don't hear anybody complaining about Delmon Young swinging at the first pitch too much now. He is on fire, and has now started to use all fields.
- The crowd here today is excellent. No dropoff in noise from last night. There is not an empty seat to be found. People have still managed to find their way to this game.
- The Yankees have virtually no fight left. You can see it in their body language. But baseball is weird game. You never never know how it will play out. The Tigers could have used more than just a run against C.C. Sabathia in that circumstance. Miguel Cabrera just missed hitting it out.
- I can understand Alex Rodriguez being benched, but it does harsh the way Yankees manager Joe Girardi is handling Curtis Granderson.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Detroit Tigers postseason run of incredible stories

My column:
Phil Coke: Sweet revenge after bitter regular season

Detroit Tigers are inferior no more to the New York Yankees

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Thoughts after 5 innings, ALCS, Tigers, Yankees, Game 3

- I've defended Curtis Granderson's defense a lot down through the years. He has made some of the best catches I can ever remember, especially at the wall. But he badly misplayed Miguel Cabrera's drive. Between that and third baseman Eric Chavez's error on Quintin Berry's grounder have given the Tigers another break. But to their credit, Cabrera did hit that ball relatively hard, and Berry did put the ball in play, which is always the key given his speed.
- Verlander made the fifth inning seem so incredibly easy. Part of that is his ability, but it's also the Yankees hitters. It's like they have given up.
- Who would have thought: Delmon Young getting intentionally walked. Now that's a switch...

Thoughts after 4 innings, ALCS, Tigers, Yankees, Game 3

- I watched Delmon Young take batting practice today, and he hit a couple low rockets over the left field wall, which were just like the shot he slammed off Yankees' starter Phil Hughes in the fourth. For all the angst about Young, you must give him this: When he's hot, he can carry a team. He did carry the Tigers at a couple key points this summer, and he is doing the same in this series. He has also been the ultimate Yankee killer with five home runs in eight games the last two postseasons.
- Until Ichiro slapped a hit to left field off Justin Verlander in the fourth inning, like the rest of you, I was thinking he might throw a no hitter tonight. He has been that impressive.

Thoughts after 3 innings, Tigers, Yankees, Game 2, ALCS

- The Yankees did not get good swings at all on Tigers starter Justin Verlander the first time through the order. At this early stage, it appears like a total mismatch. Yankees starter Phil Hughes is a solid major league starter. He has a good fastball and mixes his pitches well. Still, the gap between Hughes and Verlander is amazingly wide. Before the game, former Tigers star Jack Morris said Verlander is more talented "than 99.99" of the pitchers who have ever taken the mound in the major leagues. He is right.
- I've never seen a hitter with as much raw power played defensively to hit the ball to the opposite field as much as the Yankees are playing Miguel Cabrera toward right. The game plan pitching him in the postseason has been pretty simply: Show Cabrera fastballs inside, then pitch him away. He is a smart hitter, though. He'll eventually make the Yankees pay, especially if they hang a breaking ball inside.
- Eric Chavez has been a poor postseason performer, but come on, how could Yankees manager Joe Giradi not replace Alex Rodriguez in the starting lineup tonight?
- That was a great play by Alex Avila to reach in the standings and catch that foul pop up during the second inning. Catching is not a problem for the Tigers, rather it is a strength. The criticism Avila received this season was misguided. He is solid defensively, and despite a dropoff statistically at the plate from 2011, he has had a number of clutch hits, including a couple this postseason.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Why it's wise Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland didn't write off Jose Valverde

There may be a point Jose Valverde is needed
My column:

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Detroit Tigers more good than lucky vs. struggling Yankees

Thoughts after 8 innings, Tigers, Yankees, Game 2, ALCS

- The Tigers got a huge break on the call at second base. Second base umpire Jeff Nelson blew that call badly. Robinson Cano tagged Omar Infante out. It was clear. But Nelson is the same umpire, behind the plate in the game at Fenway Park in Boston this season, who ruled a foul tip strikeout was not valid because it hit the dirt before it landed in Tigers' catcher Gerald Laird's glove (after checking with first base ump Bill Welke). Replay showed Laird caught the ball cleanly. Mike Avlies, the hitter for the Red Sox at the time, lined an RBI single, which led to a three-run rally. It was the key hit in the Tigers' loss to Boston late May. It was afterward, that Tigers manager Jim Leyland went on his rant about how the umpires "like everybody else in this game" need to be held "accountable."
Nelson was held "accountable" for blowing that call at Fenway, all right. He was rewarded with a spot in the ALCS anyway, where he badly blew a call, this time in the Tigers' favor, leading to a two-run rally. Amazing.
- "From The Outhouse to The Penthouse, Where I stand with Tiger fans." By Phil Coke. It's like he is a completely different pitcher. His performance in this series has been so key because the Yankees are so loaded with left-handed hitting. They will likely leave him in to start the ninth.

Thoughts after 7 innings, Yankees, Tigers, Game 2, ALCS

- The Tigers hitting is amazingly spotty (although it was ridiculous to believe Hiroki Kuroda was going to throw a perfect game today on three days rest), but what we are seeing this postseason is that starting pitching remains the most important element in the game, despite the death of the complete game. This game will, however, come down to what the Tigers do out of the bullpen. It's inevitable. My guess: Jim Leyland will not be hesitant to pitch Al Alburquerque under pressure today, especially since he is rested. He has been hesitant to use him with less than two days between appearances. Anibal Sanchez has been amazing today, again.So has every Tigers' starting pitcher in the postseason, even Drew Smyly in relief.
- Jhonny Peralta has played so well defensively in this series, he may have gotten another contract with the Tigers for next season. The Tigers view 21-year-old Eugenio Suarez, who had an excellent season at Class A West Michigan in 2012, as their shortstop of the future. But at best, he will start next season at Double-A Erie. He is at least a year away. I just wonder where this Jhonny Peralta was defensively this year. While he didn't make a lot of errors, his range was non-existent. Not in this series. It's been an unbelievable, and unexplainable, transformation.
Delmon Young, another unpopular Tiger throughout much of the 2012 season, is making a bid to stay. Without Peralta and Young, there is no way the Tigers are in this spot.
- That was probably the hardest ball Quintin Berry has hit this season, even more so than his home runs. It couldn't have come at a better time for the Tigers. Nothing cheap about that one.

Thoughts about the Lions 26-23 victory over the Eagles

Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions character victory
 - The Lions season was on the ropes. They needed a victory in the worst possible way. Even though it wasn't pretty, it was definitely a sign the Lions have made great progress. This is not the "same old franchise." They responded very well under pressure in a classic "must win" situation. The Lions are now very much still in the race for a postseason spot. A loss today and they probably would have been done.
 - Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford made several brilliant throws late in the game. He hit a long one to Tony Scheffler (who made a great catch and adjustment), and displayed great touch on the TD toss to Nate Burleson. Also, he hit Calvin Johnson with a tremendous pass along the sideline on the game-tying drive. But here's a fair question: Where were those throws earlier in the game? The Captain Comeback routine is great and definitely separates Stafford from past Lions' QBs, who trended to crumble under pressure. But how about a sense of urgency at the start of the game?
- Here's something that is obvious: How about putting Calvin Johnson in more situations where he can take advantage of his exceptional skill running with the ball after the catch?
- Nobody should complain about the Lions' defensive line today. It was outstanding.Cliff Avril had his best game since early last November. Nobody could complain the Lions defensive line is overrated today.
The Lions' defense played very well overall today. Except for the blown coverage on the long touchdown pass to from to wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, it was stout. The turnovers were a departure from what the Lions have done defensively since the first half of last season, but let's face it, much of that probably was because of Eagles' quarterback Michael Vick. Despite vowing to take better care of the ball, he really isn't.
- A very good thing for the Lions today: Their 138 rushing yards. A very bad thing for the Lions today:  An NFL season-high 16 penalties.
- The Lucky Man Award for today goes to: Lions returnman Stefan Logan. Hey,if his fumble in overtime doesn't bounce back right into his arm, the Lions season would probably in extreme dire straits right now.

Thoughts halftime, Lions, Eagles

 - The Lions should lead this game by at least a touchdown. It's on the offense. It has become increasingly inept as the game has moved on. The last drive of the half was particularly disturbing.
- Wide receiver Titus Young and tight end Brandon Pettigrew are in a neck-and-neck race to be the Lions' MDP (Most Disappointing Player) this season. QB Matthew Stafford made a great, long throw, which could have changed the course of this game. Young dropped it. Unreal. At least Pettigrew has a couple receptions today.
- Safety Louis Delmas has already made two big plays (interception, tackle for loss). The Lions defense has a completely different look with him returned to the lineup. Delmas is not the Lions' best player defensively, but the way their personnel is put together, he is their most important defensive player.
- Stafford's passing remains surprisingly inaccurate. You have to wonder if his hip is bothering him. Between his missed throws and the Lions' drops, it has stymied their once potent offense.The Lions were moving the ball reasonably well early in the half, but their lack of scoring touchdowns is a major issue. They haven't scored a first-half touchdown since the first game of the season vs. the Rams at Ford Field.
- I'm not sure if Joique Bell isn't the Lions' best running back. He is a solid inside runner. He's a slasher, who instinctively picks his way through a crowd and is strong enough to break arm tackles. That's a real skill, one that isn't easy to find. Bell seems to be lacking speed and elusiveness to be a consistently effective runner to the edges. It is probably why he was not drafted out of Wayne State. It doesn't look like it will prevent him from being a good NFL player, though.
- The Eagles' offense has a tremendous amount of talent, but it is also a turnover machine. It's ridiculous.
- The Lions continue to be plagued by way too many penalties and silly mistakes. They are starting too many drives in first-and-long situations.

Detroit Tigers so hot right now even Jose Valverde can't spoil it

Prince Fielder and Tigers winning despite their closer
My column:

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Thoughts after 8 innings, Tigers, Yankees, Game 1, ALCS

- Baseball can be extremely weird. Among the Tiger's heroes tonight: Jhonny Peralta (as a defensive stalwart), Phil Coke (getting out Mark Teixeira while he was hitting right-handed) and Avisail Garcia (as a clutch hitter). Hey, is there still room on the postseason roster for Ryan Raburn (I'm kidding). For all the justifiable complaints about the lack of balance in the Tigers' lineup during the regular season, the opposite has been true in the playoffs so far. And the Tigers have played remarkably well in the field. Good for Coke. He was bitter about the Yankees trading him after general manager Brian Cashman told him he'd be there awhile. Young owns the Yankees in the postseason. He has four home runs against New York in six playoff games between this season and last year.
- The Yankee fan base is amazing. They sure aren't just happy the Yankees in the ALCS. Instead, they are very unhappy it is not going well now in the series. You won't hear any other team booed like that in its own ball park during a championship series. Well, maybe Boston. Or Philadelphia. Something about the East Coast.
- Yankees manager Joe Giradi is having a bad night. His worst option to try to keep the Yankees close was sticking with Derek Lowe to start the eighth. He stuck with him any way
- Does Austin Jackson have range in center field or what?

Thoughts after 7 innings, Tigers, Yankees, Game 1, ALCS

- It was inevitable the Tigers had to go to their bullpen tonight. Phil Coke wasn't good in the seventh. He was brilliant. Getting Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira back-to-back like that was incredible given Coke's struggles this season. And Cano really fought him hard in that at bat, too.
- Doug Fister has a tremendous competitive heart. Even when he was coming off an injury earlier this season and didn't pitch well (and the Tigers didn't play well behind defensively), he really fought with every pitch until the end of his outings. Same tonight. Great performance under the circumstances.
- The Tigers are fortunate they are not getting blown out. They got their share of breaks early in this game, but they also made their own. Count me among those who bemoans the lack of range of shortstop Jhonny Peralta (and his lack of overall production this season), but without two great plays by Peralta, this game would have had a totally different complexion. He deserves credit for it.
- Yankees fans are misguided for booing Alex Rodriguez. They should be booing manager Joe Girardi instead. The Yankees best lineup against right-handed pitching features Eric Chavez at third base, not A-Rod at this point. It's good for the Tigers, though.
- It's difficult to imagine the Tigers winning this series unless Miguel Cabrera breaks loose with more power. That was a disappointing at bat vs. the very hittable Derek Lowe in the top of the seventh.
- Derek Jeter is still a very good shortstop defensively. He's made some excellent plays in the postseason so far.

Judgment day is here for Denard Robinson and Michigan Wolverines

My column:

Beating MSU a must in many ways for Robinson, Michigan

Thoughts halftime, Michigan, Illinois

- Michigan fans can't help it. Many of them bemoan the idea of Denard Robinson as their quarterback, but today they got a dose of life without him. The offense wasn't nearly as threatening, was it?
It also brought in the question: If there is a long-term injury, does Devin Gardner go back to QB? I would have to belief that is the case. He is a good receiver, but not great there. It wouldn't hurt the receiving corps that much. I would have to believe he is a better QB than Russell Bellomy, who was a 3-star recruit, a so-called late bloomer in high school and raw.
- Unquestionably, Michigan State's loss to Iowa will take a lot of the luster off the MSU-Michigan game next week. But from Michigan's point of view, it makes the game even important. The road still goes through the Spartans for Michigan. The Wolverines are in the driver's seat to win the Legend's Division. And if they do, as shaky as the Wolverines have been this season, it might be because they actually have the best team. Doesn't say much for the Big Ten, though, does it?
- That was a beautiful catch-and-run on a 71-yard scoring play by Jeremy Gallon. I thought we'd see a lot more of that from him this season. He is a smaller receiver who has struggled against bigger defensive backs.
- Michigan needs to establish a much better rushing attack from its running backs. They have been embarrassing in that area to this point of the season.
- I've always viewed Illinois as a "sleeping giant" in the Big Ten. The resources are there for the Fighting Illini to be so much better. Yet, it doesn't matter the coach, mediocrity has been the byword for Illinois football. Certainly, they have not been any better under Tim Beckman. It's like Ron Zook or Lou Tepper is coaching this version, too.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Justin Verlander perfection could propel Detroit Tigers to world title

Justin Verlander is the ace in any playoff deck
My column:

Thoughts after 7 innings, Tigers, A's, Game 5, ALDS

 - It's amazing how much better the Tigers play when expectations are dropped. In the seven years they have been managed by Jim Leyland, they have seldom played well as front runners. They are much better coming from behind or with their "backs against the wall."
- Finally, the offense has broken through. It shouldn't be considered any kind of fluke. Ryan Cook had been as effective as any late-inning non-closer in baseball coming into the series. Jarrod Parker is a good pitcher. Oakland is a difficult place to hit. The ball doesn't carry in that ball park, especially at night.
- The Tigers won this series when they made the trade for Omar Infante. He got off to a slow start on his return to Detroit, but winning this series would not have been possible without Infante. He has easily been the Tigers most valuable position player in the series. The MVP overall has been Justin Verlander. What can be said about him after giving up the home run to lead off Game 1 to Coco Crisp other than "brilliant." He is making it look easy. The A's look clueless against him.
- Doubt the bullpen will be a factor tonight.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Thoughts after 4 innings, Tigers, A's, Game 5 ALDS

 - Justin Verlander has been brilliant in this game. He is mixing his pitches well. The A's are extremely unbalanced. Perhaps he can give the Tigers a complete game to avoid the bullpen. Oakland's hitters, with the exception of Yoenis Cespedes, appear overmatched. But we all know about the A's propensity for unlikely comebacks.
- There has been a classic example in this game how not play catcher at the major league level by the A's Derek Norris. Those were ruled wild pitches on Oakland starter Jarrod Parker, but neither should have gotten away from Norris, who is boxing the ball like Floyd Mayweather. Conversely, you have seen how to play catcher in the major leagues from the Tigers' Alex Avila. He is a far better receiver than Norris. A huge factor so far tonight.
- There are times when the sacrifice bunt is the right call, even early in games. We've seen it the last couple games by the Tigers, tonight by Quintin Berry. Now people can officially stop blasting Tigers manager Jim Leyland  for not bunting enough? Runs are a premium in this series. Playing for one run at time does make sense.
- The Tigers are getting better swings off Parker tonight than they did in Game 1. His fastball isn't carrying quite the same velocity.
- How did umpire Wally Bell get the home plate assignment for such a big game with such an inconsistent strike zone? At times, it has been embarrassing. What is a strike on the outside corner to left-handed hitters? It has been impossible to tell.

And so it will be the Detroit Tigers Justin Verlander vs. the Oakland A's destiny

Thoughts after 7 innings, Tigers, A's, Game 4 ALDS

- Getting the first out in any inning means even more to Al Alburquerque than other relievers. His velocity is down from last year, and there isn't quite as much bite on his slider, but he does ride his confidence well, and there is still plenty of "stuff" there. He did extraordinarily well under a lot of pressure in the seventh, given how he is loathed in Oakland after kissing the baseball in Detroit. The key was not walking the first hitter after getting to three balls in the count.
- My best guess is Tigers manager Jim Leyland will go with Joaquin Benoit to start the eighth. I'm not sure it will be the right decision, though.
 - It took the A's only a dozen pitches to get the Tigers out combined in the sixth and seventh innings. That's just too easy. If the Tigers do manage to win this series, it won't be because their flaws haven't been on display. They have been.
- It's amazing how poorly major league base runners are in some situations. Oakland shortstop Stephen Drew is supposed to be a sound, fundamental player, but that was huge mental mistake trying to stretch a double into a triple with no one out in the sixth. Base runners have been at such a premium in this series. But you see that type of base running repeatedly in the major leagues, and honestly, I just don't get it.
- The A's have been all or nothing defensively in this series. They've certainly have their share of miscues, but also truly great plays. None has been better, though, than third baseman Josh Donaldson's on Jhonny Peralta in the seventh inning.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Thoughts after 4 innings, Game 4, Tigers, A's, ALDS

 - Max Scherzer isn't throwing as hard as usual, but plenty hard enough. There is still enough separation in velocity between his fastball and his off-speed pitches to be effective. Also, there seems to more late movement on his fastball at 92 mph and 93 mph than at 95 mph and 96 mph. And he still has his share of strikeouts. The A's have helped him out with pitch count. Scherzer has thrown just 14 pitches in the last two innings. Arm issues and all, he might still go seven innings.
- The A's have been living on borrowed time from the beginning of this game with starting pitcher A.J. Griffin. He throws too many pitches up in the strike zone with nothing on them for the Tigers not to take advantage of. That was especially true during the Tigers' second time through the order against him.
- Anybody complaining about Alex Avila now? His season wasn't nearly as bad as many Tigers' fan bemoaned (his .736 OPS was higher than MLB average of .724). He didn't get a two-out hit in the fourth, but he came through big-time in the third. He is hitting .500 in the series with a homer and a double, easily the Tigers' most effective hitter.
- Andy Dirks began spring training hitting, and except for a brief stretch in September, has just kept on hitting. It's still difficult to imagine he was competing for a roster spot in March with Clete Thomas.
- Good for Prince Fielder with the home run. He has hit the ball on the nose consistently during the two games in Oakland, but had nothing to show for it before tonight.

Detroit Lions great Alex Karras always had a flair for the dramatic

I have two older brothers, and remember distinctly as a kid how they and my father would wax poetic about Alex Karras firing his helmet at Lions quarterback Milt Plum, reputedly barely missing his head, after Plum threw a late interception that cost the Lions a victory in Green Bay in 1962.
As the Lions were losing continually throughout the 1970s and the 1980s, it was like this prideful moment for them.
That was Vince Lombardi's best team. Its only loss that year was being destroyed in Detroit Thanksgiving Day in a rematch. To this day, many Detroit fans from that era feel the Lions were better than the Packers that season and loved Karras, who died Wednesday, for his antics.
It's long been a disgrace Alex Karras isn't in Pro Football Hall of Fame
Karras, a defensive tackle, was both rugged and extremely agile. He came to the Lions following a truly brilliant college career at Iowa. Karras was suspended from the NFL the following season in a gambling scandal. Unlike running back Paul Hornung of the Packers, who was also suspended for the same reason, he didn't get his spot in the Hall of Fame, likely because he wasn't nearly as contrite. It was more Karras' style to sound off than apologize, actually.
While he was suspended, he wrestled Dick The Bruiser at The Olympia, another iconic moment in Detroit sports history.
When George Plimpton wrote the "Paper Lion," Karras wasn't even on the team, but he Plimpton became great friends. "Paper Lion," the movie, truthfully, was awful by cinematic standards, but Karras stole the show nonetheless. It got his foot in the door in LA LA Land, and he did the rest. Ever see "Blazing Saddles?" Karras as "Mongo" is genuinely funny. So "Webster" will go down in history as "bad TV from the 1980s." It was on for a long time, and Karras undoubtedly raked in a lot of cash while sharing the stage with his wife, actress Susan Clark.
It also brought recognition to Karras the NFL didn't. He belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. With all due respect to Lem Barney, Dick LeBeau and Charlie Sanders, other Lions greats of the same era who are in, Karras was at least as good a player as they were, and probably better.
Ultimately, Karras became a lot more Hollywood, yet he always carried an edge that screamed "Motown."
There will never be another quite like him in either place.

Detroit Tigers become kittens on the road

Coco Crisp: Goat in Detroit, hero in Oakland
My column:

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Thoughts after 7 innings, Tigers, A's, Game 3, ALDS

 - Big inning by Detroit reliever Octavio Dotel. Tigers manager Jim Leyland rolled the dice having him pitch to the left-handed hitting Seth Smith. It worked. There is concern about the lack of a situational lefty in the Tigers' bullpen, though. In the long run, it could hurt them.
- If there was an example about just how much importance fielding plays in the game of baseball, it is this series so far. The good and the bad defensively has had a huge impact.
- Anibal Sanchez was terrific tonight. Not only was his fastball firm, but he mixed his pitches skillfully. His mound presence is impressive. As a free agent after this season, he probably just gained several million dollars and another year or two on his contract. I'm not sure the Tigers will be able to keep him. He'll have his pick of teams.
- Avisail Garcia couldn't be more impressive as an outfielder. Brandon Moss nailed that ball to end the sixth inning. He made the play like it was routine. As a hitter, he struggles to pull the ball, a skill Garcia could develop eventually, but he is already an excellent major league right fielder. Actually, he is the best corner outfielder the Tigers have defensively. It's not just because he can run well and has a strong arm, either, but his instincts are excellent.

Thoughts after 4 innings, Tigers, A's ALDS

- Oakland center fielder Coco Crisp made up for his horrible play in Game 2 of this series on Miguel Cabrera with his great play on Prince Fielder in Game 3 tonight. The A's, overall, have been much stronger defensively tonight than during the two games in Detroit. The Tigers are hitting the ball hard tonight. They should have more to show for it. They will if they keep putting these type of swings on the ball.
- Anibal Sanchez weathered the storm early and has been impressive tonight. He has settled down mightily since the key double play. The deeper he goes in this game, the better. Despite what happened Sunday, it's difficult to imagine the Tigers winning a battle of the bullpens with the A's, especially in Oakland.
- The ball doesn't carry at night in Oakland. I'd be surprised if this doesn't continue to be a low scoring game.
- The Tigers are in good shape. This game could of gotten out of hand early, and it didn't.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Why ALDS Detroit Tigers vs. Oakland A's is far from over

Sunday, October 07, 2012

On a team of stars, it is Detroit Tigers role players keying postseason run

Thoughts after 8 innings, Tigers, A's, Game 2 ALDS

- Oh boy. Phil Coke...Yikes. He does have postseason experience...
- It wasn't luck the Tigers pushed the tying run home. They did get two hits in that inning. They did get a sacrifice bunt from Andy Dirks. They forced Oakland's hand with the wild pitch. Oakland's Ryan Cook has been as effective as any reliever in the AL lately.
- The home run routine is getting a little stale with Tigers' setup man Joaquin Benoit. Perhaps manager Jim Leyland should consider flip-flopping his role with Octavio Dotel. I wouldn't put Al Alburquerque in that role just yet. He seems to flinch a little bit too soon under pressure. Dotel is still throwing the ball well.
- The Tigers only have themselves to blame for what transpired in  top of the inning. OK. You allow a hit. The runner steals second. It's a close play. But then not paying any attention to Yoenis Cespedes while he was on second base? That's just poor fundamental baseball.

Thoughts after 7 innings, Tigers, A's Game 2 ALDS

- That was a monumental error by Coco Crisp in center field on the ball hit by Miguel Cabrera. It could ultimately cost the A's this series. They continue to shoot themselves in the foot defensively. In fairness to Crisp, he was playing unusally deep because Cabrera was at the plate. But come on, that wasn't a difficult play.
- That was a huge two-strike hit by Omar Infante with two outs. It set up everything up. Also, Austin Jackson coming through with a 2-out hit. You never know in baseball, even with two outs. Great two-out rally by the Tigers.
- We'll really see what the Tigers bullpen has today while protecting a one-run lead.
- Good for Doug Fister if he gets the win today. He deserves it the way he pitched. Excellent outing.

Thoughts after 6 innings, Detroit Tigers, Oakland A's Game 2 ALDS

- A's right fielder Josh Reddick has just horrific at bats in this series. The A's as whole just don't look very imposing offensively. But the Tigers pitching has a lot to do with it. There have been excellent starts from Justin Verlander and Doug Fister at the top of the rotation. It'd be difficult to ask for much better. The Tigers have been doing their part behind their aces with a solid fielding performance so far.
- The Tigers bullpen figures to get a pretty severe test the rest of this game. Will it pass? I freely admit that I have an often varied opinion about the Tigers' bullpen. Sometimes, I feel it is deep and experienced. Others, I feel it is an issue for concern. It almost went too well for the Tigers' bullpen last night.
- Give Tommy Milone his due. He has pitched very well for the A's this afternoon. Not sure I expected him to do quite this well. Look for the A's bullpen to take over from here.

Thoughts after 3 innings, Detroit Tigers, Oakland A's Game 2 ALDS

- It looks like if Miguel Cabrera batted 10 times against Tommy Milone, he'd get eight hits, all of them doubles up the left-center field gap.
- Avisail Garcia is still developing as a hitter. The A's are playing him to swing late and he has displayed little power. Yet, his throw, nailing Coco Crisp at the plate in the third inning, proves the value of his defense. He is the only Tigers' outfielder who would have made that play. It wasn't only a strong and accurate throw, but he charged the ball properly and unloaded it quickly. He has good speed, too. Garcia does make relatively consistent contact at the plate. The elements are there for the Tigers to have a major league regular in Garcia some day soon, and he is contributing right now. It was kind of gutsy move to bring him to the major leagues as soon as the Tigers did, but it has paid off.
- Doug Fister is not fooling the A's. He has made some very good pitches, but they are still getting good swings off him. Might be reason for concern.
- Sometimes it would benefit Delmon Young by not making contact. Runners on first and third and one out is one of those times because he has such a propensity to hit into double plays. The Tigers were fortunate this time Young was able to get the run in after hitting the ball on the ground in that situation.

Thoughts after 2 innings, Detroit Tigers, Oakland A's Game 2, ALDS

- It looks like the more Andy Dirks plays against left-handers, the more comfortable he is getting. He continues prove he is more than a platoon player.
- Missed opportunity there with bases loaded. Could hurt Tigers later.
- Honestly, when left-handed pitchers are forced to pitch to Miguel Cabrera, you wonder how they ever get him out. He was all over that double on an offering from Oakland's left-handed starter Tommy Milone during the first inning. What separates Cabrera as a hitter isn't only his recognition of pitches, but his plate coverage. So many more pitches are good pitches for Cabrera than they are for other hitters.
- Doug Fister has morphed from sinker-slider pitcher, who gets a lot of ground balls, into a strikeout pitcher during his time with the Tigers. He has the best swingback fastball I can remember seeing since Greg Maddux. It's been a key pitch for him this season, setting up his off-speed pitches. Late movement is the key to Fister missing bats, though, not velocity.
- The A's do have good range in the outfield, which is a key at spacious Comerica Park. Right fielder Josh Reddick had made some impressive plays in this series.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Detroit Tigers Justin Verlander took a major step toward erasing postseason stigma

Thoughts after 8 innings, Oakland A's, Detroit Tigers, Game 1, ALDS

- There is a prevailing feeling the Tigers are only a home run away from a tie game with Joaquin Benoit on the mound in the eighth inning of a close game. But this time it stayed in the park on the drive by Brandon Moss to right field.Woe.
- Oakland reliever Pat Neshek presented a very difficult matchup for Omar Infante and Austin Jackson in the seventh. You could just sense their discomfort against his submarine delivery. Great timing on the pitching change by A's manager Bob Melvin. Starter Jarrod Parker had thrown only 96 pitches and still might have had something left in the tank. Great performance by Neshek under the stress of having lost his infant son earlier this week.
- The crowd has been fine tonight from the beginning, but it really didn't get rocking until Tigers starter Justin Verlander was in the midst of his strikeout streak in the seventh inning.

Thoughts after 6 innings, A's, Tigers, Game 1 ALDS

- The Tigers needed starting pitcher Justin Verlander to get through seven innings tonight. It looks like he will, despite some rocky moments. It might even be eight after the sixth inning went so well for him. If anything, after throwing nearly 110 pitches, Verlander is just starting to get warmed up. Verlander after 110 pitches is still better than anybody in the Tigers' bullpen at one pitch. But there is is a limit. It's probably 130.
- Tigers catcher Alex Avila does have a live bat. It has been evident since he was first called to the major leagues. Consistency of power is another matter. But in fairness to Avila, he had a better season in 2012 than he is given credit. His OPS this year was .736, well above the major league average of .724 for 2012.
And he can hit the ball out to the opposite field, which he proved with his solo home run in the fifth inning.
- Maybe I spoke too soon about the A's lack of fielding...That was a brilliant play by right fielder Josh Reddick in the fifth inning, robbing Austin Jackson of at least a triple, and perhaps an inside-the-park home run. The A's definitely are not lacking grit. This game is far from over. Oakland has proven its propensity to rally in the late innings.

Thoughts after 3 innings, A's, Tigers Game 1 ALDS

- Fielding is not the Tigers' strength, but they have outplayed the A's defensively so far. Oakland should have gotten out of the third inning easy on Quintin Berry's tapper. Instead, it became a major issue. A's second baseman Cliff Pennington did make a terrific play on Prince Fielder's potential bloop hit, saving a run.
- It's difficult to watch Delmon Young and not believe, as good a hitter as he is capable of being, that he would not be a much better player if he got himself in top physical condition. Most major league hitters would have had an infield single on his ground out in the second inning. He ran better than this last year, and the year before that when he was with the Twins, and certainly when he first appeared in the major leagues.
- Justin Verlander's last three pitches while striking out Brandon Moss to end the third inning were 97, 98 and 99 mph. But the big number right now is 61. That's too many pitches  after three innings. Part of it is the A's patience at the plate. Another part of it is a lack of command with his fastball by Verlander. He actually got a break on the 97 mph fastball. It was called a strike when it appeared to be ball four to Moss. In contrast, A's starter Jarrod Parker has thrown only 49 pitches despite a defensive breakdown behind him.
- Omar Infante seems to have settled down both at bat and in the field. His double in the third could be a sign he'll have a solid postseason.

Thoughts after 1 inning A's, Tigers Game 1 ALDS

- Austin Jackson has become an exceptional leadoff hitter. One of the reasons is that he is not hesitant to swing early in the count if he sees "get me over strikes." It was one of the reasons Lou Whitaker was such an effective leadoff hitter all those years.
- That was some of the weirdest bit of baseball strategy I can remember when the A's had the infield remaining in, as if they still were expecting a bunt from Quintin Berry with two strikes. I didn't like the idea of Berry bunting there with that defense deployed in the first place. It was a good piece of hitting by him to lay the bat on the ball and make the A's pay with two strikes. It probably would have happened earlier in the count if manager Jim Leyland let Berry swing away.
- It's about changing speeds. The first two fastballs Tigers starter Justin Verlander threw were 95 mph. He threw a third one and A's leadoff hitter Coco Crisp knocked it over the wall. Evidently the changeup he mixed in didn't have much bearing.
- It was an effective first inning for the A's against Verlander, making him work 26 pitches. If there is an edge the A's have over the Tigers, at least on paper, it's the bullpen. The Tigers aren't set up well for sixth inning relief work. They should be in better shape for the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.

If history holds, the Detroit Tigers should do well in playoffs

Thursday, October 04, 2012

What the Detroit Lions must improve before the season gets away entirely