Archive for July, 2009

Jul
31

Washburn Trade Nice, But May Not Be Enough

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The Tigers figured that if they can’t hit, then they’d pitch as well as they can.

It still might not be enough.

The Tigers’ trade deadline day acquisition of veteran lefty Jarrod Washburn  from Seattle should be more exciting than it is right now.

But what’s the difference, really, if the Tigers don’t score for Luke French or if they don’t score for Washburn?

Well, at least the Tigers will be wasting the efforts of a better brand of pitcher, anyway.

Forgive my cynicism, because Washburn is a heck of a pick-up, or at least should be. The Tigers, by surrendering French and prospect Mauricio Robles, certainly didn’t get rooked in the deal, even with Washburn being free agent-eligible after this season.

And, there’s another veteran in the rotation, invaluable during tension-filled games in September.

Let’s bottom line it: who do you feel more comfortable with in the rotation—Washburn or the rookie French?

No, there’s really no debate about whether the Tigers made themselves a solid deal today. They did. But did they do enough?

There could still be some help on the way for the offense, by way of trades that occur after players clear waivers. It’s not as easy to do, but it can be done. This still might not be the same offense come mid-August or early-September.

It better not be, by hook or by crook.

The Tigers remain, among the three-headed monster of contenders in the AL Central (along with the White Sox and the Twins), the club with the most inept offense. If this was a mock high school election, the Tigers would be voted The Team Least Likely To Slug Their Way To Victory.

The White Sox can win some games 7-6, 9-7. So can the Twins, especially in the Hefty Dome.

The Tigers? Not so much.

And don’t dismiss the Chisox’s addition of Jake Peavy, which could nullify the Washburn move.

Sometimes you have to win games that turn into slugfests. As attractive as the Tigers’ rotation is now with the addition of Washburn, it’s asking an awful lot to have the top three consistently surrender three or fewer runs per start.

Then there’s the case of Brandon Inge, whose legs are being held together now with bailing wire and string.

Inge is a different player post-All-Star Game. He’s not even the Brandon Inge of old. He’s a pitcher with a bat in his hand.

So there goes one of your few reliable offensive options. Don’t be surprised if Inge’s knees break down completely and we wake to news of him being done for the season.

I like Jarrod Washburn. I like him in the Tigers’ rotation. I like what they gave up to get him, which wasn’t as much as feared.

But if that’s it for procuring help from outside the organization, then I don’t like the Washburn move so much.

Still need some thump.

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Jul
30

Del–icious?

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Another taco place is opening up near me and suddenly it’s 1979 again.

Taco Bell was a mostly unexplored food experience for me and my friends when word got out that they were constructing one on Merriman Road in Livonia, just north of Plymouth Road. We’d been, but always via car, somewhere else, and on precious few occasions.

But this new one would be only a nice, worth-it bike’s ride away from our houses.

So it opens, and if we didn’t go on the first day, it was pretty darn close to it.

My friends were amazed at how much Taco Bell I could consume.

Kind of like today, when my wife and daughter are amazed at how much Taco Bell I can consume. Still.

It’s a great bang-for-the-buck, really. You gotta love any fast food place anymore that has items on its menu for under a dollar.

We wore out that new Taco Bell for a period of time, enamored with its newness and novelty status. And I typically ordered the most food. Back then, I could probably gorge myself for about three or four bucks.

So now it’s 30 years later, roughly, and I have that same excitement coursing through my veins and pulmonary system.

Del Taco is here! Del Taco is here!

They just opened it, at 12 Mile and Dequindre, in front of the revamped Universal Shopping Center. The new Target is open now, too.

My wife and I first experienced Del Taco a couple years ago, happening upon it by accident because we were a little off the beaten path in a portion of Warren we rarely visited, searching for a particular type of dog food.

In front of the strip mall where we found the pooch’s food, there was a Del Taco.

We took a flyer on it.

Pretty yummy.

Our daughter asked us yesterday, “Why was it so good?”

We can’t remember!

But we DO know that we liked it, and we’re eager to try it again, to see what all our fuss was about.

That’s what getting older can do to you—it enables you to enjoy things for the first time, twice!

We’re also excited about word that a new Sonic Drive-In will be opening near Oakland Mall soon. Those TV commercials have been driving us crazy for years. Everything looks so good. There’s a Sonic on Groesbeck, I believe, but we passed it by when it wasn’t convenient to check out.

You might get the impression that food rules our lives—beyond just that you need it to survive.

Well, my wife is half-Polish, half-Italian. And I have the appetite of a lion. So yeah, food is a big deal, at least to me. The ladies in my life appreciate it, too—if only because they’re often bemused and amused by my attraction and reaction to it.

That’s why something silly like a new Del Taco opening up gets me going.

I’ll report back with my review of the place.

I can’t wait to find out why we liked it so much.

Categories : Enotes, food
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Jul
29

Beck, As In Wreck

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Glenn Beck is an idiot.

I’m tempted to not stop there, and do the school days equivalent: write it 100 times on the blackboard, er, this post.

Hell, I’ll write it 500 times. I doubt I’d get sick of it.

Glenn Beck is an idiot.

No, not even close to being tired of those words yet.

Beck, another who soils the broadcast air on Fox News, called President Obama a racist.

Beck’s attack comes in the wake of the controversial arrest of Harvard University Scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., who is black, and Obama’s reaction, which included taking the police to task. Read: the white police officer to task.

Obama then backed off his statement, in which he initially said that the police had “acted stupidly.”

On this morning’s episode of “Fox & Friends”, Beck said the president—the President of the United States—has exposed himself as a person with “a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.”

WHAT??

Beck’s statement, thank God, was challenged on the air by Fox host Brian Kilmeade, who noted that most of the people who work for the nation’s first black president are white—though that’s hardly the greatest argument in the world, seeing as though most people in this country are white. But I digress.

“I’m not saying he doesn’t like white people,” Beck said. “He has a problem. This guy is, I believe, a racist.”

Wait—he’s a racist, yet you’re not saying that he doesn’t like white people?

And Obama is the one with the problem?


The face of an idiot: Glenn Beck


Then there’s the matter of Beck talking about Obama in a manner of disrespect.

“This guy, I believe, is a racist.”

This guy?

It’s amazing how certain folks casually toss caustic words around.

Of all the things you can call someone, when you’re not really sure if they are that, “racist” is right up there among the most heinous.

Here are some others: Anti-Semitic. A child molester. Glenn Beck.

Maybe Beck saw an opportunity—a chance for the mentally challenged.

“Hey—wouldn’t it be great fun to, for a change, call a black man racist?”

Beck might have figured that he could satisfy that urge with Obama as his target because, well, the president can take it.

For the record, an Obama spokesman, William Burton, said the White House had no comment on Beck.

Well, allow me then. I don’t have to be as gracious.

Glenn Beck is a small-minded man who is another who’s cobbled together a mini-empire by appealing to other small-minded people and leading them by the snouts. He’s an intellectual lightweight with a heavyweight forum—never a good combination.

Beck wondered, during the discussion on “Fox & Friends,” what other president would immediately jump on the police for their actions in the Gates case.

Not sure, but I kind of think it would have been nice if other presidents had called out some folks over the years.

Obama, in fact, should get props for backing off the “acted stupidly” remark and then offering an olive branch to Gates and the officer, Sgt. James Crowley, by inviting them to the White House for a “let bygones be bygones” beer.

But that’s all beyond the range of Glenn Beck’s capacity for reasoning.

Because “this guy’s” an idiot

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Jul
29

Lions’ Special Teams Have Been Anything BUT, Lately

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He’d field the punt, no matter what—even if a swarm of would-be tacklers were surrounding him. The fair catch wasn’t an option. Often, the opponents would have prayed for his hand to go up, as a matter of fact.

Then a jitterbug move here and there, a sidestep, and then he’d emerge from the scrum, bursting into daylight.

The late sports writer Joe Falls had it right about Lemuel Barney.

“Lem Barney was like the National Anthem,” Falls once wrote. “He made people stand up.”

Barney was the greatest punt returner I’ve ever seen, mainly because he was fearless.

Never was that more evident than during a game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Tiger Stadium, in 1970.

The punt actually had rolled to nearly a stop on the grass, with several Bengals players surrounding it, waiting for it to stop completely. But then Barney snatched the ball from the ground, and darted past the stunned Bengals. For a touchdown, some 60 yards or so.

The Lions also had a kickoff return man around the same time named Tommy Watkins, and he was no picnic, either. In 1965, Watkins averaged 34.4 yards per kickoff return.

I remember little Eddie Payton, Walter’s younger brother, taking a kickoff and a punt to the house in a game against the Vikings in the Silverdome during a Saturday night edition of “Monday Night Football”, in 1977.

In the 1990s, Lions fans were thrilled by Mel Gray, who was as dangerous on kick returns as anyone in the league for a period of about five years.

The Lions had Glyn Milburn after Gray, and he was exciting at times.

Eddie Drummond was electric, when the rest of the team’s batteries were dead.

The lineage of return men in Detroit has often been a bright spot amidst a lot of darkness.

Not lately, though.

You can’t pin the blame for an 0-16 season on just one thing, of course, but you can say that the Lions’ return game and kick coverage didn’t help. At all.

It would be one thing if the Lions had one or the other working at an above average clip. But when you combine not being able to bring a kickoff past the 25-yard line along with constantly surrendering field position because of the inability to cover…

Not a good situation.

The Lions’ special teams coach is Stan Kwan. Still. And, for all the warm and fuzzies people feel about Jim Schwartz and Martin Mayhew, the fact that Kwan remains in charge of ST is enough to be deflating.

For now.

When Gray was doing his thing, the Lions’ ST coach was the late Frank Gansz, who brought a drill sergeant-like approach to his coaching. Gansz’s platoons covered kicks like Kamikazes, and his blocking schemes opened gaping holes for Gray.

Whatever progress the Lions are to make from 0-16 will be stunted if they don’t get their special teams acts together.

I’m not talking about the leg men; kicker Jason Hanson and punter Nick Harris are just fine.

But the cover squad didn’t do anything to help out the worst defense in the NFL, by constantly handing opponents a short field. And the Lions’ own return game was sick. Just as Barney was the best I’d ever seen—at least in Detroit—Brandon Middleton ’08 might have been the worst return man I’ve ever seen, in the entire history of the NFL.

Middleton was awful—a meek, mild-mannered returner of kickoffs who had no burst, no guts.

Aveion Cason was the other main kickoff returner in 2008, and though he wasn’t much better, numbers-wise, at least he possessed some gumption.

The Lions drafted WR Derrick Williams from Penn State last April, largely to wow them with his kick returning ability, which he flashed often in college. Veteran receiver Dennis Northcutt, recently signed, has had some success returning punts.

Gray, Milburn, and Drummond at least gave you a reason to watch the Lions, when you didn’t care all that much to see their teammates.

But even that kick return mojo has been removed from the menu in recent years.

I’m not expecting the next Lem Barney. But some field position off kickoffs and punt returns that traverse more than five yards would be nice.

It’d be a start, anyway.

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Jul
28

Eager To Watch Beaver

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Psst! Hey, you there!

I like to watch “Leave it to Beaver.”

I’m outed. The beans have been spilled.

I hope you don’t think I’m a creep or somethin’.

To be honest, I’ve never NOT liked The Beaver. He was someone I could relate to as a youngster, and now that I’m a grown-up, his world is somewhere to which I like to escape.

I prefer the older episodes, though. The ones where Jerry Mathers was small, no older than nine or ten years old. He was cuter then, and the storylines were more innocent.

We own a box set of one of the earlier seasons of “Beaver”, and when you feel like the world is crawling up your rear end, it’s nice to slide one of those discs into the DVD player and be taken away. It’s like a Calgon bath that way.

It starts with the neighborhood the Cleavers lived in—one of the first sprawling sub-divisions built after the second World War. The two-story homes with the picket fences and the well-manicured lawns.


The Cleavers


The Cleavers’ world just seemed so insulated from the stress and strain that befalls the American family today. No foreclosures, no job loss. Heck, not even any crime, save for maybe a pick-pocketed watch at the park where the kids played ball.

Ward, the dad, always came home at a decent hour, dinner waiting. June, the mom, greeting him with a smile and wearing a dress and pearls! Turns out that Barbara Billingsley (she’s still living, BTW, at age 93), who played June, had a birth defect on her neck that she was self-conscious about. Hence the pearls.

Now you know.

There was Wally, the best older brother any little kid could have. If you watch the episodes closely, especially the ones when Beaver was small, you can see how endearing Wally is to his little brother. There’s genuine love there.

In one episode, Beaver breaks down in the bedroom, worried about what Dad will say about his behavior. Wally, without speaking, pulls his hanky out of his pocket, hands it to “The Beav”, and tousles his hair. How many high school boys show that kind of compassion to their elementary school-aged brothers nowadays?

There’s just something cathartic about watching “Beaver.” Maybe because you know it took place when Eisenhower was president, and drive-in movies were popular, and there were milkmen and the World Series was played during the day.

I was sad to discover that the actress who played Beaver’s pretty young teacher Miss Landers, Sue Randall, died in 1984 at age 49 from cancer.

Miss Landers looked nothing like any teacher I had in my day.

Another reason to watch—as a grown-up male.

As for the role of June Cleaver, Billingsley apparently had her own theory about why she got the job.

“Roy (her late husband) died on a Saturday, while we were gardening,” she once explained. “The Thursday before, I was up for the part of the mother in a series Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher were working on. Then Roy died, and nothing came of that series. But two months later, when they started on ‘Leave It To Beaver’, they remembered me and asked me to read for the part of June.

“I’ve always thought that they felt sorry for me.”

There’s nothing close to “Leave it to Beaver” on the tube nowadays. And there’s not much like that kind of world in real life, either.

I feel sorry for us.

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If it was Monday night, then it was “The Knee Jerks”, correct?

Yes!!

Last night was no exception, as Big Al and I blabbed on our weekly Blog Talk Radio Show for the customary 90 minutes and some change.

The first 35 of those minutes were spent with pro wrestler and soon-to-be-Reality TV star Matt Riviera, who regaled us with stories of his career in pro wrestling and his upcoming VH1 show, “Megan Wants a Millionaire,” in which Matt and 16 other millionaires vie for the heart of the gorgeous Megan Hauserman. It debuts this Sunday, August 2, at 9:00 PM ET.

After Matt’s segment, Al and I talked about two controversial QBs—Brett Favre and Michael Vick. Then we mourned the very possible loss of the Buick Open after this year, talked a little U-M football, and then launched into Tigers and Lions talk. All that, plus our Jerks of the Week.

Oh, and did I mention that we unveiled our new pre-taped show opening and opened up a “Knee Jerks” chat room during the show? And that we took our first phone call from a listener?

Whew!!

Here are some hi-lites:

Big Al

On the Tigers’ offense: “It’s like watching the same game over and over again.”

On Brett Favre: “I’m tired of this. At this point in his career, on a good day, Favre is maybe an above average quarterback. But the Vikings are putting up with him because if he joins them, he’s automatically the best QB on the roster.”

On the Lions still having draft choices unsigned: “I’m having flashbacks to the days of (former GM) Russ Thomas!”

Eno

On the Buick Open: “I’ve been there. I’ve covered it. The players love it. Corey Pavin told me a few years ago that the Buick was one of his favorite stops on the tour. It’s a shame if this is the last one.”

On Favre: “He’s transforming his legacy from one of the best quarterbacks in the game to one of the most aggravating people.”

On the Lions: “Al, you’re over-reacting, as usual, when it comes to the Lions. These guys will get signed—if not now, then soon. Three days to camp is an eternity.”

You can listen to the show by clicking below:

Categories : Greg on the radio
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Jul
27

Palin-tology

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Dick Nixon was a liar.

That’s not news, I know, but Tricky Dick lied to us long before he circled the wagons and covered up his involvement in the Watergate scandal in 1972-73.

No, Nixon lied to us when he stood before the media after losing in the 1962 California gubernatorial election.

“You won’t have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore!” Nixon scolded the press after what he thought was unfair treatment during the ’62 campaign in California.

It was a promise he didn’t keep.

No, we had plenty more opportunities to kick Dick around, thanks to his rising like a Phoenix to win the 1968 presidential election, and again four years later.

Sarah Palin is making like Nixon.

Palin, the now former Alaskan governor, wagged her finger at the press as she vacated the state mansion.

“So how about in honor of the American soldier, you quit making up things. And don’t underestimate the wisdom of the people. And one other thing for the media — our new governor has a very nice family, too, so leave his kids alone,” she said as she handed off power to Sean Parnell, the lieutenant governor.

Palin clearly feels she was treated unfairly during the 2008 presidential election, when she was portrayed as someone who made Dan Quayle look like a Rhodes Scholar.

But her decision to quit as Alaska’s governor two years before her term expires has only added to the vitriol.

“She abandoned her state in the middle of a term. They didn’t ask for her to run. She volunteered to run and assumed that job. I think she has hurt herself. You’ve seen those numbers turn,” Republican strategist Alex Castellanos said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union With John King.”

Fifty-three percent of Americans view Palin negatively, and 40 percent see her positively, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll.

So do the folks in this country view Palin negatively because of the media, or because of, well, herself?

There’s no question that the media can, and does, amplify a candidate’s weaknesses.

But in Palin’s case, the press didn’t have far to go on the volume dial; she had turned it up quite a bit herself.

Palin’s supporters were almost laughable in their assertion that she was representative of the “every woman.” The Republican Party was laughable in its assertion that nominating Palin for vice president would somehow attract female voters disenfranchised by Hillary Clinton’s loss to Barack Obama.

The GOP looked at the female vote and thought that it would blindly follow any woman, regardless of views, ideology, or brains.

It was disgusting.

But that’s not Palin’s fault, of course. I’ve long said it: when you place a square peg in a round hole, you don’t blame the peg.

But Palin’s scolding of the media, I believe, will only work against her. They laughed and mocked Nixon after he wagged his finger at the media in 1962; they’ll do the same with Palin in 2009, and beyond.

And, frankly, deservedly so.

Categories : Enotes, Politics
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Jul
27

Favre Needs To Make Up His Mind Once And For All

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Brett Favre, the high-rolling risk-taker, the reckless gunslinger, has been brought to his knees, apparently.

Favre ran away from would-be sackers, rifled passes into the thick of secondaries with defiance, and was as durable as titanium.

But now a simple question is his Kryptonite.

To play, or not to play?

Favre won’t tell.

He has the Minnesota Vikings on the edges of their seats, waiting for the future Hall of Famer to decide whether he wants to, once again, eschew retirement for another autumn playing football.

Training camps are starting all over the NFL this week. Some have already begun. And still Favre isn’t sure.

To play, or not to play?

He’s been pulling this stuff for several years now, Brett Favre has.

Another football season ends, and Favre starts talking retirement. He winces and sobs and tells us that it looks bad for another year in uniform.

He yearns to spend more time with his family—that age-old reason for hanging ‘em up for good.

He almost fooled the Green Bay Packers a couple times with this act, before the Pack got wise and cut Favre loose, tired of the posturing. Besides, it was time to see what Aaron Rodgers could do already.

Favre put in a year with the New York Jets, amidst talk that he wasn’t exactly the most accessible teammate the Jets have ever had. Or the most reliable.

Then the Vikings got into the mix after Favre did his annual chin-rubbing and head-scratching.

Twisting in the wind is young Tarvaris Jackson, the Man Who Would Be Quarterback, should Favre turn the Vikings down.

Meanwhile, Favre continues the transformation of his legacy, from one of the game’s top signal-callers to one of its most aggravating.

To play, or not to play?

No one said this should be an easy decision. But Favre has had over seven months to make it, and still he hasn’t come to a 1-0 vote either way.

He’s sitting at 0-0-1, while Jackson and the Vikings wait to see which way they’ll proceed as a team.

Easy for me to say, but if I were the Vikes, I’d have told Brett Favre weeks ago one thing, and one thing only.

“We’re going to give you a deadline, Brett. If you haven’t made a decision by (insert date), then we’re moving on. No hard feelings, but this is a business and we have better things to do with our time.”

It would be even gutsier, but I’d love to see the Vikings turn Favre down at this point, should his decision be, “I want to play.”

Too late!

None of the other quarterbacks enshrined in Canton ever made such an excruciating exit from football.

Even Johnny Unitas, who spent one awful year plus a few days of the following year’s training camp as a San Diego Charger before calling it quits, never came close to what Favre has been doing to first the Packers and now the Vikings.

Joe Montana played a couple seasons for the Kansas City Chiefs and then retired with little hesitation.

Many of them even announce before the season that “This is it, guys!” and when the final gun goes off, they peel the uniform off and ride into the sunset.

But Favre is making like a pro boxer, bobbing in and out of retirement, keeping himself in the news all year round.

To play, or not to play?

Ahh, that is the question.

So answer it already!!

Categories : football, Out of Bounds
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Jul
27

Monday Morning Manager

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My weekly take on the Tigers, also known simply and affectionately as “MMM.”

Week of 7/20-7/26: 4-3

This week: 7/27-29: at Tex; 7/31-8/2: at Cle


Goat of the Week

Once again, even though the Tigers went 4-3 last week, including taking three of four from the White Sox over the weekend, the goat is still the overall team offense, for dropping two more 2-1 games last week, at home against Seattle.

Armando Galarraga’s one-hit ball for seven innings was wasted on Tuesday night, and the team again looked anemic the next afternoon. I’m too lazy to look it up, but the Tigers had four consecutive 2-1 losses, which surely must be a team record or close to it.

Sunday night’s loss on ESPN was the result of another heinous offensive performance.

It’s terrific that the Tigers went 3-1 against the White Sox, but they didn’t exactly club the ball around Comerica Park. In fact, they resorted to playing some NL-style “small ball” at times over the weekend—sacrificing in the first inning, laying down squeeze bunts, etc.

Dishonorable mention goes to Brandon Inge, who’s been mostly awful since returning from the All-Star break. Maybe his torn up knee is bothering him more than he’d care to admit.


Hero of the Week

Justin Verlander, hands down.

JV was the horse that every championship club needs on Friday, in Game One of the day/night doubleheader.

The White Sox breezed into town on an emotional high, both from how well they’ve played lately and from the euphoria of Mark Buehrle’s perfect game on Thursday.

The Tigers, on the other hand, were licking their wounds—losers of five of six since the All-Star break, including all those 2-1 losses. Their divisional lead had evaporated.

Enter Verlander.

JV threw a complete game, tossing a career-high 127 pitches, and wiggled out of a bases loaded, no out jam in the ninth inning that threatened not only his CG but also the victory itself.

He was still hitting about 100 MPH on the gun on his 120th pitch.

The Tigers needed that performance in the worst way.

It was what a clear-cut ace is supposed to do under such circumstances. Verlander’s gem set the tone for the series, as it turned out.

Honorable mention: CF Curtis Granderson, for his clutch, two-out double off closer Bobby Jenks to tie Saturday’s game in the ninth inning. The Tigers won it in the tenth.


Quick scouting reports: Rangers and Indians

Texas’ Michael Young is hitting .317. Ho-hum. What’s new?

Well, this might not be news, but the Rangers can flat out mash the ball.

They have six players with 13 home runs or more. But they don’t have a lot of guys hitting for average, including even rising star second baseman Ian Kinsler, who has 23 HR and 60 RBI, but is only hitting .244.

Maybe the most extreme example of this all-or-nothing offense is 1B Chris Davis, who’s having a Rob Deer-like season: 15 HR, but with a .202 BA and 114 strikeouts (!) in 258 AB.

The pitching staff is led by veteran starter Kevin Millwood, who’s having a fine season (9-7, 3.39 ERA) and 26-year-old Scott Feldman, who’s 9-3 with a 3.59 ERA. But in Game One tonight, the Tigers will see 23-year-old righty Tommy Hunter, who in five starts is 2-1 with a 2.17 ERA.

The closer’s role has been shared by lefty C.J. Wilson and righty Frank Francisco, who’ve converted 25-of-29 chances between them.

Then there’s the Cleveland Indians.

Who had the Indians on pace to lose about 100 games this year?

Not me.

While I thought the Tigers would win around 90 games—and that looks good so far—I thought their stiffest competition would come from the Indians. I grossly under-estimated Cleveland’s pitching woes, and many of their hitters have under-performed.

CF Grady Sizemore, for example, is hitting an unsightly .230.

But the pitching has been the biggest culprit along Lake Erie.

Only one starter, lefty Cliff Lee, has an ERA anywhere near 4.00 (Lee’s at 3.14). The rest are in the fives, sixes, and even sevens.

Prized free agent signee Kerry Wood is a pedestrian 13-for-17 in save opportunities. The second number is the red flag: just 17 save chances so far for Wood in almost 100 games. Wood’s ERA is 5.08, and he’s surrendered a horrifying six homers in just 33 innings.

It’s been a rough year in Cleveland, where the Tigers swept three games earlier in the season.

Under the microscope

Rick Porcello, the 20-year-old rookie pitcher, is beginning to look like, well, a 20-year-old rookie pitcher.

Porcello struggled mightily in the first inning of Sunday night’s game, and he’s been more bad than good as of late. It’s time to re-evaluate whether he can be considered one-third of a rotation’s top three. The kid’s won nine games so far, which is pretty good, but he seems to be hitting that proverbial rookie wall.


Bottom line:
Baseball is wonderfully unpredictable. Look at the high the White Sox were on when they came into town on Friday, and look at how the Tigers were kind of hanging their heads after the Seattle series.

You could have made a mint if you predicted the Tigers would take three of four, given the circumstances.

But that’s why they play the games, right?

As for this week, the Tigers are just 21-29 on the road, so this six-game trip takes on another dimension, in addition to being key to maintaining their lead in the division.

“We’re going to have a little talk about that,” manager Jim Leyland said, referring to the team’s struggles on the road. “We just haven’t performed as well. We’ve got to take care of that.”
That’s all for this week’s MMM. Join me every Monday!

P.S. Also join me and Big Al from The Wayne Fontes Experience every Monday night as we co-host “The Knee Jerks” on Blog Talk Radio. The Tigers are a weekly topic. We go live at 11 p.m. ET, and every episode can be downloaded for your listening convenience!

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Jul
26

Sparky’s Soothsaying Paid Off For Tigers In 1987

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Sparky Anderson was best digested with a side order of salt, at least to those who had him figured out. To try him otherwise was usually a cause for consternation.

I tried Sparky, the old Tigers manager, without salt for the first couple of years he was in Detroit, and I can tell you that he was much easier on the tummy with sodium.

I believed him, or wanted to, when he told the reporters that Kirk Gibson was going to be “the next Mickey Mantle.” I listened, enraptured, when he announced before the 1980 season that his team would win “at least” 90 games.

I was still eschewing the salt shaker the next spring, when Sparky told us that between them, starters Jack Morris, Milt Wilcox and Dan Petry would win 50 games.

Then I got wise, and realized that Sparky was a lot more fun when you added grains and grains of salt to his words.

After that, Sparky amused me instead of bemused me.

Unknown rookie Chris Pittaro, so good that he’d be the Tigers’ second baseman, thus moving the great Lou Whitaker to third base?

HA—that’s a good one!

Pain don’t hurt?

Stop—you’re killing me!

But I found a Sparky gem, uncovered on the addictive site YouTube—a.k.a. your very own video home museum. And, had I heard it live, when he first said it, I’d have shaken my head, grinned, and said, “Oh, that Sparky!”

It was May, 1987. The Tigers were limping along, 9-15 and not showing much life. They had lost All-Star catcher Lance Parrish to Philadelphia before the season, via free agency. The pitching was a shambles, the hitting sporadic.

So Sparky was donning the TV headset and talking to the folks on Channel 4 during one of their pre-game shows. The Tigers were in Oakland.

“I want to tell people something right now,” Sparky said, and you knew you were in for a humdinger. “This is a very good baseball team. Make no question about that. And this will be a very good baseball team.”

Sparky’s words must have caused thousands of eyes to roll. But then he saved the best for last.

“I will say this: the people of Detroit will be very happy come October 4.”

The Tigers slipped to 11-19 in the week after Sparky’s boastful prediction.

The only happy that the fans would be come Oct. 4, it appeared, would be happy that the season was finished!

In early June, the Tigers picked up a former batting champ and aging veteran who was struggling to hit .200 with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Bill Madlock’s signing looked like nothing more than a desperate move by a desperate team. Madlock was 36 years old and looking like it, hitting a sickly .180 for the Dodgers.

But he bounced into town with the Tigers and things started to happen—for Madlock and for his new team. Immediately.

Madlock, in his very first game as a Tiger, in Boston, went 3-for-4 with a home run. The Tigers lost, but they wouldn’t lose very much the rest of the season.

Madlock went 12-for-23 in his first four games with Detroit. He had more hits in those four games than he had the entire season with the Dodgers (11) to that point.

Every time you looked up, it seemed Madlock was getting two, three hits a game.

And the Tigers started to win. Often.

They rose from the ashes of 11-19 and were battling the Toronto Blue Jays for supremacy in the division, along with the honors of having the very best record in all of baseball.

There was a crucial four-game series in Toronto the next-to-last weekend of the season.

The Tigers went into Canada one-half game behind the Blue Jays.

Three days and three one-run losses later, the Tigers were three-and-one-half games behind, including a gut-wrenching, come-from-ahead loss on national TV on Saturday afternoon, a game in which the Tigers blew a 9-4 lead.

The Blue Jays had seven games remaining, the Tigers eight. They started talking about Toronto’s “magic number” to clinch the division, which had now been whittled down to five.

The man who was not the next Mickey Mantle but instead the one and only Kirk Gibson, stood among the reporters in the tomb-like Tigers clubhouse in the wake of Saturday’s piercing loss.

Speaking softly but with determination, Gibson had a doozy for the press people.

“Maybe we’re just setting the greatest bear trap in history,” Gibby said of the Tigers’ seemingly insurmountable deficit in chasing the Blue Jays.

The Tigers won the next day in 13 innings, thanks to Gibson’s home run in the ninth to tie the game, and his game-winning single in the 13th.

They were two-and-one-half games back with a week left in the season.

The Blue Jays stumbled at home against Milwaukee, dropping three straight, while the Tigers split a four-game series at Tiger Stadium with the Orioles.

When the Jays hit Detroit for the season finale weekend, their lead was a measly one game. The bear trap’s jaws were about to clamp down.

The Tigers swept the series, winning all three games by one run. They won the division outright, avoiding the need for a one-game playoff. The bear trap worked. The Blue Jays finished the season 0-7 in coughing up the division flag in Chicago Cubs-like fashion.

It was Oct. 4—the date Sparky Anderson referenced on television back in May—when pitcher Frank Tanana fielded Garth Iorg’s tapper and lobbed the baseball to first baseman Darrell Evans, completing Frank’s 1-0 shutout and sealing the division for the Tigers.

Sparky got one right. The people of Detroit were, indeed, very happy—rivaled only by their surprise and shock.

The Tigers, after their 11-19 start, went 87-45 the rest of the way, nearly a two-out-of-three rate for 132 games.

That they fizzled out in the playoffs against Minnesota was almost forgivable after all they expended just to get there.

Sparky, in his book They Call Me Sparky, called that 1987 team his best in Detroit.

“We were finished,” Sparky wrote of his team’s state after those thrilling, season-ending matches with the Blue Jays, both in Toronto and in Detroit. “They (the players) had nothing left to give me against the Twins. I was very proud of them.”

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