Sorry I haven't been writing much lately. Not much to talk about. Plus I've been busy. Buying a house, having 1.5 kids, working quite a bit. Anyway.
Here's a brief update on all things Detroit sports:
A couple weeks ago I officially hit the panic button during the Tigers pathetic 7 game slide, during which Magglio and Austin hit a combined 0 for 300. Jim Leyland looked lost, Phil Coke looked horrendous, and even Verlander was giving up extra base hits all over the place.
Then, with the snap of a finger, everything changed. Jackson started hitting, Martinez came back with a .500 average and 15 RBIs in two weeks, and Peralta began a 12 game hitting streak. Coincidentally, Magglio, Inge, and Raburn all saw less playing time. And best of all, the starting pitchers have allowed something like 3 earned runs in the last 50 innings. I might not even be exaggerating. Actually, I'll look it up real quick.
In the last 68.1 innings, starting pitchers have allowed 14 runs. That's a 1.8% ERA.
If you remove weak-link Phil Coke's last two starts, the other four starters (Verlander, Penny, Porcello, Scherzer) have gone 56.2 innings and given up 8 runs - an other-worldly 1.28 ERA - in the last two weeks, while the Tigers have enjoyed a 10-2 stretch. Needless to say, if they keep pitching like this, the World Series is in the bag.
Of course, that's not going to happen. But it is promising. Everyone seems to be feeding of Verlander, who may not be the leading Cy Young prospect right now, but is certainly the most dominant power pitcher in the American League. No one else can hit triple-digits in the 8th inning. Heck, very few starting pitchers can hit 100 MPH in the first inning.
With 100+ games remaining, anything can still happen. Verlander or Cabrera could get injured, and that would essentially end the Tigers season. I'm not going to make the same mistake I made a couple weeks ago. I panicked too soon, now I'm not going to get caught celebrating too soon. It is what it is: we had a terrible stretch, now a great stretch. Lots of games left to be played, and lots of weaknesses to figure out. Including ...
What to do in the corner outfield positions. With Magglio hitting a career-worst .172 and having been reduced to a mere singles hitter (4 extra base hits in 99 at bats), Leyland graciously took him out of the lineup with an "ankle injury." The truth is, Mags is a defensive liability, and you can't put him at DH when he's got the worst average on the team. Especially when you've got a pair of catchers hitting .317 and .268. The DH is going to be Avila or Martinez pretty much the rest of the year, unless Leyland stops trying to win, which he has been known to do in the past.
In left field, the Ryan Raburn experiment is dwindling to an end. Finally. Put the poor man out of his misery. Not only does he have 4 errors and the team's worst fielding percentage... oh, and who could forget when a catchable ball bounced off his glove and went over the fence for a home run ... but he's hitting .212 with 7 walks and 46 strikeouts. That's simply unacceptable.
So needless to say, I was ecstatic when Leyland brought up triple-A sensation Andy Dirks to play left field, and promised to give him a real chance to crack the lineup. Even if he hits .260, it would be a huge improvement over Raburn, and more importantly it allows Boesch to play right field, where he's better suited, and it keeps Casper Wells and Don Kelly (.239 and .262, respectively) from being regular starters. Kelly's average is deceiving; he's a career .240 hitter and has no power. Dirks has a chance to be this year's Boesch. Even if he's 4 year ago's Marcus Thames, that would be solid.
The other major weakness to address is obviously the bullpen. What is there to say? Our bullpen has the highest ERA in the AL. Valverde is a stud closer, but the rest of the guys are useless. Unless the starters can continually go into the 7th inning, we're going to have to find someone who can pitch for three outs without trouble. So far that person has not showed up. I'm not holding my breath.
The clear reason for optimism right now is that Cleveland is overachieving. They have no right boasting the MLB's best record, and it won't last for long. They will hit a bad stretch soon, and Detroit stands to benefit. No one else in the AL Central has any interest in contending for the playoffs this year.
Like I said, it's a long year. I'll give another update in a couple months. By that point we could be 20 games behind the Indians for all I know.
What a sad, sad season for the once-great Detroit Pistons. It was so pathetic, it was the first time in 3 years that I didn't even bother to write one word about them. They are the only team in the NBA that truly doesn't have a "best player." My brother and I have had endless debates about this. It's clearly not Rip or Ben. Tayshaun isn't aggressive enough. Stuckey led the team in scoring, but he shot horrible percentages. Gordon doesn't play defense or pass. Villanueva is like Sheed with less skill. T-Mac is too old. It's probably either the injured Jonas Jerebko or rookie Greg Monroe. Y I K E S.
Next year is going to be equally dismal. Coach John Kuester will probably get one more season to run this team into the ground and watch them burn, and then both he and Dumars will be fired. Frankly, I can't believe Joe Dumars hasn't been axed yet. The only explanation is that he's not accountable to anyone, and no one is bothering to pull the trigger on his release. The Darko pick was excusable - every scout was wrong about him. Winning a title bought Joe 4 years of immunity, and rightfully so. But the Iverson trade was egregious in every way, and the only saving grace was the cap space it opened up, which Joe completely wasted on Ben and Charlie, two guys who are being paid like All Stars and aren't even starting. Joe hasn't made a good draft pick since Tayshaun in 2003, and hasn't made a good free agency signing since McDyess in '04.
The pingpong ball lottery was last night, and David Stern rigged the thing to give Cleveland the #1 and #4 picks. Why would he do this? Because fans hate LeBron, thus they will love watching Cleveland rebuild. I truly believe that Stern also rigged the lottery to send LeBron to Cleveland in the first place (hometown hero) and to send Derrick Rose to Chicago, and also Griffin to LA. And maybe John Wall to Washington also, to redeem the Arenas/guns disaster. It might be a weird coincidence that the biggest cities keep getting the #1 picks, but I think Stern is a crook. I could be wrong. But we do know that the Tim Donaghy thing happened. And I'm fairly sure Stern knew about it. I don't trust him.
Anyway, Detroit got the 8th pick, which is basically worthless. Last year Monroe was taken 7th. Don't get me wrong, he's okay. But he's not a franchise-saving star. Joe Dumars has zero chance of turning around this team via the draft. Chances are whoever we pick won't start a single game in 2012. Also, there probably won't be a season in 2012, so who cares?
Despite having a backcourt full of scrubs and me-first shooters, we've got to spend this pick on an interior scorer. If 6'10" Enes Kanter from Kentucky is gone, and he likely will be, we'll target one of the many big international players (two from Lithuania, one from Congo, one from Czech Republic) or a combo 3-4 forward to replace Tayshaun long-term. But isn't that why we drafted Jerebko and Austin Daye? Hmm ... I have no idea how Joe will mess this up. I don't care really. Wake me up in 10 years when the Pistons have a chance at rebuilding.
Still no clue on whether there will be even be an NFL season, but for some reason I'm more confident in seeing football next season than basketball. And I hope that comes to fruition, because the Lions are suddenly a fringe playoff team by just about everyone's estimation. In fact, I'm starting to get worried with all the 'experts' who are calling Detroit the up-and-coming team of 2011. We are turning into the Houston Texans of the NFC - bad QB, bad secondary, a couple stars, can't get into the playoffs. At least that's my fear.
The truth is, I think a strike-shortened season could be advantageous for the Lions, who might be able to eek a playoff spot with a 7-5 record. The NFC should be very middle-heavy this season with few elite teams and lots of playoff-caliber teams. Aside from Green Bay and the two NFC South powers, there's nobody in the NFC who stands out. Philly could have a huge year, as could Dallas, or Tampa, or even St. Louis. And the Giants can't be counted out. But all that said, I don't dislike Detroit's chances at a playoff bid.
A lot will be decided in the free agency period, which may or may not happen any time soon. Detroit has plenty of holes to fill, especially on defense. The two guys to keep an eye on are Nnamdi Asomugha and Stephen Tulloch. If we land Asomugha, we're golden. If we get Tulloch, at least we found one starting linebacker. If we get neither, don't panic, but don't expect a dominant defense.
Offensively, everything hinges on Matthew Stafford, who continues to get rave reviews and heaps of praise despite never playing a single quality NFL game from start to finish, and having more shoulder injuries (4) than wins (3), not to mention more INTs (21) than TDs (19). I don't discount Stafford's chances to be good, though I highly doubt he'll ever be great. Given the weapons at his disposal, I think he'll have pretty solid numbers in 2011, and I also think he'll stay healthy this year. Maybe he'll miss a game or two, but overall I think we'll see something like 25 TDs, 15 INTs, 3,500 yards, a 57% completion percentage ... nice fantasy numbers, but not overwhelming offensive numbers. The key will be whether or not Stafford can learn how to execute an effective two-minute drill, something he's been totally incompetent at doing so far. Detroit might not get blown out as much as we did in the futile days of the past, but if we lose a bunch of close games due to an anti-clutch quarterback, well ... a loss is still a loss.
Certainly there's a lot to be excited about, with Suh and Fairley teaming up in the middle and a defensive line that should record a ton of sacks. The offense should be able to run the ball better than we have in a while, and I expect a decent amount of big plays through the air. But I'm not getting carried away. I still have little to no trust in the four most important people on the Lions team - Stafford, Schwartz, and the two coordinators.
Still a long time before we even know if there will be football. Blah.