Jim Leyland’s Gut Has Worn Out Its Welcome in Detroit

For the entirety of the 2012 Detroit Tigers season, I have been texting back-and-forth with a friend of mine about the team’s performance.

He usually starts the conversation with a text about how frustrated he is with this team, then I talk him off the ledge. I’ve maintained all year that the Tigers are too good to not winning the division. I could see them winning by default because the rest of the division is terrible.

For the last five months, I’ve tried to stay reasonable.

But after last night’s game against the lowly Cleveland Indians, I can’t do it any longer.

In case you missed it (or you just don’t give a shit about the Tigers) Jim Leyland benched arguably his hottest hitter, Delmon Young, in favor of super utility player and Leyland favorite, Don Kelly.

Kelly is batting .179 this season.

Let me repeat that: .179.

That is nearly 100 points less than Young, who, according to Motor City Bengals, is batting .362 in his last 12 games. In short, he’s been raking it.

Plus, WHY WOULD YOU INSERT SOMEBODY IN THE LINEUP WHO IS BATTING .179 IN THE HEAT OF THE PLAYOFF RACE!?

(That felt good.)

It’s now the day after and I still cannot come up with one good reason why Leyland put Young and his hot bat (and his mustache) on the bench, then refused to pinch hit him when the opportunity called for it.

Instead, he chose Avisail Garcia and his seven career at-bats, while Young continued to languish on the pine.

***

Since Jim Leyland became manager of the Detroit Tigers in 2006, his gut has been lauded for many decisions that, while they seemed strange on paper, turned out well in the course of a baseball game.

Some thought it was his years of managerial experience. Others thought he just possessed a knack for the game.

Either way, you had to sit in awe at this man’s ability to pick the right players to perform on the right nights.

Numbers be damned, Leyland managed by his gut, and his gut rarely let him down.

But in 2012, we’re starting to witness the downfall of the gut decision, and the decision to bench Young (who had a poor career record against Cleveland start, Justin Masterson) was a prime example.

As I mentioned above, when you’re in the heat of a pennant race, you stick with the girl you brought to the prom, regardless of how poor their numbers are against certain pitchers. If a guy is on a tear, you stick with him until he’s spent. You can’t afford to take a chance on a guy batting below the Mendoza Line to contribute.

The games are too important at this stage of the season; the stakes too high.

For the past five+ years, we’ve watched Leyland nearly deliver this city the World Series championship it has yearned for since Kirk Gibson & Co. beat the San Diego Padres in 1984.

For a while, it seemed certain the drought would end, but now, we’re not so certain.

It seems he’s lost his touch. He’s having a hard time pushing the right buttons. And when he does press the right one, another button, somewhere else on the keyboard, pops back into place, negating the pressure of the other button.

We, as Detroit Tiger fans, have little room to complain about the team’s performance. After all, would you rather the baseball we were forced to endure through the 90’s and half of the 2000s?

No. Of course not.

But on a night in September, when the games matter, we deserve to see the best team the manager can put on the field.

If the manager can’t do that, then maybe it’s time for a change.

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Michigan Football Fans Are Purposely Misguided

Attention Michigan football fans: You can’t praise Brady Hoke for making the tough decision to suspend RB Fitzgerald Toussaint and DE Frank Clark for the game against Alabama, then fail to address that your team just got stomped by that very same Alabama team.

That’s not how it works.

The college football fan by-laws suggest that you must discuss the result of the big game you were counting down to on your Facebook page the day before.

You can’t pretend it never happened.

With the situation at Penn St. still affecting how we view the coaches walking the sidelines, I understand the propensity to raise your coach’s profile to the upper echelon of goodness. But, even if you don’t want to admit it, the results on the field trump everything. Michigan is not going to play in the Rose Bowl on account of its morals.

If Michigan had pulled off the upset over Alabama, nary a word would have been uttered by the fandom about the suspensions. Instead, they would be (rightfully) praising Hoke & Co. for proving they are worthy of their #8 preseason ranking. But, no, you resort to the moral high ground, as if it really matters to you.

I hate to break it to you, but it’s actions like this that reinforce the belief that Michigan fans are the snottiest of the bunch.

If that’s what you want to be known as, that’s fine with me. I don’t hold any college football allegiances. But a hearty “Go Blue!” on your Facebook page the night after your team got shown up on the national college football stage is misguided, at best. It reinforces certain beliefs.

If you’re going to talk about something, why not talk about the irony of the game plan that has proven to be successful in stopping Denard Robinson: Make him throw the football.

That’s worthy of discussion.

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10 Questions The Tigers Must Answer in the Second Half

With the second half of the 2011 Major League Baseball season one game old, now is the time when sports bloggers must write a post about questions Team X must answer in the second half. Those are the rules.

So, to keep my sports blogger card, here are the 1o questions, I think, the Tigers need to answer with 69 games left.

10. Can Jhonny Peralta keep it up? Besides Justin Verlander, Peralta has been the most important player to the Tigers, so far. You expect good numbers out of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. Peralta? Shit – we traded Giovanni Soto for him, a guy who doesn’t even have a page on ESPN.com.

9. Is Brandon Inge delusional? For the sake of the team’s chances of success, Inge needs to find a regular spot on the bench (or get released). I’ve never had a problem with Inge, but his recent comments lead me to believe he’s one of those guys who thinks it’s never his fault. There are, literally, 29 other third-basemen with better stats than him. Surely, the Tigers can bring one of them here.

8. Is Max Scherzer as good as his win total indicates? Scherzer has been the recipient of some good luck this season. His 10 wins are fifth in the American League, but he sports a not-so-awesome 1.44 WHIP, and his ERA bloomed from 2.98 on May 21, to its current 4.69. In order to compete until the end, the Tigers need a quality second starter. Schertzer can be that guy, but will he?

7. Can a team win a division with so many unproven youngsters? It’s sort of amazing that the Tigers have made it this far with guys like Brennan Boesch, Andy Dirks and Don Kelly getting regular playing time, but it’s the truth. In the second half, however, the pressure will be on: they’ll squeeze the bat a little tighter. Run the bases a little more cautiously. We’ve already seen Boesch disappear in one second half. Has he learned from his rookie season?

6. How long until Carlos Guillen‘s hamstring snaps? Carlos Guillen, the guy who you thought was done, is starting at second base today against the Chicago White Sox. And, I never thought I’d say this, but I’ve been praying for him to return. Even with an injury liability, I’d rather have him over Ryan Raburn. The question, of course, is can he make it all the way without getting injured? My Magic 8 balls says, “Don’t count on it.” I hope it’s wrong.

5. Will Ryan Raburn put up his usual second-half when it counts? Raburn is your typical put-up-numbers-when-it-doesn’t-count guy. We saw it last year when he played to a blistering pace when the Tigers weren’t playing for anything. This year, the team needs him to do something when it matters. He will occasionally run into one, which makes him, at the very least, a threat. The team will need somebody who can come off the bench and hit. He has to be that guy.

4. Is Miguel Cabrera poised to go on a tear? Cabrera has been, by his history, average, so far. Luckily, Cabrera’s “average” is most other player’s “career year.” But we’ve yet to see him pick up this team and carry it on his back. If he gets going for a long stretch of games, he makes this team hard to beat. I, for one, think he’s got a tear in him.

3. Who is the real Joaquin Benoit? In his last 22 appearances, Benoit has posted a 1.42 ERA. These are numbers the Tigers expected out of him when they signed him to that three-year, $18-million deal. In his first 17 appearances, he had an ERA of jumbo jet proportions: 7.47. Needless to say (but I’m still going to say it), they need the lower ERA-Benoit in the second half.

2. Can Justin Verlander pitch like this all year? The short answer, I hope, is “yes.” But after last night’s performance, one in which it didn’t appear like any hits were hard, some fans are worried. His track record suggests it was just one poor start, but if the worst he does is come back to Earth, it’s still a downgrade. The Tigers need him. They’ll only go as far as his arm, unless…

1. Will the Tigers trade for Ubaldo Jimenez? MLBTradeRumors.com reports that the Tigers had scouts at Jimenez’s last start. (Hold on. Let me slow down my breathing. Okay. That’s better.) If that’s the case, you have to, at least, wonder if they’re going to make a play for him. Frankly, I don’t know why the Rockies would consider trading him, but, whatever. Short of dealing Jacob Turner, everybody should be in play if the Tigers can do this, and I’d be willing to change my mind if Turner was the guy the Rockies want.

I’m sure there are dozens more questions that the Tigers need to answer in the second-half, but these are, in my opinion, the most important.

We will likely see our nails whittled down to the cuticles as the rest of this season plays out, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Image courtesy of WEBN-TV’s Flickr page.

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Pistons’ Draft Luck Finally Turns

Associated Press

I don’t claim to be a basketball junkie, but I was more than a little bit interested in the 2011 NBA Draft, if only because there were so many unknowns, that even I was able to make sense of something.

For instance, when the Utah Jazz, a team that needs a point guard, took Enes Kanter with the third pick, I started to wonder if Brandon Knight would fall to the Detroit Pistons at eight,  so I started looking ahead to see what team needs were for the teams with picks 4 thru 7:

Cleveland Cavliers: No way they take Knight after drafting Kyrie Irving.

Toronto Raptors: I have no idea what they need, but maybe they think that Calderon guy is a serviceable point guard?

Washington Wizards: John Wall. Let’s move on.

Sacramento Kings: They have Tyreke Evans, so they probably won’t take another point.

As luck would have it, Knight fell into our laps.

Like I said, I’m not a basketball junkie, but even I can appreciate the need for a point guard. Rodney Stuckey doesn’t fit the mold.

Last night, the Pistons may have lucked their way into a player who can change this team’s fortunes.

Even a casual basketball fan can see that.

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Is Rory McIlroy the next Tiger Woods?

Of course not.

For starters, he’s a white golfer from County Down, Northern Ireland. That’s about as far away from Cypress, California as you can get, both geographically and culturally. So let’s just go ahead and throw out any and all comparisons to Tigers Woods right now.

If anything, he’s the first golfer who will step up and pose a legitimate challenge to overtaking Woods as the next golfing stud. I won’t say he’s going to overtake Tiger as the world’s best golfer, because I don’t think one can say, with confidence, that Tiger is the world’s best golfer, but in order to get back to the top of the stoop, Tiger needs somebody he can set his sights on, and that golfer might be McIlroy.

Think about it: Let’s say McIlroy goes out and wins the British Open and PGA Championship. That’s three majors in one year. Up until now, most of us think Tiger is the only player capable of pulling off a feat of that magnitude. If McIlroy does it, the claims will be made that he’s the star of this generation, with the insinuation that Tiger risks becoming an afterthought.

That claim, alone, will drive Tiger to return to greatness. I get the feeling that what Tiger views as slights against him are what drives him, similar to how Michael Jordan was wired. Maybe in order to see the “old” Tiger Woods, he needs to feel threatened by an up-and-comer?

If you’re a golf fan, you want Tiger Woods at the top of his game. Maybe Rory McIlory is the guy who sets him back on that path.

Image borrowed from zzazazz’s Flickr page.

 

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LeBron James should go back to Cleveland

On my way home from work today, I listened to Bill Simmons’ podcast with Miami Herald columnist, Dan Le Batard. As you can imagine, they talked about the Miami Heat not winning an NBA championship, because that story is far more interesting than the Dallas Mavericks winning it.

Among other topics, they talked about the way that LeBron James, perhaps subconsciously, defers to Dwayne Wade, whether in interviews with the press, or mocking Dirk Nowitzki. It all started (perhaps) after Wade yelled at James in front of a sold-out arena in Game Three of the NBA Finals. Since then, this has clearly been Wade’s team. (Heck, Wade is even introduced last during pre-game player introductions.)

So this begs the question: Can LeBron function properly when it’s not his team?

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that James’ style of play is better suited to being The Man than being Second Fiddle, and that, through some type of basketball process, the Heat cannot win a championship with two Alpha Dogs on the court. They just cannot co-exist. The team would be forced to endure Chris Bosh collapsing in a heap every time the team loses.

So where does this leave us?

Here’s a crazy idea: Trade James back to Cleveland.

[Editor’s Note: You can’t trade a player back to the team he was traded from for one full year, unless the player was waived, but we all know you can’t waive James. After June 30th, however, you can make this trade.]

In the podcast, Le Batard said he talked to a coach immediately after Game Six who thought the Heat would be better off if they traded James to Orlando for Dwight Howard.

But why not put him back in Cleveland, where he is comfortable? Now that he has a year of being away under his belt, it could be the ultimate redemption story. And, if Cleveland can somehow retain one of their draft picks, they can draft a point guard who James can feed off of.

I mean, it would be the ultimate redemption story.

Dan Gilbert calls a press conference where James, for once in his life, shows some remorse, and tells the city he is truly sorry for leaving them, similar to how an ex-boyfriend comes crawling back to the girl he knows he truly loves.

From there, James devotes himself to living up to his full potential, something that most experts agree he is not doing.

If the team can then surround him with some decent players who he can actually defer to, immediately the team becomes a threat in the East, especially as the Celtics get older.

Can you imagine what would happen if (or, rather, when) they meet the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals?

Bedlam.

Pure, unadulterated bedlam.

I know there’s a better chance of the Real Housewives of Orange County settling their differences, but from a sport’s fans perspective, it would be the ultimate story.

Image borrowed from Keith Allison’s Flickr page.

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Justin Verlander = best pitcher in baseball.

When the Comerica Park crowd rose to its feet last night to salute Justin Verlander after Orlando Cabrera broke up his bid for a second no-hitter of the season, it wasn’t so much acknowledgment of his performance as it was a message from Detroit Tigers fans that said, “Okay, we’re finally on board with you. Let’s do this.”

Even after two career no-hitters, Justin Verlander, for one reason or another, didn’t populate the rarefied air of Detroit sports superstars beloved by the city. He wasn’t even the most popular player on his team. That honor goes (or, went?) to Miguel Cabrera, a guy who is immensely talented, yet, doesn’t always represent the old English D like we would like it to be represented.

Verlander, on the other hand, save for the occasional F word that the Fox Sports Detroit cameras catch, doesn’t do anything to embarrass the city. He comes out every fifth day, makes batters look stupid, and goes back to the dugout. Repeat. But after flying under the radar for the better part of his career, last night was likely his coming out party.

When Francisco Liriano, a recent next-best-thing, nearly threw his second no-hitter of the season last week, he received a mention on SportsCenter, then they moved on to other highlights.

But Verlander’s near no-no led off SportsCenter last night and this morning.

So, why Verlander and not Liriano?

The answer is easy: Have you seen Verlander pitch?

He draws comparisons to Nolan Ryan, and rightfully so. He has a fastball that gets harder and faster the longer he pitches.

He throws a curveball that makes more batters bail out than any other pitcher I’ve seen.

Then he mixes in an offspeed pitch that usually touches the high-80’s, but is just offspeed enough to mix up a hitter’s timing.

And he can throw all of them for strikes.

Lethal.

We’ve reached the point, as fans, where we should start scheduling our evenings around his starts because every time he takes the mound, there is potential for something magical to happen, and, nasty stuff aside, that’s the true measure of a star pitcher.

As Rod Allen would say, “We see you, Verlander.”

Oh, yes. We see you.

Image borrowed from lakelandlocal’s Flickr page.

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