Weekly sports ramblings - March 13, 2009
Welcome, everybody, to my weekly-online sports column where I will be discussing and commenting on the past week(s) of sports news. I’ll be commenting mostly on Michigan sports but also on the National level.
• Boy, am I glad I didn’t write this column yesterday (March 11)! I was ready to praise the Pistons for how well they’ve been playing of late and how the team seems to finally be meshing without Billups.
But, of course, they go out and drop the ball, at home, against the Knicks. Are you kidding me? Losing to the Knicks is always a red flag. The organization could be the worst in all of sports — next to the Lions — with their horrendous spending, lack of talent brought in from ridiculous spending and just awful drafting. But somehow, the ‘Stones found a way to lose to them on their own court – not to mention Detroit controlled the game from start to at least the 2-minute mark in the fourth quarter (when I stopped watching). Not a sign of an elite team.
The fact that Sheed and AI were both out with injuries doesn’t change my thinking either. The Knicks star-player is a 5’9” cocky point guard from Washington. Don’t get me wrong, Robinson is a phenomenal athlete and all, but he’s 5’9”. Three of our starters have an entire foot on him. Their next biggest star is David Lee. That should about sum up the talent on this team. And we let them stop our winning streak.
I’m probably blowing this out of proportion, and it could be just a fluke, but it’s just not a good sign. I do think though, once Iverson returns as sixth man, the Pistons may have their best opportunity of the season to make a run, if they keep improving as a team as they have in AI’s absence.
• We’re just about three weeks out from the start of the MLB season and the Tigers have many question marks as a team this year:
1. Will this team continue to carry a Hollywood-like demeanor as they did last year or will they model themselves after the blue-collar spirit of Detroit like they did in ’06 when they won the pennant?
2. Will Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson achieve success as they had in their younger days or will they slip into the forgotten realms of a one-good-year guy?
3. Does Jim Leyland have what it takes anymore to not just control the team, but to lead the team?
Those are just a few of the concerns heading into the season and the Tigers won’t have the luxury to walk out of the gate. The AL Central is just too competitive. All of the teams are the same. The Tigers have the highest salaries of the division, due only to Owner Mike Illitch’s desire to win a series before he dies. Other than that we’re all the same team: hard-working players; Son-of-a-gun type coaches who don’t take crap from anyone; and organizations that have dedicated themselves to building through the minors.
It’s kind of a weird year for the AL Central because nobody made headlines in the off-season. I think Kansas City had a big signing, but I can’t remember whom, so it must not have been a Manny or anything like that. Regardless, the teams are basically the same as last year’s squads and I still believe the Tigers have the best lineup. And with the changes made as far as playing the field, it could be a much better year for the Tigers’ pitchers. Inge will be playing third where he’s shown he has the ability to win a gold glove, Adam Everett will be a godsend of sorts for shortstop (defensively at least), Polanco is Polanco and Cabrera gets better each day at first. The outfield could be were it gets shaky, but in an indirect way, it could also help. You see, we have Ordonez and Guillen playing the corners, not exactly guys who run 4.30 40’s. But baseball is a weird game. If teams try to place the ball to attack the weak speed skills of those two, you could see a lot of pop ups and easy fly balls.
The area raising the biggest question for the Tigers is pitching…all the way around. Willis has made strides since his falling out last year, although not enough yet. Robertson hasn’t looked at all good. Zumaya is back and has looked somewhat like the old Zumaya, but reportedly went to see Dr. James Andrews (famed Tommy John surgeon and pitcher physician) about stiffness in his shoulder, although there is no damage. Verlander has had a tough spring so far as well. Bonderman is coming back from injury. We still have Rodney (ugh); hopefully he learned to throw something beside from the best changeup in baseball that he can’t setup because of his ineffective fastball. We did acquire Brandon Lyon from the Diamondbacks via free agency and Edwin Jackson from the Rays, who went to the World Series last season.
I think there are a lot of options on the Tigers as far as pitching goes and actually, looking at the roster, there’s an abundance of quality pitching, if they can learn to be consistent. The 5-man rotation, looking on from the outside, should be Verlander, Bonderman, Willis, Robertson, and Jackson; but don’t count on that at all. Armando Galarraga showed he has the stuff to be a consistent starter in a rotation and with the concern of all of the aforementioned, I would fully expect him to be the third or fourth guy in the rotation. Another, definitely surprising, prospect who’s making a name for himself is 20-year-old Rick Porcello. He throws a split-fingered fastball and a dynamic splitter-changeup-type pitch that had Miguel Cabrera mumbling under his breath and eventually jawing back and forth with Porcello during an early-spring batting session.
The bullpen has been a constant weakness for the Tigers the past two seasons after 2006, when it tops in the MLB. IF…and I do mean if, the Tigers can stay healthy, the bullpen could be a surprise strength of this team. Prospects are a plenty. First, obviously you have Lyon, Zumaya, Rodney, Seay and Miner. They’re not handed the spots, but they are theirs to lose. When these guys are on their game, they have some of the nastiest pitches and top-notch speed to go along with it. Zumaya and Rodney both flirt with triple-digits on any given night. Seay and Miner both have excellent breaking balls and Miner throws a downright dirty 2-seam, sinker-type fastball that floats around 94 m.p.h. I don’t know a lot about Lyon but I do know
Where the fun (or headache) comes in is if these guys can’t dial up that potential as the had to make themselves household names, there are oodles of guys with raw potential who could, in the blink of an eye, make themselves household names. Guys like Freddie Dolsi, whom Jim Leyland said himself could one day become the closer of this organization. Let’s hope though, that those guys hold off the new talent for a few years, because most likely, if they don’t, that’s probably not a good sign.
John Fischer’s “Weekly Sports Ramblings” are his own personal opinions and do not express those of the Independent. He has his own personal Lions blog that can be seen by clicking here.