Tigers at Spring Training
The Tigers opened camp last week in Lakeland, Florida. As spring training starts, there is a lot of hype concerning the team. Many national analysts predict that the Tigers will win the Central Division. In fact, they rate the Tigers right behind the Red Sox in talent.
Even so, the Tigers’ biggest hole is glaring. The bullpen is a huge question mark with the present squad, especially given Joel Zumaya’s near constant presence on the injury list. Zumaya is the 102-miles-per-hour flame thrower who was supposed to save all games at all times. While his talent is reliable, his health is not. After the Guitar Hero II tendonitis during the 2006 playoffs, Zumaya severed his flexor tendon in his throwing finger last year. Then, during the off season, he hurt his throwing shoulder while helping his family during the wildfires in California. The injury was severe enough that it required surgical repair. He supposed to be back by the middle of the season, but how effective will he be?
Without a reliable Zumaya, Jason Grilli and Fernando Rodney will have to get the ball to Todd Jones in the ninth. This very prospect raises my blood pressure at least 20 points. Grilli is a middle reliever at best. He is a guy who helps the Tigers eat innings when they have a big lead. He is not the go-to guy to tie a game in the seventh. Rodney is Rodney. He looks great at times, and other times, no lead is safe. Again, not the safest bet to get the ball to Jones with a lead.
And Todd Jones is hardly a sure thing. As a closer, Jones has average stuff. He does not strike out many batters, and he has a high ERA for the closer role. While he gets the job done most of the time, I personally go get another drink out of the fridge and do not watch for awhile when he enters the game. I usually get back with two men on base and 2 outs. He eventually gets the save, but it ain’t pretty.
I have a suggestion for Jim Leyland. When Jones does not have his stuff, take him out. Leyland always leaves him in and lets him get his brains beat out. WHY? Jones can handle being taken out of the game. He is a big boy. The Tigers offense can come back in the bottom of the ninth down a run, but not from 4 runs down.
Besides the bullpen, the general line up seems pretty loaded. Potential problems are minimal:
- The whole Brandon Inge question will work itself out. Whether he stays as back up or moves his $6-million-a-year salary somewhere else, who cares?
- Why they opened the vault for Nate Robertson is puzzling. Robertson makes the third left-handed starter in a five-man rotation. He is a guy who eats innings and keeps the Tigers in the game, but hardly is a guy who is going to break out and be a star.
- Gary Sheffield is always a question mark due to injury.
- Pudge is coming off a subpar year and his body is aging.
Injury is the great equalizer. If they stay healthy, the Tigers should have a great season and be in contention for the playoffs. Remember, the Indians are also young and very talented.
Prediction: Tigers 95-67 and will win the Central by 2 games.
You heard it here first.
February 11, 2008
Flip Saunders, a New Era
Remember the Pistons a few years ago? They were very successful, just like this year, but there was a difference. I like to refer to it as the Larry Brown drama class. Larry Brown, then coach of the Pistons, always had a story. He used the press to ridicule players, get some love, start the ball rolling to coach other teams, etc. Brown loved to give a good sound bite to anyone who would listen or put a microphone in front of his face.
When Flip Saunders took over for Brown at the end of 2005, he proved a stark contrast. Saunders came to Detroit from Minnesota after sitting a year out of the NBA. During his time at Minnesota, and unlike Brown’s tenure with the Pistons, Saunders didn’t crave publicity, seemed to get along with his players, and didn’t get into any public feuds with the administration.
Even so, taking over from Brown was a daunting task. Under Brown, the Pistons won the 2004 NBA Championship title and narrowly missed retaining it in 2005 when they lost to the Spurs in a thrilling final. Anything but a championship for Saunders in 2006 would be a let down. While the Pistons were knocked out by the Miami Heat in the 2006 conference finals and by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2007, however, Saunders used the failures as a learning experience.
Rather than bitch and moan to the media, Saunders altered the team ever so slightly. First of all, he is playing the bench a whole lot more – unlike Brown, Saunders is not averse to using his young players in crucial situations. Secondly, he is incorporating a nastier defense, altering his initial game plan that was all about increasing the Pistons offensive output through more 3 pointers and an increased tempo. In other words, he corrected his course and let the Pistons be the Pistons.
Through his tenure with the Pistons, Saunders has proven to be a solid basketball coach who handles a mainly-experienced team very well. These days, the Pistons just go out and play. The coach just goes out and coaches. In fact, as far as the world knows, coaching the Pistons is Saunder’s “dream job.”