Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Who's the real Justin Verlander?

Like that old game show (To Tell the Truth) used to ask at the end -- will the real Justin Verlander please stand up? It's difficult to figure out just what's going on with the Detroit Tiger pitcher.

In years past, there is no doubt he was once an ace. Consider a few stats: After a miserable 2008 season (11-17) JV went on a tear.

2009. 19-9.
2010. 18-9.
2011. 24-5, including winning the Cy Young award.
2012. 17-8.

Do the math. For those 4 years, Verlander compiled a 78-31 W-L record for a winning percentage of .716. That's as dominant as it gets in Major League Baseball. Name your Top-3 pitchers of all time and I highly doubt any, much less all of them sported a better winning percentage than .716. That's really good stuff.

But then something happened. In 2013 Verlander would turn in a journeyman type season of 13-12.
Last year, JV went a so-so 15-12, but his ERA spiked as well. 4.54 for a starting pitcher is on the low side of mediocre.

On to 2015. Verlander has started 13 games, and sports a 3-6 record, with a 3.45 ERA. Granted, Verlander likely lost out on a couple wins when the Tigers' batting practice pitchers (sometimes referred to as their bullpen) blew leads late in games. And just recently he came within 3 outs of tossing his third career no-hitter. A very impressive outing indeed.

But that begs a question. Was the almost no-hitter the former ace having returned to form or merely an anomaly? After all, lots of no-hitters have been thrown by pitchers that nobody even remembers. It requires two things. The pitcher has to have really good stuff on that particular day, and every batted ball has to find it's way into a fielder's glove. A certain amount of luck is involved as well.

Earlier tonight against the American League leading KC Royals, Verlander turned in an average performance at best. He gave up 5 runs in 7 innings -- not so good -- and sweated it out while the bullpen barely hung on to preserve his 3rd win of the season. For a guy making $28,000,000 this year, one could easily conclude having only 3 wins going into September means he has either grossly underperformed or is getting paid WAY too much money. A million bucks a start? And he's lost twice as many as he's won? Really?

A few other things have flown under the Verlander pitching radar, but they're there. Once able to deal heat up to 100 MPH, JV rarely tops 95 anymore. Soon to be 33 years old, this number will never go back up again and will erode even further over time. Verlander still possesses a very effective slider, but it seems his once formidable out-pitch -- the split-finger -- has deserted him. For whatever reason, he doesn't throw it anymore. This was a HUGE difference maker in years past, but apparently has fallen by the wayside.

Opposing Major League hitters have no problem catching up with 95 MPH fastballs, and if they guess right on a slider, chances are they'll make decent contact. Like other aging pitchers, Verlander can't blow anybody away anymore. His control is at a premium. If he can't put his pitches in the right spots and keep the batters off-balance, it can be rock and roll time for #35 in the Tiger uniform, and not in a good way.

Reality check. Verlander started off the season with an arm problem. When he first came back, he got rocked. Recently, he's settled back in and pitched well -- not great -- but OK.

So who is the real Justin Verlander these days? Has he still got a few high-priced good years left in him, or is he on the brink of pulling a Tiger Woods meltdown? The Tigers are certainly hoping it's the former, because they're on the very expensive hook for JV's guaranteed mega-contract through the year 2020. That's a whole lot of cheese and pepperoni for owner Mike Ilitch to have to sell.

Closing thought. Enter Elin, see Tiger's career head south. Enter Fastball Flakes, see Justin's career take a nose dive. One must be very careful as to which sort of cuisine/nutrition they partake of these days. Ahem. But I suppose it's all a matter of taste. However, some things are definitely yummier than others......

Monday, August 31, 2015

Richard Berman. Incompetent or lazy?

Pretty much everybody in the civilized world -- and I use that term loosely -- has been aware of the still on-going Brady v Goodell case, sometimes called Deflategate.

We know the New England Patriots blistered the Indy Colts in the AFC championship game way back in January to the tune of six touchdowns worth in a driving rainstorm. In sportspeak -- it was a blowout.

We also know shortly thereafter a concern was raised as to the possible underinflation of the footballs used by Tom Brady in the first half of that contest. Nevermind his stats were actually better in the second half, when the "error" had been corrected. There were those that pounced. Brady and the Pats had cheated.

Enter Roger Goodell, lord and high master of the NFL, sometimes called the Commissioner. By thunder, he would not tolerate even the slightest perception of hanky-panky going on in his beloved game. So he commissioned one Ted Wells to do a thorough investigation. Six million dollars and two months later, Wells came back with his report. Two hundred pages which, in the end, had come to the earth-shaking conclusion, or non-conclusion, that Brady "was more likely than not to be at least generally aware of some 'wrong-doing'".

Good enough for Roger. He zapped the Patriots with a million dollar fine, took away a couple draft picks, and suspended Brady for the first 4 games of the 2015 season.

To be sure, a million bucks to any NFL owner is chump change, and losing a couple picks isn't the end of the world, especially for a team like the Patriots. Owner Robert Kraft decided to be a league team player and accept the penalties. Initially. But the cheese man would later come to regret it. He had based his decision on the probability Brady's suspension would be reduced, if not totally thrown out upon the appeal that was sure to come. Bad call, Bob.

Brady and the players' union indeed appealed his suspension, but it went right back to the guy that originally imposed it. Denied. In this respect, the players' union is culpable. How dumb did they have to be to sign a collective bargaining agreement that said Roger Goodell could hear and rule on appeals of matters he had already decided on earlier? That's not true arbitration -- it's a kangaroo court. Look for this to change the next time the CBA is negotiated, but it's in play right now.

Having been thwarted by the Commish again, Brady and his minions headed to federal court to seek justice. Enter one Richard M. Berman. Here come da judge. He was faced with quite the dilemma. Though the original Wells report contained no hard incriminating evidence of any wrong-doing by Brady (and their representatives admitted as much under oath), there was and is still the contractual matter of Goodell having been given the authority to decide such matters under the terms of the current CBA. What a mess.

But a lawsuit is a lawsuit. If the two parties can't agree, take it to court and let a judge or jury sort it out. It's their job to do so.

Initially, Berman wanted Brady/Goodell to resolve the matter between themselves. Rather than jump in, he even appointed a mediator to help them hash things out. Didn't work. That was back in July.

On to Plan B. Berman had both sides appear in his courtroom to hear arguments. That was in early August. Didn't work either.

On to Plan C. Bring them together again in the courtroom for another go-around, and even have a long talk "in chambers" with both sides still seeking a compromise. In mid-August. No dice. Then still another hearing just yesterday. Nobody's budging. Both sides are dug in and there will be no plea agreements. One way or the other, it's all or nothing.

But in hindsight, Judge Berman's competence and/or willingness to do his job would seem to be a relevant issue as well.

After all, he's heard the same testimony not once, not twice, but three times, and he STILL hasn't made a decision. Maybe it will come tomorrow, or the next day, or for sure by Friday, says Berman.

Well gee, that would be nice, seeing as how the NFL regular season is on the proverbial doorstep. The Pats still don't know who their starting QB will be and their opponents don't know who to prepare for.

[So here's a suggestion to Judge Richard Berman. Get off thy lazy arse, do thy job you're making big bucks for, and maketh a call.
Translation? Pick one or the other, but give somebody the heater Rickey.
Hell, whatever you say or do will likely be appealed anyway. So what's been the problem for the last couple months? Are you up to this or not?]

Setting his robes on fire would likely be a bit over the top, but somebody at least needs to give this procrastinating clown a judicial hotfoot to get him moving......

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Little League World Series. Yuck

Don't misinterpret the title. I love watching little leaguers, especially the really good teams that make it to their World Series. I may well get in trouble for the following, because it is decidedly politically incorrect, but sometimes a rant just needs to come out.

As an American, I'm pretty sure I have the right to root for and against whoever I choose. This can range from politics to sporting events and for a myriad of reasons. I've long found blind partisanship absolutely moronic. Only an idiot would vote for a party instead of the individuals running for various offices.

In sports, I never was a Tiger Woods fan, and think Major League Baseball's treatment of Pete Rose is an on-going outrage. As is the likes of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens likely being denied their rightful place in the Hall of Fame over drug accusations that were never proven. Ozzie Smith is in the Hall but Allen Trammell is not? How the hell can that be? Number of titles notwithstanding, Lebron James is a FAR superior player than Michael Jordan ever was. Kobe Bryant was a ball hog. Ndamakong Suh was a goon. I'm sick and tired of Serena -- and Shaq's dopey commercials -- and that satellite TV outfit with their something-gone-wrong clones of sports stars -- and some twit selling insurance policies out of shoeboxes at what appears to be a sanitarium -- and ducks and lizards as spokespeople -- and pretty much anything that has to do with politically oriented talk shows. Left, right, what's the difference? They've all lost any shred of objectivity. The truth doesn't matter anymore. Only the ratings, while they continue to preach to their own choirs of narrow-minded zealots. Such blather changes the mind of absolutely NOBODY on either side. 40% are radicals left. 40% are radicals right. These people are useless. Lemmings. It is left to the 20% of independent unbiased people remaining to sort through the horse-bleep and determine the outcome of elections.

Which brings me to this year's Little League World Series. This is where it gets a little dicey. I don't like Japan. It has nothing to do with Pearl Harbor. That was over 70 years ago, long before I was born, and history tells us Japan ultimately paid a very steep price for that bushwhacking. Yet not long after their unconditional surrender, there were those in Japan that adopted a new philosophy. We can't beat the USA from without, but we will eventually defeat them from within. Consider what has come to pass over the decades.

When I was a kid, anything made in Japan was considered to be inferior. And it likely was. But times have changed. In recent decades the Japanese have run most of the American electronics companies out of business. Cameras, sound systems, TVs, etc? Good luck trying to buy an American brand. If you can even find it, chances are it's in name only. The "guts" of such devices are manufactured in Japan.

They take American ideas, miniaturize them, build them cheaper, and export them back to the USA.

Automobiles? Are you kidding? Japan slaps a huge tariff on American imports, but floods the west coast of the USA with their own models -- tariff free. They build plants in the USA but refuse to allow them to unionize -- hence much lower wages and benefits. Recently, both General Motors and Chrysler, once giants of the automobile industry, had to declare bankruptcy, and Ford was teetering. They were under siege from the land of the rising sun. On top of that, the Japanese have succeeded in convincing many Americans that their cars are superior to domestic products. Nevermind the Japanese air-bag company whose devices actually threw shrapnel when deployed, or the exploding tires a while back. Mostly due to slick marketing, they were defeating the Yanks from within indeed.

And then the final slap in the face. A Japanese team just defeated an American squad from Pennsylvania in the finals of the Little League World Series. Though the American boys put up 10 runs early, the little nippers from the far east came storming back to win 18-11. This, in Williamsport, home of the LLWS, which is in Pennsylvania itself. The home crowd was crushed. How can we be ahead 10-2 and wind up getting beat by these heathens from afar?

But such is the way it is these days. WWII is long over, but the Japs have been winning the battles ever since.

Excuse me, but I don't like it one bit.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Detroit Tigers. How low can they go?

Yours truly freely admits he's amongst the worst of all time when it comes to making predictions on anything, especially sporting events. I just knew Marvin Hagler would kill Sugar Ray. No way could Eli and the upstart Giants defeat Tom and the then undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl. And those dopey college kids had absolutely no business knocking off the mighty Soviet Red Army team in an Olympic hockey game a few decades ago. But stuff happens, yet I'm still not as bad as SI's Peter King when it comes to making football picks. That dude is somewhere between shameful and cursed.

Yet every once in a while, the stars line up just right -- or wrong -- to make a prediction with full confidence it will actually come to pass. Such would be the case of the Detroit Tigers. In this forum, roughly a week ago, yours truly speculated the Detroit Tigers would eventually find their way into the basement of the AL Central division (see The Sorry Plight of the Detroit Tigers -- stage right).

And they have thudded to the division bottom indeed. Once 11-2 to start the season, the Tigers have played their last 115 games at 18 under par. This would be good in golf, but not so good in baseball. Eighteen games under .500 tends to have a team heading south in a hurry.

The Tigers were a whopping 19 games behind the division leading KC Royals. What's that? The Toronto Blue Jays just pummeled the puddy-tats 15-1 and KC won another one? Make that 20 games. TWENTY GAMES BEHIND?  Who would have believed it possible back in April or May?

The Cleveland Indians recently passed the Tigers. Cleveland! So did the Chisox. Really? After all those division titles and post-season series' wins in recent years -- oh my -- how the Motowners have crashed and burned this year.

Yet in hindsight, it really should have come as no surprise. Detroit's once vaunted starting pitching staff has been scattered to the winds, either by trades, free agency, injuries, or under-performing. Their bullpen has long been a joke. No lead is safe when those guys take the mound. They have a few good hitters, notably Miguel Cabrera, but are below average defensively and have little team speed on the basepathes. Designated hitter Victor Martinez, he of the .240 batting average, recently hit a ground ball into right-center field. The opposing second baseman was able to range far to his backhand side, field it in the outfield, and throw out V-Mart at first base. That's not only slow, it's pitifully slow. Your average grandma can run faster than that -- pushing a grocery cart with a wobbly wheel.

It's pretty much a given the Tigers won't make the playoffs this year even as a wild card. They appear to be in a tail-spin with no help in sight.

So that begs the question: Just how low can they go? They've claimed the AL Central basement, but look at the standings elsewhere in the league. The injury ravaged last place Bosox in the East are now tied with Detroit. In the West, Seattle has caught them as well. Detroit area sports writers once referred to the Mariners as "lowly", but they're dead even with the Tigers in the W-L columns these days.

In the entire American League, only the Oakland A's have a worse record than the Tigers. They're 4 games back of the Detroiters. But hey, with over 30 games to go, the race for the ultimate bottom is still very much in reach for the Tigers. If the A's can play .500 ball for the next month, they could well pass the Tigers also.

And wouldn't that be something? After all the earlier hype and high expectations, the Tigers could easily be the dregs of the entire American League when the regular season is over. As bad as I am at making picks, even yours truly never would have guessed it possible.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Jordan Spieth. #1 and poof

Even Jordan Spieth himself admitted his opening round at the Barclay's tournament was terrible. Normally a dead-eye putter, he seemed to have more yips than your average dog pound. And his second round wasn't much better. Spieth failed to make the cut at the first of golf's "playoff" tournaments. This wasn't supposed to happen to the recently crowned #1 golfer in the world.

After only two weeks sitting on the throne (which is a very long time by magazine reading couch-tater standards, but quite brief in the world of golf), dear Jordan has been deposed. In a way, it's somewhat surprising. Isn't this the same dude that won the Masters and US Open, and came within a shot of the British, while winning a couple other tournaments along the way? That's pretty impressive stuff. But miss one cut and, BAM, no more #1. It took weeks, months, even years to finally unseat Tiger Woods from #1, though his game had clearly taken a nosedive. Poor Eldrick didn't even qualify for this year's playoffs. Only the top 125 get in and Tiger's mired somewhere down in the high 200s. This is what happens when a guy only plays 11 tournaments all year, misses the cut in five of them, withdraws from another, and had exactly one top-ten finish -- tied for tenth -- in his last outing at Wyndham -- a second tier tourney he had never even played before. He be gone.

And you know what? That's a good thing. During this year's playoffs, the TV viewers won't be force-fed endless Tiger replays of this and that. See Tiger putt. See Tiger chip. See Tiger eat a banana. See Tiger blast one into the gallery, or off a tree, or into the drink, or whatever. See Tiger drop another f-bomb or a G-dammit. And most of all -- see Tiger at a post-round press conference, no matter how far back he is and hopelessly out of contention. Even his die-hard legions of groupies, including the media, are hard-pressed to find ways to celebrate Eldrick Tont Woods these days.

In his absence, the coverage of the golf playoffs has become much more palatable. Instead of focusing in on their "favorite" player ad nauseum, the TV folks have been rightly forced to provide more even coverage of what's going on amongst the players on the course. It's long overdue, and quite refreshing. We get to see a little bit of everything with the field of guys that -- you know -- actually were good enough to get this far.

As the field is pared down in the next few tournaments, who will win the bazillion dollar pot of gold at the end of the Fed-Ex rainbow is anybody's guess. Right now, some shrimpy lefty named Bubba with a pink driver seems to be faring quite well. But that can change, and likely will. This is just the opening round.

Two things that won't change are Jordan Spieth is already out. Tiger Woods never even qualified in the first place.

Both will be back next year, and "next year" officially starts in only a couple months. (Not too much time off for the linksters. Kind of like NASCAR. As soon as the "Chase" is over, they get maybe a month off and then they're down at Daytona practicing for the next 500.)

I like Jordan's chances of bouncing back to greatness a whole lot better than Eldrick's. Spieth is only 22. Woods will be 40 in December. One is just beginning to rise on his bell curve, while the other has long been on the back side of it. 

Spieth could well re-take the #1 spot in the world. Tiger? Not a chance. A big difference. And all the hype in the world isn't going to change that.

Detroit Lions. Reality is coming

At this time of year, most cities with NFL franchises have high hopes. Whether they were terrific or terrible last year, every new season brings heightened expectations. A free agent here or there, and every team had a fantastic draft getting exactly the players they wanted. How do I know this? The teams and their ever-faithful media tell us so. Every year.

There are towns that have come to expect excellence every year as well. That's because their team has a history of being such. New England, Denver, Green Bay, and recently Seattle come to mind. The Dallas Cowboys always thinks they're the greatest thing since instant replays but, on further review, have seemed to be more about hype than substance.

Other teams just put their heads down and go to work, oftentimes resulting in much success. The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers are good examples. And it seems every few years the NY Giants soar to improbable heights. Go figure.

But as there are perennial winners, so must there be perennial also-rans. It's unlikely the folks in, say, Cleveland, Jacksonville, and Houston truly believe their team has a shot at greatness this year. Hype is one thing. Reality is another.

And then there's the Detroit Lions. Every year is going to be THE year. They've been saying so for over half a century. Great players have come and gone. The media covering them has spanned several generations. For that matter, fans have been born and died without seeing their beloved Lions be successful. Not since 1957, curiously enough, the year the owning Ford family's super-flop Edsel automobile debuted, have the Lions won anything of note. Fifty seven years have gone by and the Lions have won a grand total of one playoff game. They are one of only four current NFL teams to have never even made it to the Super Bowl, let alone win it. The other three are "expansion" teams.

But this is going to be the year. So sayeth the Lions and their media. The truly sad part is their hard-core fans have bought into it again. Higher ticket prices? No problem. The Honolulu blue and silver lemmings lined up for the "privilege" of watching their beloved puddy tats. Looked at objectively, it's hard to say who is most culpable. The team and media for peddling the koolaid or the addicts that keep buying it. Dealers and junkies. Both need the other to carry on, but somehow it doesn't seem right.

Let's look at what has happened so far. At home, the Lions easily defeated a woeful NY Jets team whose starting quarterback had suffered a broken jaw courtesy of a former teammate. On to DC. The Lions beat up the vastly overrated Robert Griffin III, but he's never been any good since he went pro anyway. The Lions would lose that game to the lowly Redskins.

Next up, the Lions travel to Jacksonville, home of the hapless Jaguars. After that, back to Ford Field to face the clown act of new head coach Rex Ryan and whatever rag-tag team he has thrown together in Buffalo. No, the pre-season games aren't supposed to matter, but the Lions couldn't possibly have been given an easier schedule. But when that's over, things will get serious in a hurry.

Starting the regular season, the Lions head out to San Diego. They don't have a history of faring well on the west coast, and the Chargers will give them a stiff test.

Then to Minnesota. The Lions made short work of the Vikings last year, but Adrian Petersen wasn't there. He'll be back and fully healthy this year. A big difference.

After those two road games, Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos come to Motown. Even at home, the Lions will likely be underdogs in that contest.

The following week it's back out to the west coast to face the Seattle Seahawks. That could get ugly.

So here's the deal. Lions' coach Jim Caldwell can say he likes the way his team is progressing, but every coach says that at this time of year. The Lions' media will hype them to the max. They always do. And they might well finish the preseason 3-1. Better yet, maybe all their key players avoid any serious injury.

But when the regular season starts, all the feel-good stories, and tip-toeing through the tulips will come to an abrupt halt.

Those first four games facing the Lions will speak volumes as to just how good, or not, they truly are.

A reality check indeed.

We'll see......

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The sorry plight of the Detroit Tigers

That thud you may well hear in the near future will be the sound of the Detroit Tigers landing in the basement of the AL Central Division. Few would have thought it possible back in April. Two weeks into the season, the Tigers were 11-2.

But since then, they've played 16 games under .500 ball. The KC Royals are obviously the class of the division, the Minnesota Twins are OK, and the Chisox and Indians are wimping it out with the Tigers for last place. It's neck and neck for the latter three in the race for the basement.

This wasn't supposed to happen to the Tigers but, in hindsight, it really should have come as no surprise.

Yes, they can still score runs --  in bunches at times. Miguel Cabrera remains the best hitter in the game. J.D. Martinez has performed beyond the wildest expectations. Ian Kinsler remains solid, and young catcher James McCann is definitely a keeper. Slick fielding shortstop Jose Iglesias has been a pleasant surprise with his bat. In fact, the Tigers are at or near the top of several major league categories -- on offense.

Yet the bad news has far outweighed the good. There's a reason -- actually two -- why the Tigers also lead the majors in men left on base. Their party line is -- they haven't been getting the "big hit" when they need it. The other is their woeful lack of team speed. The guys who can hit are pitifully slow on the basepathes.

But the really bad news is what has happened to their pitching staff. Not long ago, the Tigers (and their media) boasted they had the "best starting rotation in baseball". Perhaps they did, but consider what has happened in recent times.

Ace Max Scherzer turned down $140 million from the Tigers to go elsewhere. A hundred and forty million? Really? He must have wanted out of town bad. Through various trades, Rick Porcello, Doug Fister, and David Price have departed. Anabal Sanchez is on the DL. Former ace Justin Verlander has fallen from his once lofty perch to no more than average -- at best. He's started 12 games this year for the Tigers, and they've won exactly one of them. Last year, JV was 15-12. The year before, 13-12. This year 1-6. Yes, he's pitched well at times, but at $1,000,000 a start, his team sporting a 1-11 record when he takes the mound is what it is. Maybe this is what happens when one gets a not-so-good tasting breakfast cereal named after them and has a few rolls in they hay with the likes of Kate Upton. Tough job, but somebody's gotta do it.

The moral of the story? The once fearsome starting pitching staff of the Tigers is no more. It's been scattered to the winds, like Lance Armstrong, Brian Williams, and Ray Rice.

It's also no secret the Tigers' bullpen has been a joke all year. No lead was safe when these guys came in to effectively pitch batting practice to the other teams. Remember Joe Nathan? He was supposed to be their lights-out closer. Besides getting lit up like a pinball machine, Nathan suffered what might be a career-ending injury. Here's wishing him well, but there's a reason he was available to the Tigers in the first place. He couldn't get it done any more on a regular basis.

Now they have a bunch of "prospect" starting pitchers to go along with a cannon-fodder bullpen. It's great if the Tiger hitters can put 6-8 runs on the scoreboard, but what does it matter if the other guys routinely put up 10-12 against their sorry pitching? Seen the scores lately? The Tigers hit and score, but the other teams out-offense them.

For that matter, the Tigers' collective defense isn't so hot either. Iglesias aside, it's difficult to think of any Tiger position player that is even average in the field. Nick Castellanos is no bargain at third base. Rajai Davis can be a clown act in left field. Anthony Gose in center can run and go get-em sometimes, but other times appears clueless. J.D. Martinez can catch routine fly balls, but so can any minor leaguer. Cabrera will never win a Gold Glove at first base, and third base definitely wasn't working out. So they have to play him somwhere because -- did I mention he could hit? That's because aging designated hitter Victor Martinez can't play a position at all. And despite all the hype he gets in Detroit, when's the last time you heard of a DH hitting .240 who, BTW, has the blazing speed of your average tortoise with a couple torn ACLs? What other team would have him other than the Tigers?

The Tigers had their window of opportunity for several years, even making it to the World Series. But they could never get over the top. And now it appears they are in a serious tailspin with no help in sight in the near future. Forget about the playoffs. That's not going to happen. By the looks of their roster, things will get worse before they get better.

Yours truly honestly believes that with a month and a half left in the regular season, the thud into the basement mentioned at the top of this article will indeed happen. The Tigers are getting worse by the day.