Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Division Champs

The Tigers finally managed to do what we expected them to do all year, and that’s win the AL Central.  Back to back division championships is fantastic.  The papers say the Tigers are a matchup nightmare for the other playoff teams, and are up 2-0 on the A's.  Miggy won the Triple Crown and should be MVP.  Verlander is close to a 2nd Cy Young.

So why don’t I feel enthused about this team?

Perhaps it’s easily understood by what we expected and how they got here.  The Tigers played in one of the weakest divisions in baseball.  They really had no real competition.  Sure the White Sox had the division lead until the last week of the season, but they are a mediocre baseball team.  The Tigers should have blown by them months ago and never looked back.

But that underscores the problem with the 2012 Tigers – they are underachievers.  How many blown saves did they have this year?  How many 1-run losses did they have?  How bad was the production from the 5-spot?  How bad was the production from SS, 2B and C?  How bad was the defense?  These are the factors that tell you the Tigers are far from being a legit World Series contender.

So lets start with the pitching.  The bullpen was bad this year.  How bad?  Try 16 blown saves bad.  The bullpen ERA of 3.84 doesn’t tell the true story of how many games this team let slip away.  The Big Potato would win the Alka-Seltzer award for causing fans the most heartburn of any player in years.  Benoit gave up 14 homers in 71 innings.  That’s your closer and set-up guy, folks, and they were responsible for 9 of the 16 blown saves.  That’s bad, no matter how you slice it.

In one run games, the Tigers were 20-27.  Now that’s not good, but to put it in perspective, they were 29-17 last year.  Baltimore – the surprise team of the season – is 28-9 in one run games.  And there’s this – from August 24 to September 23, the Tigers played in 10 1-run games, and lost all of them.  That’s almost impossible to do for any team, especially one that actually wins their division.

But if it were just the pitching, at least this team can hit, right?  Um, not once you get outside of the 1-4 spots in the order.  The batting average of the 5-9 spots?
5 - .253
6 - .238
7 - .255
8 - .246
9 - .231
When your team BA is .269, it’s hard to have that many spots in your lineup perform that badly.  And it renders your 3-4 hitters much less potent.  Several times during the season, teams intentionally walked both Miggy and Prince to face the 5 hitter.  I can’t recall ever seeing that before – intentionally walking two hitters to load the bases to face the guy who follows them.  That’s horrific.

And when you look at BA by position, another point comes to light – the Tigers need to be active in the offseason.  Why?  Because of this:  2B - .211, SS - .239.  If these were fantastic fielders, you might be able to live with this.  But this was Jhonny Peralta with his minimal fielding range and 6 different 2B’s, the best of which (Omar Infante) made 9 errors in 60 games.  That’s just pathetic.  I could also include DH and RF here as they batted .259 and .236 respectively, but DH will be fine with Victor Martinez coming back and RF should be fine if Avisail Garcia or Andy Dirks is given the full-time starting gig.  Plus Nick Castellanos is waiting in the wings.

And finally, the defense, or rather, the lack of it.  This is the one area where it's hard to get the stats to back up the impression.  But this is not a good defensive team.  For all his prowess at the plate, Miggy is not a good fielding third baseman.  He's OK, and that's about it.  Peralta has good hands but severely limited range.  Infante has been disappointing at second, committing several errors, a few of which have been decisive in losing games.  And Prince isn't exactly gifted at first.  I heard on a broadcast that the Tigers led the league in most unearned runs allowed, and I believe it.  They aren't going to improve on the corner infield anytime soon, so second and short need upgrades, just like they do for hitting.

I want to believe in this team.  They do have the starting pitching to make a run in the playoffs.  But they are a flawed team and need to make improvements.  And that is why I still can't get too excited about them.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Figures it would take a Wal-Mart Wolverine to get me writing my blog again.  But that comment above is what got me going.  Only an idiot would argue that the Vikings should pass when they get the ball back and a 7 point lead with 2:56 left in the 4th quarter.  Especially when Adrian Peterson - that's AD / All Day in case you forgot - has been averaging over 5 ypc on the day.  So what did the Vikes do?  Run AD 2 times out of 5 plays on the drive (for a grand total of -1 yards - surprise there) and turn the ball back over to Detroit with 1:42 left.  That's a recipe for disaster and Leslie Frasier should be thanking his lucky stars that a) CJ was still clearly suffering from a concussion and b) that his D-Line sacked Stafford twice when he obviously should have thrown it away.  But that's just a microcosm of the game in it's entirety.

So yes, I'm back writing about the Lions.  And the Spartans.  And probably the Tigers.  Hope to keep the blog alive for a while.  Maybe I'll convert to a podcast / YouTube thing at some point, but if I do, it will be with someone else to make it more than just me talking.  But that's up for debate in the future.  Lets get back to this past weekend.

First, on Saturday, my Spartans once again looked bad.  Having had time to think about it, I'm of the opinion that this game is going to be an indicator of what to expect for the rest of the year.  I'm now figuring 8-4, with losses to Nebraska and either Wisconsin or that evil blue and yellow school in Ann Arbor.  And yes, I would hate to lose to the blue-n-yellow, but if our kids can't figure out how to catch the ball, then it could happen.

To paraphrase the old Keyshawn Johnson book, "Just catch the damn ball" should be theme around here. That simple concept of catching the damn ball is a common problem for both the Spartans and the Lions this year. By my count, the Spartans dropped another 7 passes Saturday, giving them about 40 on the year.  The vast majority of those have come from Bennie Fowler and Tony Lippett, the two starters.  Or at least Fowler was a starter before this past weekend, as it appeared that Keith Mumphrey finally passed him on the depth chart.  If Fowler keeps dropping passes, he deserves to sit, regardless of how open he gets.

The papers seem to think the passing game showed improvement agains the Buckeyes.  I completely disagree.  Just because you throw the ball more because you can't run doesn't mean the passing attack improved.  Maxwell still has very little touch on his throws.  The receivers still dropped a lot of balls.  The only microcosm of improvement was that Maxwell was only sacked twice.  But the O-Line was completely overmatched against the Bucks D-Line and it meant a lot of short passes.  There are a lot of issues there, and they also stem from the next problem - playcalling.

I swear, Dan Roushar is the least imaginative play caller I've ever seen.  It became apparent based on the formation and motion what the play was going to be before the ball was snapped.  OSU definitely could tell what was coming and were jumping the run every time we tried it, leading to most of the running games problems.  The passing game was barely over 50% completions (22 of 42).  Those things aren't coincidental.  I mean the Spartans only scored 1 more point than UAB scored on OSU last week.

And the Defense - Narduzzi needs to understand that Notre Dame gave opposing teams the blueprint of how to attack his D.  Misdirection and counter plays are hitting us for big gains.  Agains OSU, we also saw a Denard clone do to us what Denard couldn't do - gash us for big runs.  Why we didn't have the same 'prevent Denard' D employed, I don't know.  I'm convinced that in both the ND and OSU games if we had played the same D we've used to contain Denard, we would have been far better off.  We have two more games like that coming up - Nebraska and the blue-n-yellow.  Better get it figured out and prepare to stop a running QB.

Now on to the Lions who have somehow managed to lose their last two despite significantly outgaining both teams and limiting turnovers.  How did they do this?  Simple.  Forget how to play special teams and forget how to catch the ball.  At least they didn't give up any big plays to the Vikings, but they exchanged those for drive extending Pass Interference calls.

So how does a team give up a kickoff return TD and a punt return TD in consecutive weeks?  I'm not sure I still know the answer to that.  But it was bad.  Bad is in "first time in NFL history" bad.  Really bad as in neither Vikings returner was touched on their way to the end zone.  This must be fixed on the bye week and if changes are required, make them.  And changes are required.  Just get them done.

Just like the Spartans, the Lions have been bad at catching the ball.  They lead the NFL in drops through 4 games.  This was a problem when I first started writing about the Lions, but I didn't expect it to be an issue this year.  Pettigrew is the main culprit, but Titus, Nate and Calvin have all dropped a few.  Although I'll give CJ a bit of a break on a few drops he had due to the hit he took.  But there were a lot of yards and points left on the field in the form of dropped passes.

But that hit.  If the NFL is serious about wanting to eliminate helmet-to-helmet contact and make the game safer, then it needs to start ejecting players who make hits like the one Chad Greenway made on CJ.  I'd have ejected him on the spot and suspended him for at least a game for that cheap shot.  To recap, the ball was already out of CJ's hands when Greenway left the ground and launched himself at CJ's head.  There is no excuse for a play like that.  None.  I want a minimum of a $50k fine, but it probably will be under $30k with the way the NFL seems to hand out penalties.  After all, CJ isn't a QB.

And so much for not letting a player back on the field if they have a concussion.  There is no way Calvin Johnson did not have a concussion on that play.  He should have sat for the rest of the game.  It would have hurt the Lions more than his dropping passes did, but it was what should have been done.  Shame on the Lions and the NFL for showing us they still don't take concussions seriously.

The D wasn't bad against the Vikes, but there is definitely room for improvement.  Bentley needs to learn to TURN HIS DAMN HEAD so he doesn't get hit with another PI call.  The D-Line needs to start getting to the QB.  And for the love of Christ  can they PLEASE learn how to wrap up and make a tackle?  I swear AD broke at least 30 arm tackles yesterday on his 21 carries.  These seem to be the same issues that have plagued Lions defenses for years.  I wish I never had to write about this again, but I probably will next week.

All in all, this was a bad weekend for Football in Michigan.  But it did get me back to writing about it.  So there's that.  Hopefully I'll be writing better posts in the future.  Because this is painful to have to write about this kind of stuff...