Tuesday, May 26, 2009
After a ho-hum first month and a half of the season, the Tigers came home for a 9-game home stand and promptly caught fire. And it's due in no small part to the excellent starting pitching that has been rounding into form over the last few weeks. Justin Verlander has reverted back to his 2006-07 form and is practically a lock to give you seven or eight tremendous innings every time out. Edwin Jackson has been nearly as good, making the off-season deal for Matt Joyce look like one of Dave Dombrowski's best moves in some time. Rick Porcello has made an immediate impact, perhaps sooner than anyone expected. Sure, Armando Galarraga looks like a lock for the Toledo Mud Hens rotation in 2010, but no staff is perfect. During the Tigers' recent streak of seven straight wins, only once did they allow more than three runs. You would be hard pressed to find another team in all of baseball that boasts a trio of power arms in the rotation like those of Verlander, Jackson, and Porcello.
And with the rest of the division scuffling mightily, now might be the time for the Tigers to ratchet up the intensity and try to pull away from the pack at this early juncture. Put up another 7 and 3 stretch over the next ten, and you might be looking at a double digit lead over the next closest squad in the Central. Who are you supposed to be scared of? The Royals? It's only a matter of time before people realize that their staff consists of Zach Greinke and a whole bunch of rice pilaf. If they think the baseball gods are going to allow them to pitch Sidney Ponson every fifth day and go to the playoffs, they are in for a rude awakening.
The Twins are always a factor in this division, but they're just too reliant on their gimmicky home stadium to be considered a real threat right now. Not to mention the fact that Francisco Liriano is probably no longer a legitimate big-league pitcher and the franchise seemingly won't admit it until the man is walking the streets of Minneapolis toting an ERA in the low teens.
The South Siders still have the rock solid Mark Buehrle, but what's with their attempt to revive the corpse of "The Hispanic Ponson," Bartolo Colon? When you're an aging pitcher with marginal stuff and you used to rely on being overpowering, and your waistline is increasing with every post-game chili dog, it's probably a good idea to hang up the spikes. Or put down the fork. One or the other.
As for the Tribe, when your best hurler is Carl Pavano, that pretty much puts you out of consideration for the division crown. Cliff Lee is looking mortal again after an inexplicable Cy Young campaign last season, while Fausto Carmona's 19-8 ledger in '07 seems like a similar statistical aberration for an otherwise erratic pitcher.
All in all, the postseason prospects for the boys sporting the Olde English D are looking mighty fine, albeit at this still early juncture. Bats may run hot and cold from time to time, but when a team is able to secure consistent performances from their starting pitchers 5-6 times a week, that usually leads to baseball in October.
The Designated Hitter rule in the American League states that a team is allowed to place one player in the batting order only to hit, not to play the field, but that this player can only be used in place of the pitcher. The reason I bring this up is that the Tigers have a serious issue on their hands whenever Gerald Laird needs a day off. Dane Sardinha is the backup catcher for the Tigers, and league rules state that if he sets up shop behind the dish, he must also occupy a slot in the batting order. This is a problem for one main reason: Sardinha cannot hit. And I'm not just talking the "Oh, he'll hit ya 12 homers and bat .235" kind of range. This guy is capable of doing things that position players have only had nightmares about before. The Big Sardine is hitting a robust .095, and that's only after a stunning RBI single over the weekend allowed him to vacate the sickly .053 he'd been lugging around prior. Not to say that a backup catcher is an all-important ingredient in becoming a pennant winner, but can you really continue to employ any major league position player that not only fails to hit his weight, but also that of post hunger-strike Gandhi? When Sardinha is in the lineup, Jim Leyland is forced to treat him like a National League pitcher. With a man on 1st and nobody out, he's bunting. No questions asked. But oddly, in the same spot but with one down, Leyland will allow Dane to swing away. Most NL skippers still have their pitcher lay one down in this spot. Shouldn't Leyland be doing the same? After all, this guy has not shown the ability to out-hit most pitchers and thus should be treated accordingly.
The backup catcher spot has been one quietly gnawing at the Tigers for the last few years, but this is a new low. Vance Wilson was superb in the World Series run a few years back, but that was followed by Tommy John surgery and several dozen "setbacks" in his recovery that made you wonder if his body was actually being possessed by Dean Palmer. Mike Rabelo was next on the job, and it's just a shame we never got to see what he could actually do if given a full season of at-bats. I really think he could have racked up 300 strikeouts. Now we'll never know. So it's Sardinha's post for the time being. He'll strap on the shin guards once a week and do all he can to call a solid game for his starting pitcher. Then he'll stride to the plate 3-4 times and pray to God that he will be able to make contact on just one of his swings. If not, maybe we can write to Bud Selig and see if he can amend the DH rule. After all, why does it always have to be the pitcher you replace in the order? Sometimes a catcher can be just as bad. And we've got the sub-.100 average to prove it.
Talk all you want about Andrew Bynum and his "being the key to the Lakers winning the title." Talk about Pau Gasol and his "soft play." Talk about Kobe and his unending selfishness on the offensive end. I got news for you. The guy holding the key to the Lakers championship run is the consistently inconsistent Lamar Odom. What has happened to this guy? Forever immensely talented, he finally seemed to be coming into his own during last season's run to the NBA Finals. While Gasol was a huge boost to the Lakers' frontline, it was Odom's ability to finally tap into his unlimited potential that pushed the team to a new level. But for most of this playoffs, Odom has been nowhere to be found. His offensive game that was once as smooth as a baby's backside is now more awkward than a Charles Barkley golf swing. When Odom is at his best, he's taking his guy off the dribble, knocking down mid-range jumpers, scoring around the rim, and getting to the line. Of late, all he seems to be able to manage are forced half-hooks in traffic and rushed shots from the perimeter. The Nuggets employ a host of solid interior defenders led by Kenyon Martin and Birdman Andersen, but Odom is certainly more capable than his '1 for 8, 3 turnovers, in 30 minutes' stat line would suggest. The guy has fought the rap of being lazy throughout his career. When he was a Clipper, it was probably true. He dealt with drug problems, and was more concerned with conceiving intricate on-court handshakes with Darius Miles and Quentin Richardson than actually playing basketball. But then Odom went to Miami for a year and started to dominate like everyone knew he always could. Perhaps he had seen the light. Odom is now in his 5th season alongside Kobe Bryant, and it is finally time for him to stop looking for others to bail him out. Lefthanded six foot ten forwards with an ability to handle the ball, dish off for easy buckets, and knock down the occasional trey do not come along very often. Odom has an unusual skill set to be sure. But whether that skill set actually makes an appearance in this now deadlocked series could be the difference between a second consecutive Lakers trip to the Finals or another long winter wondering, "How did such immense talents find their way into such an unmotivated soul?"
(While Odom's shortcomings on the court have been notable, he boasts one other feature that is impossible to ignore. And yes, I'm talking about the unsightly vein that adorns his right shoulder. I understand that it's not by choice and that it's probably out of his control, but can't he put a bandage over it or something? Can't he borrow that giant upper arm brace that J.J. Barea sports for the Mavs? Anytime I catch a glimpse of the Odom mega-vein, the same thought runs through my mind. "What's gonna happen if he gets scratched or catches a sharp elbow right to the vein?" I feel like all hell would just immediately break loose. The entire right limb would likely fall off, blood would spurt from everywhere, and what was once his distinct physical characteristic would now be the exact reason he was slowly dying on the court. Some might be shocked at his stunning in-game death, but there would be plenty of others insisting the man never even had a pulse to begin with. Definitely something to watch for in Game 5.)
-You have to admire the Nuggets bounce-back effort in Game 4 against the Lake Show. Chauncey was leading, J.R. Smith was draining long bombs, and Birdman was being Birdman. Follow-up dunks, ferocious shot blocks, and of course, through it all, looking like the scariest guy on the court. The man has tattoos on every inch of his arms and chest, and I'd be lying if I said that me and my brother Sam didn't spend a good part of the first half discussing whether or not Andersen had his "Personal Three Second Area" inked up as well. I'll leave the details of that conversation for another time...
Call me immature...call me a toddler...call me whatever you want. But I'm never, ever, going to be one hundred percent comfortable saying the word "pianist." You always end up trying to enunciate each syllable perfectly so it is abundantly clear what word is coming out of your mouth. But somehow, it always sounds just a little bit off. I mean, is that really the best word they could come up with for someone that plays the piano? Why not take a page out of Billy Joel's book and just call this kind of person a "Piano Man?" Wouldn't it make all of our lives a little bit easier, and a little less awkward? I know that Adrien Brody won a Best Actor Oscar for his highly regarded performance in "The Pianist," but I refused to see it. There's no way I was going up to the ticket counter and actually speaking the name of that title out loud in a public forum. You might think I'm crazy, but I bet the next time you ask someone if they are a "pianist," you will misspeak just a tad and wind up getting slugged right in the jaw. Believe me, I know from experience...
Any thoughts on the eventful Memorial Day Weekend? Drop a comment here or float me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org