Thursday, April 28, 2011

Polanco decision haunts Tigers

Placido Polanco, who is 35 years old, had 37 hits in his first 24 games for the Philadelphia Phillies this season.
That’s the same number of hits Austin Jackson, Will Rhymes and Magglio Ordonez had, combined, after they went 1-for-11 in the Detroit Tigers’ 7-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners at Comerica Park on Thursday.
Why can’t the Tigers get hitters like Polanco?
Oh, wait, they can.
They just don’t hang on to them.
The Tigers’ decision to not try to re-sign Polanco following the 2009 season looks more ill-advised as time passes.
The Phillies, who play in the designated hitter-free National League, weren’t scared off by Polanco’s back problems.
They installed Polanco, who won two Gold Gloves as a second baseman for the Tigers, at third base and haven’t looked back.
The Tigers could have done the same thing with Polanco, but they’ve got Brandon Inge entrenched at third.
Inge, who was re-signed after becoming a free agent after the 2010 season, and did not play in the Thursday loss that completed the Mariners’ three-game sweep, is hitting .224.
Manager Jim Leyland hinted that changes might be coming after Jackson, Ramon Santiago and Ordonez went a combined 1-for-13 in the first through third spots in the batting order Thursday.
Leyland didn’t mention any names, but he clearly was referring to Ordonez when he said one of those players has “a track record.”
Indeed, Ordonez is a career .310 hitter.
But he’s also 37, has limited range in the outfield and is coming off a season-shortening broken ankle, so not everything about his record is on the right track.
That, of course, didn’t stop the Tigers from re-signing Ordonez in the last off-season.
Somewhere in all of this, there must be logical reasons why the Tigers parted ways with Polanco, but kept Inge and Ordonez.
Can you think of any?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Gordie, Sawchuk still No. 1; Lidstrom takes fifth

Gordie Howe and Terry Sawchuck are still No. 1, while Nicklas Lidstrom checked in at No. 5.
Thirteen years after its initial ranking of the top 100 NHL players of all time, “The Hockey News” has updated its 100, plus its rankings of players by position.
The Detroit Red Wings are well represented by players who spent all, or most of, their careers in Detroit, and by others who made relatively brief appearances wearing the Winged Wheel.
Detroit’s Lidstrom, a six-time winner of the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman, and a finalist for the award this year, is ranked by THN the fifth-best defenseman to play in the NHL.
In his first appearance in THN’s listing, Lidstrom takes over the fifth spot from Denis Potvin.
Potvin is sixth, ex-Wing Red Kelly seventh and Larry Robinson eighth. Former Wings Paul Coffey and Chris Chelios are ninth and 10th, respectively.
At right wing, Gordie Howe is No. 1, just like he was in 1997. Following the Wings’ Mr. Hockey are Maurice Richard, Guy Lafleur, Jaromir Jagr and Mike Bossy. Former Red Wing Brett Hull is sixth.
At left wing, Red Wings legend Ted Lindsay is still ranked second, behind Bobby Hull.
Frank Mahovlich, another star who played for Detroit, is third, followed by Dickie Moore and Johnny Bucyk, who spent two seasons in Detroit.
Former Red Wings Luc Robitaille  and Brendan Shanahan are seventh and 12th, respectively, and current Red Wing Henrik Zetterberg 20th.
At center, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Jean Beliveau, Mark Messier and Howie Morenz are ranked 1-5.
Long-time Wings captain Steve Yzerman is eighth, and ex-Wing Marcel Dionne is 16th.
Sawchuk continues to rank No. 1 among goalies. The former Red Wings great is followed by Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur, Jacques Plante and Dominik Hasek, who backstopped the Red Wings’ 2002 Stanley Cup championship.
Here are “The Hockey News” picks for the Red Wings’ all-time First, Second and Third teams:
FIRST:  Center Yzerman, left wing Lindsay, right wing Howe, defense Lidstrom, goalie Sawchuk.
SECOND: Center Alex Delvecchio, left wing Shanahan, right wing Larry Aurie, defense Red Kelly, goalie Harry Lumley.
THIRD: Center Sid Abel, left wing Zetterberg, right wing John Ogrodnick, defense Jack Stewart, goalie Chris Osgood.

Monday, April 25, 2011

How high can Verlander climb?

Justin Verlander became the 15th Detroit Tigers pitcher to have 1,000 strikeouts when he fanned eight Chicago White Sox on Friday in a 9-3 victory at Comerica Park.
It should not take Verlander long to have 14th place to himself; the 6-foot-5 right-hander is tied with Joe Coleman, who pitched for Detroit from 1971-1976, at an even 1,000.
Verlander could make a steady climb up the Tigers’ list if he has an average Verlander season in 2011.
The Tigers’ ace averaged 191 strikeouts over the first five full seasons of his career.
He has 35 so far in 2011. Another 155 strikeouts would give Verlander 1,155 and push him past Denny McLain, into ninth place on the Tigers’ list. McLain (1963-70) struck out 1,150.
After he passes Coleman, Verlander can take aim at Frank Lary, who fanned 1,031, and John Hiller, who struck out 1,036.
The Tigers’ career list: Mickey Lolich 2,679, Jack Morris 1,980, Hal Newhouser 1,770, Tommy Bridges 1,674, Jim Bunning 1,406, George Mullin 1,380, Hooks Dauss 1,201, Dizzy Trout 1,199, Denny McLain 1,150, Bill Donovan 1,079, Virgil Trucks 1,046, John Hiller 1,036, Frank Lary 1,031, Joe Coleman 1,000, Justin Verlander 1,000.
At 190 strikeouts per year, Verlander would need eight seasons past 2011 to catch Lolich for first place.
Verlander is scheduled to make his next start Wednesday against Seattle at Comerica Park.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Basketball coaching carousel takes unusual spin

Logic suggested a Final Four coach from the Colonial Athletic Association would parlay his success into a job with a "power conference" school.
It happened, but not with that coach.
Shaka Smart, who led Virginia Commonwealth from a play-in game to the Final Four at Houston, is signed to a newly minted long-term contract to stay with the Rams.
Jim Larranaga, on the other hand, agreed Friday to become the new coach at Miami, leaving George Mason, which he took to the Final Four in 2006.
Larranaga and Mason still felt the benefits of the 2006 tournament run as VCU took its turn playing Cinderella in March.
Larranaga was part of the CBS crew that analyzed the Final Four, and he and the Patriots were featured in stories that recalled how they set the table for the success of other mid-majors, including Butler.
Larranaga, 61, leaves a GMU team that won the CAA regular-season championship in 2010-11.
At Miami, he joins a school that has had great success in football over the past quarter-century.
In basketball, however, the Hurricanes are dwarfed by Atlantic Coast Conference powers Duke and North Carolina, plus the likes of Maryland, Georgia Tech and Florida State.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Time for Tigers to get a move on

Their big free-agency catch is on the disabled list, five regulars are batting .230 or less, the ace of the pitching staff has only one victory, and the pitchers' cumulative ERA is 4.85.
Nonetheless, the Detroit Tigers (9-10) are just one game below .500, and the teams they figure to battle for the A.L. Central Division championship, the White Sox and Twins, are below them in the standings.
Manager Jim Leyland's crew must be living right.
The Tigers have been home for only six of their first 19 games.
The schedule swings in their favor in the next week, as the struggling White Sox and the struggling Mariners visit Comerica Park for consecutive series.
It's time for the Tigers to put a streak together.
Is that in their DNA?
Victor Martinez, signed in the offseason to provide batting punch alongside Miguel Cabrera, is on the DL.
Austin Jackson, Brandon Inge and Magglio Ordonez (who has had a nagging Achilles' injury) are among the team's slumbering hitters.
Justin Verlander, who in spring training seemed so focused on having a brilliant season, is 1-2.
Detroit was 4.5 games behind surprising Cleveland in the Central Division, before the Indians and the equally surprising Royals played one another Thursday.
It's time for the Tigers to make a move in the division race.
They've got an opportunity to put some distance between themselves and the White Sox.
Let's see if they take advantage of that chance.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lions' off week precedes second half of season

If there is an NFL season, and if the Detroit Lions continue the progress they showed in 2010, then the team's off week might fall at an opportune time.
The Lions are scheduled to play eight consecutive weeks and then have a week off before resuming their season at Chicago on Nov. 13.
That game with the Bears will start the second half of the season. The Lions' final eight games include two contests with Green Bay, a home game with always troublesome Minnesota and road trips to New Orleans and Oakland.
A break at the exact halfway point of the season might be perfect timing for the Lions, who'll finish the first half of the season at Denver.
Fans who go on the road with the team should have sun block and winter clothing at the ready.
The Lions start the season at Tampa on Sept. 11 and end it at Green Bay on Jan. 1.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Barnes' return makes UNC likely No. 1

Forward Harrison Barnes' announcement Monday that he will return for his sophomore basketball season at North Carolina makes the Tar Heels the probable consensus pick as the preseason No. 1 team in the country.
Barnes, the 2011 Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year, stays with a tall and talented front line that includes 7-foot Tyler Zeller and 6-10 John Henson.
Those three were the top scorers for coach Roy Williams' team last season when North Carolina won the ACC regular-season championship.
Running the show at Chapel Hill next season will be speedy 6-3 lead guard Kendall Marshall.
And, as if they needed anymore help, the Tar Heels also return guards Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald, their fourth- and fifth-leading scorers last season.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Inge contributes; more on the way?

Brandon Inge had a key hit in the Tigers' 5-4 victory over the Texas Rangers on Tuesday.
The veteran third baseman led off the bottom of the ninth with a single that helped set the table for Miguel Cabrera's bases-loaded, winning hit that broke a 4-4 tie.
Inge went 1-for-4 against the Rangers.
Perhaps there's a hot streak in store for Inge. (Well, hot by Inge's standards.)
Through 11 games, Inge, who is batting .243, has driven home one run. One RBI in 37 at-bats cannot be what the Tigers had in mind when they re-signed Inge in the offseason.
Inge drove in 154 runs the last two seasons combined.
He's a key to the Tigers getting production from the bottom third of their batting order.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

NCAA hoops at Palace; award for Izzo

Ready for some long-range planning?
The Palace is one of the venues scheduled to host second- and third-round games in the NCAA men's basketball tournament in 2013.
Games at the Palace will be played March 21 and 23.
Oakland University will be the host school.
The 2013 tournament will be capped by the Final Four at Atlanta.
Next year, the Superdome in New Orleans hosts the Final Four.
The Superdome last hosted the Final Four in 2003, when Syracuse emerged as the champion.
HONOR FOR IZZO: Tom Izzo of Michigan State received the Legends of Coaching award in Los Angeles last week. Izzo in 2011 led MSU to a 14th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.
CRADLE OF COACHES: Mark Gottfried is back in coaching, having been hired at North Carolina State. Gottfried was an assistant at UCLA in 1995 when the Bruins won the national championship under head coach Jim Harrick. Also on that staff were Steve Lavin, who's now the head coach at St. John's, and Lorenzo Romar, head coach at Washington.
Gottfried coached for several years at Alabama, but was out of coaching for a couple of years after leaving the Crimson Tide.
PAULEY MAKEOVER: Speaking of UCLA, the Bruins will play most of their 2011-12 home games at the Los Angeles Sports Arena because Pauley Pavilion is being renovated. The Sports Arena was home to the Bruins from 1959-65, during which time UCLA won two national championships.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Martinez shines 'protecting' Cabrera

The batting order Jim Leyland put together for the Tigers' home-opening game might be the one Detroit fans will want to see most this season.
Jackson, Rhymes and Ordonez at the top; Cabrera, Martinez and Boesch as the middle third and Peralta, Avila and Inge in the 7-9 holes.
There's some speed at the top of the order, power in the middle and the potential for run production at the bottom.
A lot of American League clubs not nicknamed Yankees or Rangers wish they could string together those hitters.
Victor Martinez gave the home crowd a glimpse of what he's capable of as "protection" for Miguel Cabrera.
The DH-catcher who was signed as a free agent in the offseason found the bases loaded in his first Comerica Park at bat as a Tiger, and Martinez quickly unloaded them with a double that sparked Detroit to a 5-2 victory over the Royals on Friday.
That had to be precisely the scenario, and the result, general manager Dave Dombrowski had in mind when he signed Martinez to hit behind Cabrera.
Last season, especially after injuries took a toll, the Tigers had no consistent threat to slot behind Cabrera, to force teams to throw strikes to their big first baseman.
But that changes with an effective Martinez, a switch-hitter who can drive the baseball to the power alleys.
Miguel and Martinez.
They're not Mantle and Maris, the fabled M&M boys of great Yankees teams from a half-century ago.
But Cabrera and Martinez could be plenty good.
And that would suit fans in the "D" just fine.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Berenson isn't just a U-M treasure

Coach Red Berenson has quietly and methodically built the Michigan hockey program into one of the nation’s elite.
For 27 seasons, the former U-M player and former Red Wing has been behind the Wolverines’ bench, in his signature blue blazer and sweater, turning out entertaining teams that skate with purpose, and send their share of players to the NHL.
Yes, Division I college hockey is a “niche” sport that isn’t as popular as football and basketball.
Don’t let that diminish what Berenson has done at Ann Arbor.
Consider that, in order to make Michigan a national power, and keep the Wolverines a feared program, Berenson also has to maintain U-M as an elite program in this state.
That’s not a simple task with programs like Michigan State, Lake Superior State and Western Michigan on the scene, and with neighbor-state teams like Ohio State, Wisconsin and Notre Dame close enough to have an impact.
Berenson’s Wolverines (28-10-4) skate Thursday night in an NCAA tournament semifinal against North Dakota.
Michigan, which won national championships in 1996 and 1998 under Berenson, is in the NCAA tournament for the 21st consecutive season.
That’s a noteworthy run, no matter how small or large a niche college hockey has carved for itself.
Michigan’s record was under .500 in each of Berenson’s first three seasons as coach.
In 1987-88, the Wolverines were 22-19-0, and they’ve had a winning record every season since, behind such future NHL players as Mike Cammalleri (Montreal), Jack Johnson (Los Angeles) and Mike Knuble (Washington).
Top-seeded North Dakota (32-8-3) figures to be a formidable opponent for U-M at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul.
Whether another  national championship is in Michigan’s immediate future is anyone’s guess.
But this we know: Berenson is 71 years old and, even though he has two years remaining on his U-M contract, the future is guaranteed to no one.
Berenson is not just a University of Michigan treasure. He is a state of Michigan treasure.
His kind doesn’t skate into our lives every day.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

No games, but plenty of men's college hoops action ahead

Hey, college basketball fans, circle April 24 on your calendars.
That’s the deadline for college underclassmen to declare for the 2011 NBA draft.
There are indications several would-be professional ballers are being extra careful making that decision due to uncertainty over a future labor agreement in the NBA.
The NBA collective bargaining agreement expires on June 30. There’s a sense that, just like in the NFL, the millionaires won’t be able to figure out how to divide their millions without a work stoppage.
The scare might be strong enough to entice some college stars to stay in school another year.
Imagine one more college season with Jared Sullinger patrolling the paint for Ohio State, or Harrison Barnes gliding baseline to baseline for North Carolina.
Connecticut started three freshmen in the national championship game against Butler on Monday night.
One of them was not guard Kemba Walker, whose pro stock probably soared during the post-season.
However, Walker is a junior. Whether he’ll turn pro or play for UConn next season isn’t known.
Nor is the question of whether 68-year-old Huskies coach Jim Calhoun will return or settle into retirement as a newly minted champion.
There is much to sort out before practice starts in the fall.
For now, let’s say Kentucky will be the preseason No. 1 team in the country for 2011-12.
But that’s subject to change, several times before October.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Butler-Connecticut: Who has the edge?

Here are some notes and statistics for the Butler-Connecticut NCAA men's basketball championship game that will be played Monday night at Reliant Stadium in Houston.

TOURNAMENT TRAIL: Butler, a No. 8 seed, beat Old Dominion (9), Pittsburgh (1), Wisconsin (4), Florida (2) and Virginia Commonwealth (11); UConn, a No. 3 seed, beat Bucknell (14), Cincinnati (6), San Diego State (2), Arizona (5) and Kentucky (4).

BLOCK STOCK: Butler blocks an average of 1.6 shots per game, UConn 5.5.

RECORDS: Butler is 28-9 and has won 14 games in a row. Connecticut is 31-9 and has not lost a game outside the Big East Conference this season.

BEEN A WHILE: Either Butler or Connecticut will become the first tournament champion with nine losses since Arizona won the national championship in 1997. The Wildcats were 25-9 that season.

DOGS 'N' CATS: Butler will try to become the first school since Kentucky in 1998 to win the championship the year after losing in the final. The Wildcats defeated Utah in the 1998 title game, after losing to Arizona in the 1997 final.

MARGINS OF VICTORY: Butler has won its games by an average of 7.7 points this season. The Huskies' margin is 7.4.

DEFENSE, DEFENSE: Butler's opponents shoot an average of .426 from the floor, UConn's .398.

VERSUS PITT: Connecticut lost to Pittsburgh in the regular season and defeated the Panthers in the Big East Tournament. Butler beat Pitt in the NCAA tournament.

CINDERELLA STATUS: Butler, a No. 8 seed, is the lowest-seeded team to play in an NCAA championship game since eighth-seeded Villanova defeated No. 1 seed Georgetown in the 1985 final. The NCAA began the seeding process in 1979.

DOUBLE-L: If Butler loses to UConn, the Bulldogs would be the first team to lose consecutive championship games since Michigan in 1992 and 1993. The Wolverines' Fab Five teams lost in 1992 to Duke and 1993 to North Carolina.

A JIM DANDY: A Connecticut victory would give Huskies coach Jim Calhoun his third NCAA championship. That would move Calhoun into a tie with Bob Knight for fourth place on the all-time list. The leaders: John Wooden 10, Mike Krzyzewski and Adolph Rupp 4 each.

We want to believe in Butler

We want to believe in Butler, don't we?
Believing in the Bulldogs isn't the same as rooting for them to beat Connecticut in the NCAA men's basketball championship game Monday night.
The Huskies, after all, have a pretty good thing going, too. Led by junior guard Kemba Walker, they have won 10 consecutive post-season tournament games, including five in the NCAA, and are in many ways a likable entity heading into the final.
But it's difficult to disassociate the Huskies with the fresh stains that blot big-time college sports.
Questionable actions at Auburn, Oregon and Ohio State cloud the futures of those schools' football programs.
In basketball, the controversy includes UConn; the program is under scrutiny because of the recruitment of a player who never suited up for the Huskies.
Perhaps Butler can help us forget, even if only briefly, the scandalous stuff.
Led by fourth-year center Matt Howard and junior guard Shelvin Mack, the Bulldogs are in the NCAA final for the second consecutive year.
They come from a school with  an enrollment of less than 5,000, represent a hoops-crazy state and play home games in an iconic venue, Hinkle Fieldhouse, a prop in feel-good, inspirational movie "Hoosiers."
Butler's young coach, Brad Stevens, looks more suited to teaching math and coaching at Roseville High School than guiding a Division I college team.
But here is Butler, the first team from the state of Indiana to reach back-to-back championship games, ready to take on another of America's giants.
We want to think Butler got where it is because of good decisions and hard work, not by shortcuts and cheating.
We want to believe that what we see is real.
We want to believe in Butler, don't we?