Jean Segura, disciplined aggressor

The Tigers outscored the Mariners 20-19 this week but lost two of three, and all you get is this crummy article on Seattle’s new shortstop. My latest post at Banished to the Pen takes a quick look at the ways in which Jean Segura is building on his 2016 breakout.

The full post is available here.

Detroit Lions 2016 Wild Card preview

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Head coach Jim Caldwell has the Detroit Lions back in the playoffs for the second time in his three-year tenure. After ending the season with three consecutive losses, the Lions (9-7) will play the Seahawks tonight in Seattle in the first NFC wild card game, which kicks off at 8:15 Eastern on NBC.

Detroit’s playoff history in the Super Bowl era isn’t pretty. In the fifty seasons since the 1966 merger, the Lions have appeared in the postseason in just twelve of those seasons, winning just one game.

That one win, a 38-6 dismantling of the Dallas Cowboys on January 5, 1992, also was the last NFL playoff game hosted in Detroit, and one of only two ever in the Super Bowl era (not counting games, like Super Bowl XL, in which the Lions, obviously, did not participate).

The national press picked up on an interesting narrative following that win, which featured Barry Sanders, of course, and also Erik Kramer, whom they highlighted as “a strikebreaker,” or, in the words of Cowboys defenders Jack Del Rio (now the head coach of the Oakland Raiders, who have an AFC wildcard meeting with the Houston Texans this afternoon) and Tony Casillas, “a scab.” Kramer had played for Atlanta as a replacement player during the 1987 NFL strike, something that upset apparent union tough guys Del Rio and Casillas and, the New York Times postulated, Kramer’s ostensible supporters in the center of the UAW universe (“this grizzled, battered town, this blue-collar, lunch-bucket town”). The on-field performances by Kramer, who had claimed the starting job after starting the season as the team’s third quarterback, and Sanders that day erased any internal concerns that might have troubled the Honolulu blue and silver faithful, however. They also silenced Del Rio:

Del Rio kept up the verbal barrage during the game, or part of it, anyway.

“I didn’t hear him make any more remarks after the first quarter, said Kramer.”

Detroit only led 7-3 at the end of that first quarter, but Dallas already had amassed half of the points it would score all day. Kramer threw three touchdown passes, Sanders finished the day with a forty-seven-yard TD run, and the Lions defense even got in on the scoring action, when Mel Jenkins intercepted starting Dallas QB Steve Beuerlein and ran it back for six. By at least this one measure– Super-Bowl era playoff wins– then, Kramer might be considered the Lions best-ever playcaller.

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This time around, the Lions quarterback again is the lead story. Matthew Stafford has struggled somewhat since injuring the middle finger on his throwing hand (pictured above, both pre- and post-injury). He claims he doesn’t rely much on that finger for gripping the ball, but the injury can’t help. Nor do recent injuries to other key contributors like DeAndre Levy, Marvin Jones, Ezekiel Ansah, Travis Swanson, and Riley Reiff, all of whom are likely to be game-time decisions. It also is not clear whether the team has a running back, although the emergence of Zach Zenner has caught the eye of at least one Seahawk defensive lineman.

While Detroit’s nine wins came on the back of a weak schedule, the Seahawks (10-5-1) also had some bad losses this year, dropping games to the Rams and Saints and going 0-1-1 against the disappointing Cardinals. They are coming off a win in Week 17, but they barely scraped by two-win San Francisco. This has not quite been the dominant Seahawks squad of recent seasons. Still, they best the Lions in all of the usual statistical categories and are 7-1 at home, where the game will be played tonight. (The Lions were 3-5 on the road this season.)

Any pieces of good news at this point are going to be small, but a notable one is the absence of Earl Thomas, one of Seattle’s best defenders, who will not play due to a leg injury. Seattle’s aggressive defensive tendencies also may help twist this piece of seemingly bad news into good news:

Lions fans are upset because Brad Allen, who calls a lot of penalties and officiated two Detroit losses and no wins, will be refereeing this game. Caldwell isn’t worried about the NFL assigning Allen to this game, though, and neither am I, because I think, in general, playoff games are officiated differently; Allen will have a completely different crew under his supervision; and, despite Seattle’s 2-1 record in Allen games, Seattle’s defensive strategy shouldn’t mesh well with a referee who throws a lot of flags. Their “efficient-breach” approach allows them to be aggressive, because they know that, even if their defenders commit pass interference or defensive holding on most every play, the officials won’t flag it every time. It therefore might not be a bad thing if Allen and his crew called more penalties in this game, so long as they do so fairly.

Another matchup to watch will be the Detroit defensive line against the Seattle offensive line, the latter being the only real Seahawk weakness. In a disappointing year from Ansah, the Lions haven’t made waves in the pass-rush department, but a breakout day from the fourth-year defensive end could be a difference-maker today.

It’s going to be a long and loud afternoon in Seattle, where a wintry mix has been in and out of the forecast. It will be tough sledding for these battered Lions. Here’s hoping they find a new gear and, once again, give their fans a reason to celebrate in January.

Catching Fire: Checking in on Justin Upton

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Everyone knows Justin Upton has had a tough go of things during his first season in Detroit, and it’s reasonable to expect that there would be an adjustment period associated with his move to the American League– new pitchers, new parks– after spending his first nine seasons in the National League.

When we last checked in on Upton, in late June, things finally seemed to be heading in the right direction:

Especially exciting for Detroit was that two of [the Tigers’ home runs in a win against the Mariners] came off the bat of Justin Upton, who finally appears to be heating up for his new team after suffering one of the worst offensive stretches of his career.

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Upton has not continued in that direction, however; in fact, I seem to have caught him precisely at his peak. Here’s an updated version that same graph from the June post, above:

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That earlier snapshot of Upton’s offensive production was through June 20, the date highlighted on this graph. Since then, Upton’s offense is declining again, and this graph (for reasons unknown to me) doesn’t even include the team’s two most-recent games, in which he went 0-7, striking out four times and grounding into two double plays.

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At the moment, this season is the only full one of Upton’s career in which he has performed as a below-average batter, and, as the above all indicate, he’s been particularly bad of late. (Like, 6-wRC+-for-the-month-of-August bad.)

After the Mariners (coincidentally, the same team against which Upton appeared to break out back in June) completed a frustrating series sweep of the Tigers in Seattle early this morning, critics corralled their critical criticisms in Upton’s direction. Detroit hitting coach Wally Joyner came to Upton’s defense, however:

He’s a good player. He wasn’t sitting on the corner when they gave him the contract. He’s earned it. There’s a reason for that. Remember it. Nothing’s changed. He’s just a little bit unlucky right now.

He’s not OK with it and I’m glad he’s not OK with it. He’s working hard and he’ll be fine. He’s unlucky. He’s not playing like [crap].

Is Joyner right? Has Upton, of late, merely been unlucky?   Continue reading

Catching Fire: Night of a thousand feet of home runs

If not winning, the Detroit Tigers certainly have been doing a lot of home-run hitting over the last week or so, and, after some extra-inning disappointments during that stretch, they finally put it all together last night for an overtime win last night in a home series opener against the Seattle Mariners. That game featured three Tigers homers, each of which gave the team the lead. Especially exciting for Detroit was that two of them came off the bat of Justin Upton, who finally appears to be heating up for his new team after suffering one of the worst offensive stretches of his career.

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Upton’s first of the night was a dead-center bomb in the seventh that gave the Tigers a 7-6 lead, and his second, which clinched the game in walk-off fashion in the twelfth, landed beyond the bullpen in left. There likely is no one happier about this apparent return to power than Upton himself, and, especially with J.D. Martinez out with an elbow injury, it couldn’t be more timely for the team.

Upton’s homers last night inspired celebration, but Miguel Cabrera’s, which gave the Tigers a 2-0 lead in the first inning, inspired awe. I’ve never seen a Comerica Park home run hit where Cabrera hit his last night. No one has.

Have a look:   Continue reading

Super Bowl XLIX Preview

It’s like Publix, but more restrictive. Unless Bdoyk drops by to rep her Patriots, we’re going to be light on the Super Bowl previewing for this season. Part of the reason I think it’s hard for impartial fans to be excited about this game is that the ancillary trappings finally seem to have swallowed the game itself. Ray Rice. Adrian Peterson. Deflated balls. The media on Marshawn Lynch not wanting to talk to the media. The NFL making like 1Ls on a torts exam trying to concoct some way to fine Lynch for his media day appearance. Head injuries and premature player deaths. Even the abysmal NFC South. To say quite possibly the least, this hasn’t been the most fun or intriguing NFL season.

As a result, ALDLAND’s Super Bowl XLIX preview will consist of the following:

Get excited.

The Super Bowl starts at 6:30 pm on Sunday.

Flying Tigers: The State of Baseball in Detroit

The Detroit Tigers, once unequivocal favorites to run away with the AL Central, today find themselves clinging to a wild-card spot. And today is a good day. A if-the-season-ended-today-the-Tigers-would-make-the-playoffsish day. Not all days are those days these days.

Even with a 7-3 record over the last ten games (you’re glad I didn’t write this post ten games ago), Detroit has a losing record so far in the second half of the season (23-24, -4 run differential). While the offense, unaddressed before the trade deadlines, continues to be a problem, injuries to Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander, and Joakim Soria effectively negated any defensive gains resulting from the team’s only two late-season trades.

The group of “rational Tigers fans” beat back even the slightest hint of worry with blanket appeals to the greatness of the historically great members of this Tigers team. “Don’t read too deeply into the struggles you’re seeing because this team has MIGUEL CABRERA, who can’t possibly lose” or whatever. It’s important to vent, though. And to be honest (and, you know, rational). Cabrera can barely walk right now. Yes, he’s leading the sport in doubles this season, but that’s because his power has evaporated (i.e., he’ll probably finish the year with half as many homers as he hit last year and, at very best, the third-worst HR season of his career). His injuries mean that Victor Martinez has to spend more time playing first base. At age thirty five, Victor’s having a breakout power year, but he has no knees, which makes it tough for him to defend first. J.D. Martinez and Ian Kinsler’s bats have cooled off after hot starts. None of the various replacement-level players filling time at short can hit, and there’s a noticeable problem with catching the ball to tag out base stealers.

How do things look with a month, twenty-four games, to go? Continue reading

Flying Tigers: Trade Deadline Explosion

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In developments that can only be described as shocking, the Tigers executed a last-minute trade for pitcher David Price, sending Austin Jackson to Seattle and Drew Smyly to Tampa. (Seattle also sent Nick Franklin to Tampa.) The trade was finalized while Detroit was in the middle of a game both Smyly and Jackson had started, and Jackson had to be pulled off the field when the deal was done.  Continue reading

Preseason BP Nuggets

bpro-oscarAs mentioned, this is my first season reading the Baseball Prospectus annual, and as those around me this spring have noticed, it’s full of numbers. Numbers are okay, but without analysis or interpretation, it can be a bit like reading the backs of a bunch of really comprehensive baseball cards (that also happen to include some sophisticated projections for the season ahead). There’s nothing wrong with numbers, but they don’t tend to make for very exciting reading on a site like this. Instead of asking you to widen your eyes along with me at the number of home runs Chris Davis is projected to hit this year (thirty, down from his Triple-Crown-repeat-spoiling fifty-three in 2013), I’ve tried to extract a few nuggets of information from the weeds of the raw data that will make watching baseball this season just a little bit more enjoyable.      Continue reading

Comprehensive Super Bowl XLVIII Preview

As you can see from the above graphic, this year’s Super Bowl, already dubbed the Snow & States’ Marketing Rights Bowl, pits New York against New Jersey in a battle for subpar beach superiority. You do not have subpar taste, however, because you’re reading ALDLAND’s Super Bowl preview, the only one you’ll need to prepare yourself for the game on Sunday. What follows is a compilation of the most interesting, entertaining, and essential Super Bowl XLVIII content, concluding with the least interesting, entertaining, and essential Super Bowl XLVIII content, my game prediction:

  • First and most important: the game begins at 6:30 Eastern on Fox.

ALDLAND Podcast

It’s an (almost) all-bowl edition of the ALDLAND Podcast. After touching on some Grammy related issues and brainstorming ideas on how to improve the Pro Bowl, we launch into a discussion of the two big bowls next weekend: the Puppy and Super Bowls. Also included is discussion of Super Bowl food choices.

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Download the ALDLAND podcast at our Podcasts Page or stream it right here: