Sunday, April 27, 2008

Macomb Dakota CFP April 27

From Sunday Morning's Macomb Community Free Press insert:

By Anthony Fenech
Free Press Special Writer

I was running late last Saturday to Macomb Dakota’s doubleheader against L’Anse Creuse North – let’s just blame it on the car – but managed to arrive just in time to see Dakota’s at-bats in the third inning.

Trying to catch up on the action and hoping I didn’t miss too much, the Cougars rattled off ten runs on eight hits in the frame – much like another team in the area that sports the old English D – seemingly before I could find my bleacher seat behind home plate.

An inning and a mercy later, I caught up with Dakota coach Ken Thoel.

“So you have a pretty good team, huh?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he says, barely cracking a smile.

“We have 15 quality ballplayers that are dedicated not only now but during the winter and it shows,” he said.

It’s that confidence – combined with a blend of work and play – that has elevated the Cougars play this season.

Returning 11 players – including All-State shortstop Rodney Hush – the defending MAC Red champions boast both a powerful lineup and a deep rotation.

“We have a lot more confidence because we expect to win now,” Hush said.

Hush, a co-captain that’s hitting .538 with four home runs and 28 RBIs in 13 games, probably embodies Dakota’s loose style of play more than anyone according to the coach.

“He plays very loose and nothing ever bothers him,” said Thoel.

Thoel estimates that 85% of the baseball squad played on the Cougars state championship football team in the fall, contributing to his team’s Joe Cool persona.

“Their attitude is, we can be down two or three runs, but they play loose and believe in themselves.”

Senior ace Brian Marlinga (3-0, 1.83 ERA) believes the confidence goes hand-in-hand with the fun and loose demeanor of the team.

“The seriousness of the team is different this year,” Marlinga – the self-proclaimed team clown – said.

“Last year it was all joking around. This year we joke and have fun, but at the same time we get serious.”

Both Hush and Marlinga attribute the team’s attitude to head coach Thoel and his assistant, Matt Carley.

“We have fun at practice. Coach does fun things that make us stay into it and not get bored,” Hush says about Thoel.

Hush adds, “And Coach Carley, he’s like the most fun guy to be around. Everybody loves him.”

Marlinga agrees, saying about Carley: “He’s the funniest guy you’ll ever meet.”

Last year, they were eliminated by Port Huron in the district finals – a team they beat 10-0 earlier in the season.

“We remember what happened last year,” Hush says, pausing.

“Now we’re going to take care of business like we should have last year.”

Monday, April 21, 2008

Live Tigers game blog; post thoughts

Pregame

It’s a new week – the fourth of the young baseball season to be exact – and the Tigers are still looking for that groove. They are still searching for their first winning streak (two in a row doesn’t fit the bill for me), consistent pitching that doesn’t bow out halfway through the game, and Band-Aids in the bullpen that can stop the bleeding when need be.

But hey, just like for us fantasy baseball geeks out there, it’s a new week. Today, they will try to start strong and finish strong – if that makes any sense whatsoever – by attempting to salvage a split in the four-game series with the Blue Jays north of the border.

On the bump for the Tigers is Armando “Little Cat” Galarraga – in only his second start of the year after being called up from Toledo in the wake of Dontrelle Willis landing on the disabled list. Yes, I just made the “Little Cat” nickname up – and would like to trademark that if possible – with obvious regards to former five-time all star Andres Galarraga, whose nickname was “Big Cat”. Both are from Venezuela, but no word on if they are related or not.

His line Wednesday against Cleveland looked like this: 6.2 IP, 2 R/ER, 1 HA, 0 BB, 6 K. The key? No walks versus six strikeouts. Throughout his seven-year minor league career – he was signed by the now-defunct Montreal Expos as a 19-year old in 1998 – Little Cat sported a good 2.62 strikeout to walk ratio. So for as little as you can expect out of a youngster like this, you can count on him to pound the strike zone.

Lineup-wise, the Tigers are without Placido Polanco (back) and Gary Sheffield (shoulder).

Top first

Shawn Marcum’s first pitch is at 12:39, two minutes tardy of today’s game time of 12:37. All games in Toronto start on a seven. 1:07 … 7:07 … 12:37. I have no idea why, but it’s an interesting footnote to say the least. Baseball is weird with start times. In Chicago, the White Sox and 7-11 have an agreement that night home games start at 7:11.

Pudge battles Marcum through a nine-pitch at-bat – fouling six pitches off – and eventually doubles on a belt-high fastball into the left-center gap. Guillen and Ordonez can’t drive him in, popping out to short and flying out to right field, respectively.

Bottom first

Galarraga breezes through the first inning, starting his day by striking out David Eckstein on a nasty slider that fell off the table and had Eckstein flailing, followed by a fly out and a pop up. 11 pitches is all Little Cat needed to get through the first frame. No score after one inning.

Top second

Cabrera – last week’s co-A.L. Player of the Week, shared with Manny Ramirez – leads off with a walk, a look to the dugout, and a clap on the way to first base, as if to say “Let’s go!”

Jacque follows with a back-spinning soft liner hit to the shortstop Eckstein, who misplays the ball while charging it. The ball ricochets off of his knee and both runners are safe. Eckstein probably should have sat back on the ball as Cabrera was conceding second base instead of charging hard. Both runners are safe.

Renteria smacks one up the middle, moving Cabrera and Jones up a base, and Ryan Raburn – who missed a couple home runs by a few combined feet yesterday – takes Marcum’s offering and lines a single into right, scoring two. Whatever Marcum had getting through the first inning looks like it’s lost him. His pitches are flat and very hittable – and the Tigers are capitalizing.

Inge sacrifices Renteria home and following a Clete Thomas walk and Pudge singles past a diving Eckstein up the middle, scoring the Tigers fourth run this inning in the form of Ryan Raburn. These guys are teeing off on Marcum with no end in sight.

Swinging at yet another first pitch, Guillen grounds out, followed by an Ordonez walk and Cabrera grounding out to third to end the inning. The Tigers send 10 men to the plate in the big inning, and Marcum is laboring with 53 pitches thrown through two innings.

Bottom second

Now this is the kind of guy we need running our nation’s economy. Little Cat posts another efficient inning, looking very calm and collected in the process. He caps the half-inning catching Lyle Overbay looking at a very nice two-seam fastball right down the heart of the plate. 4-0 Tigers after two.

Top third

Bouncing back after the Tigers hung a crooked number on him an inning earlier, Marcum makes quick work of Jacque, Renteria, and Raburn, appearing to get back on track for the time being.

Bottom third

Galarraga weaves his way through the bottom third of the Jays order, walking a guy that prompts Pudge to take a visit to the mound – “You’re not allowed to do that,” jokes Mario about his first walk this season – and giving up a hit to put runners on the corners.

That pesky Eckstein lines a rope to Jacque in right, but the ball is hit too hard for Zaun to tag at third.

Shannon Stewart finally walks – he strolled out of the box on Little Cat’s 3-0 offering only to get called back – but should have been rung up on a 3-2 slider that caught the inside corner. These guys leaving the box assuming walks are really starting to get annoying. Not only does it make them look stupid half the time, but it’s sort of a shot at the umpire. Wait for the ump to make the call, then take your walk.

Aaron Hill grounds out to Renteria – making a tough on the run throw look easy like usual – to end the inning and leave the bases loaded for Toronto. Tigers up four after three.

Top fourth

Inge leads the inning off with his 10th walk of the season – and I think his new approach and discipline at the plate has just as much to do with his early season success as his new stance. He’ll strike out, but he’s not swinging at as much of the junk as he did last year.

A couple of force outs at second and a Guillen grounder put the Tigers away in the fourth. Marcum has rebounded and since throwing 53 pitches his first two innings, has thrown only 28 the past two.

Top fourth

With a steady diet of first-pitch fastballs, Galarraga finds himself in some trouble after Stairs and Overbay hit a pair of line-drive singles with one out.

Scutaro draws the Jays A.L.-leading 89th walk of the season to load the bases with one out for Gregg Zaun. Little Cat better be careful about grooving a first-pitch fastball because one swing can tie the game.

He strikes out Zaun with a sick slider that starts at the outside corner and disappears under Zaun’s hands by the time it crosses the plate. He has a strikeout slider and a get-me-over slider. Both are good, but the strikeout variety is nasty.

Inglett grounds out to Cabrera, who sprints to and through the bag all the way to the dugout because he needs to get his helmet and bat – he’s up second. Toronto has left the bases loaded each of the past two innings. Tigers still up four.

Top fifth

Ordonez, Cabrera and Jacque go down in order in the Tigers half of the fifth. Jacque is retired on a fly ball to right field and tosses his bat in irritation. It wasn’t an animated toss, yet one that shows he’s frustrated with the way he’s swinging his bat right now.

Bottom fifth

Eckstein – a busy bee, rocking back and forth and back and forth in the box – does his job and draws a walk, Galarraga’s fourth of the day. Lamont phones the bullpen, and Aquilino Lopez heats up.

Again, Stewart starts his stroll down the first base line before being awarded a walk. This time he even throws his bat aside before hearing the strike call. He has words with the home plate umpire and on the full-count pitch, grounds into a 5-4-3 double play. Serves him right.

Little Cat looks a little bit on the shaky side, his control waning, but manages to muster a strikeout of Aaron Hill to end the inning. It’s his fourth strikeout to go with four walks. Tigers up by four heading into the sixth.

Top sixth

Renteria leads off the sixth with a bang – a gopher ball that Marcum tried to sneak by … well, right down the middle. Renteria pulls his hands in and drives one over the left-field wall. After Raburn and Inge are retired, Marcum’s day is done. He looked done for in the second inning when the Tigers went bonkers and put up four, but somehow weathered the storm and gut out a few more innings.

Let me say this: I am going to miss Clete Thomas when and if he is sent back down or certainly when his playing time is cut when Granderson returns. He’s a hard-nosed player and his inside-out swing is absolutely beautiful. He singles to center and chugs to third when Pudge singles to right field a batter later.

Guillen pops out and the Tigers are out. Galarraga will most likely come back out, but on a short leash.

Bottom sixth

Little Cat’s day is done after retiring Rios, and chalk up another good start for the rookie. His final line is 5 1/3 IP, 3 HA, 0 R/0 ER, 4 BB, 4 K. After taking a seat in the dugout, the skipper comes and gives him a congratulatory pat on the back. Clay Rapada and his funky delivery enter the game – retiring a batter and allowing a single – and Leyland is right back to the mound to get the right-hander Lopez.

After a wild pitch, Lopez freezes Scutaro with a nice bender to end the inning. Tigers up 5-0 after six.

Top seventh

Mags strikes out on three consecutive pitches looking and Migs hits a deep fly ball to right center that is put away at the wall. The right-fielder Inglett makes contact with the wall and it somewhat opens like a door. Someone should probably check that out.

Bottom seventh

Lopez gets through the side, a Joe Inglett double over the head of a leaping Clete Thomas the only bump in the road this half of the inning. As I wonder if Stewart will finally get that walk he’s wanted oh so bad this game, he grounds out to Inge to end the inning. 5-0 Tigers after seven and the game should be well in hand. Who knows with the bullpen though.

Top eighth

It’s the dog days so-to-speak for a game blogger. Tigers up five in the eighth and just going through the motions on a getaway day as I let out my first yawn of the afternoon. Toronto reliever Jason Frasor sits Renteria, Inge, and Raburn down in order.

Bottom eighth

Denny Bautista comes out of the Tigers bullpen and seemingly can’t hit the broad side of a barn, walking Hill on four pitches before striking out Rios looking – with mainly breaking pitches. He retires Stairs, walks Overbay, and gets Scutaro to fly out to end the frame all while battling his erratic fastball.

Top ninth

Pudge collects his fourth hit of the day, followed a couple batters later by Ordonez lining a single to left. Shortly thereafter, the FSN cameras catch a comedic exchange between the two, with Ordonez tilting his head up to the sky, mimicking Pudge’s usual routine. Pudge shoots him a smile back, gives him a thumbs up, but hints that it’s not finished until you make the hand gestures. A smiling Ordonez complies, finishes the routine and shoots him a laugh back. To the ninth we go, Tigers up five.

Bottom ninth

Todd Jones comes into the ninth in a non-close situation and gives up a lead-off home run to Zaun. Zaun parks one into the second level in right field, but that’s all the Jays can do in the ninth, the game capped off with a brilliant Magglio Ordonez shoestring catch in right field. Tigers win, 5-0.

Postgame

This was an important win – but aren’t they all at this point – to get some momentum heading into their six-game homestand against A.L. West squads Texas and Los Angeles. I think the upcoming week will be where you see this team really take off. Justin Verlander has two starts and he has pitched very well against the Rangers in his career, so this could be just what the doctor ordered.

The offense smelled blood early in the second inning and took full advantage of Marcum leaving pitches up in the zone, to the tune of four runs on three hits. The hits were solid and they sprinkled in a pair of walks, including Cabrera’s lead-off walk that set the tone for the inning, as he came around and scored.

Armando “Little Cat” Galarraga posted his second stellar start in a row, not allowing the Blue Jays that breakthrough hit that they needed. He fell into a couple of jams but buckled down, leaving the bases loaded in the third and fourth innings. He’s still young and raw, but the early returns are looking good.

Plain and simple, the team looked like they were on a mission today. They were focused, executed sharp, and seemed to be having fun out there. You could tell this by observing Cabrera fire up the team after a walk in the second inning, to which he gave the dugout a glance, said “Let’s go!” and put his hands together.

This was an important win – but aren’t they all at this point – to get some momentum heading into their six-game homestand against A.L. West squads Texas and Los Angeles. I think the upcoming week will be where you see this team really take off. Justin Verlander has two starts and he has pitched very well against the Rangers in his career, so this could be just what the doctor ordered.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Red alert! Tigers 0-7; our in-game, postgame analysis

Pregame

Just like Justin Verlander had an opportunity to stop the winless skid Sunday night, the veteran Kenny Rogers has that same chance today—albeit under completely different circumstances.

Rogers is going to be entering a rowdy and festive atmosphere in Fenway Park, with the Red Sox being honored before the game with their 2007 World Series rings. The players will be pumped, the fans will be jacked, and outside of Detroit there probably aren’t too many people that aren’t laughing at the Tigers right now.

For some reason—and I can’t lie to you I’m sure I’ve felt this every game—but I have a good feeling about today. I think the change of scenery will be good for the guys and give them a chance to breathe a little bit. The pressure is off of their backs and onto the Red Sox to win their home opener.

I also like the matchup between Rogers and the Red Sox offense. Rogers is a soft-tossing, crafty pitcher that can’t overpower batters, and the Red Sox lineup is a notoriously good fastball-hitting bunch. Game time temperature is expected at 46 degrees with a nice wind, cooling the lumber.

They need to stop this streak. It’s gone from making me barely concerned on Saturday to making me angry on Sunday after their performance on national T.V. Every loss is another two-game struggle to break even—and now it’s starting to get serious. It’s like, let’s just quit it with the joke can we?

A few minutes until game-time and the only question that’s left to ponder before the first pitch is how in the world they make American flags and championship banners big enough to span the Green Monster. It’s crazy.

Top first

Mickey York just called the Red Sox ceremony before the game “One of the best things I’ve ever seen.” One of the best things I’ve ever seen. Don’t you think that’s glorifying it just a little too much?

Polanco has got to have the most uncomfortable swing in the majors. Striking out swinging on a curveball for the second out of the inning, it just looks so painful.

Sheffield singles on a ground ball that looks like the third out but gets up the middle and Ordonez flies out to center. Rod Allen mentioning his pregame chat with Lloyd McClendon count: Two.

Bottom first

Youkilis tags a hanging curveball into centerfield for a single and those stupid “Youk!” chants rain down at Fenway.

Big Papi walks but should have been rung up on a 2-2 fastball that apparently was just a little too high and outside. The gambler’s control isn’t pinpoint early on but he gets Manny to ground out to an outstretched Guillen—a really nice play, potentially taking away a run.

According to Rod, look for Guillen to sport a new glove in the next coming days. Rumor has it he doesn’t like it and sought out advice from the Mayor—Sean Casey—on a new glove. That seems like a familiar excuse I used to use when I’d make an error. Stupid glove.

Lowell flies out to Ordonez in right to close the inning. After one, no score.

Top second

After yet another weak groundout to the left side of the infield for Cabrera, Guillen flies out to rightfielder J.D. Drew in centerfield. Weird, huh? Here’s what happened: Coco Crisp lost the ball in the sun and it looked for a second as if he was going to try to field it like a punt until Drew saves the day from right field. Nice backup by Drew.

Dice-K blows an 89-MPH fastball by Pudge to end the inning. The story continues. The Tigers haven’t hit anything hard—including Sheffield’s single.

Bottom second

Drew pulls a leadoff single past Polanco, followed by a Rogers balk. Home plate umpire Greg Gibson ruled Rogers didn’t stop his motion between the stretch and set. The rules say it must be a complete stop. It was close, but I don’t want to argue balks. Drew to second.

Varitek lines one directly—and I mean directly—at Rogers glove. Only problem is that the ball is two inches higher and gets up the middle, prompting Rogers to freeze and give the leather a blank stare.

Boston takes the lead with a Crisp sacrifice fly to center, scoring Drew.

The sun is really bad in centerfield. First Crisp couldn’t field it in the top of the inning, now Inge almost loses Lugo’s fly out.

The crowd gets loud and it’s that hawk again. This is a weird story, but bear with me. This hawk has been living in a nest right below the Fenway press box and last week a middle-school class was doing a walk-through field trip kind of thing. So what does the hawk do? Naturally, it tries to attack this 13-year old girl named Alexa Rodriguez. Some of the stuff in that rivalry is so eerie.

After the Greek God of Walks Kevin Youkilis does just that, Ortiz flies out on a deep—and I mean deep—fly ball to the warning track just to the left of Pesky’s Pole. Coming off the bat, I thought it was 5-0. Sox up by one after two.

Top third

This lineup just isn’t hitting. They get made quick work of again. A pair of fly outs to center and left and an Inge strikeout. Their approach to Dice-K doesn’t look good. He’s getting ahead and – no pun intended – is dicing them up.

This is a guy that threw 250 pitches in a high school game in Japan. 250 pitches. That’s insane. My arm would feel detached after 75. But what I don’t get it is, why is his pitch count such a big deal? Shouldn’t he be able to throw a good 400 by now?

Bottom third

Manny pounds a Rogers pitch to that odd-shaped canyon in right-center. He hangs his head immediately, thinking it’s gone. It’s gone, but not in the way you think. It bounces right in front of the bullpen wall. Inge fumbles with it, and to my surprise, Manny’s still running! I’m thinking no way. I figured he’d have stood there for a few seconds, admired it like usual (which I think is hilarious) and taken his customary double. Chugging for third, Polanco’s throw skips over Cabrera, into the Tigers dugout, and Manny is awarded home. More importantly, it’s not an inside-the-park homer, but a triple with an error on Polanco. Polanco? Error? What? It’s his first error since midseason 2006 in Pittsburgh.

Mario notes that it’s a tough break for the Tigers. It’s no tough break. If Inge would have scooped that ball clean and Polanco made a good throw, they would have nailed Manny at third by a couple of feet.

Kenny gets the next three in order, highlighted by Jacque making one of those diving catches that makes you wonder how the guy didn't break his wrist. End of three, Sox up 2-0.

Top fourth

Polanco walks followed by Sheffield grounding into a picture-perfect 5-4-3 double play, the Tigers 12th this season, trailing only Minnesota. Then Ordonez goes down looking to end the inning. He hasn’t been able to catch up to Dice-K’s fastball or onto his off-speed stuff in his two at-bats, looking rather lost.

The FSN guys say he hit triple-digits in Japan. Are people making this up or what? Like I said earlier, I’ll pay a lot of money to see him throw 250 pitches, and I’ll pay even more to see him do it while throwing 100.

Bottom fourth

The speedster Crisp grounds out to Rogers on a really nice defensive play. I don’t remember if it was a bunt or not, but Rogers – quick as a cat – pounced on it and made a nice play.

Not to disappoint, we follow with an error. This Guillen experiment has been a debacle at first base. Mark my words, he’s going to get hurt. Cabrera knocks down the ball at third, makes an errant throw to Guillen, who yet again has his left foot on the foul side of the baseline. Someone is going to run him into the ground. His positioning is awful. The ball gets by him and into the camera well, and Lugo is awarded second.

Pedroia singles directly up the middle, between Rogers legs, followed by a Youkilis sacrifice fly, driving in Lugo. We have our first Jason Grilli sighting, and I’m pretty sure that signals the white flag. Down three in the fourth inning, with Kenny around 85 pitches and an exit not too far away, things are looking as bleak as ever. This bullpen throwing five innings against that lineup is like throwing fresh meat to a pack of wolves. 3-0 Red Sox after four.

Top fifth

Cabrera walks and the skipper puts the hit-and-run on the very next pitch to Guillen, but he flies out to right. I like the idea. You have to try to get something going, especially for a team that has been so snake-bitten by the double play.

Pudge doesn’t guess right and strikes out, and Jacque doubles down the right-field line, moving Cabrera to third. As I wait for Mario to say yet again, “This might be what the Tigers needed,” Inge flies out to Manny being Manny in right field to end the inning.

Bottom fifth

Kenny retires Manny looking and Manny instantly blows a gasket, turning around and jawing with Gibson at home plate. Gibson gives it right back to him. Umpires these days don’t back down, they give it right back and I love it.

Rogers strikes out Drew after Lowell walks, and Varitek follows with a single to right, Mario’s tone of voice so matter-of-factly that Rogers last pitch of the day has been thrown.

He’s right, Leyland wants Grilli, and you’re going to want to get the kids out of the room. Grilli in with two outs and runners on first and second.

He induces a Crisp pop out and the Tigers escape. Bring the kids back in. Maybe.

Top sixth

With one out, Polanco drops a single in that may or may not have been a catch. Crisp charged in and attempted a sliding grab, but two different camera angles provide different evidence.

O.K., now that was weird. Sheffield hits a blooper that drops in front and to the left of Pedroia at second, just about 10 feet past the infield dirt. But Sheffield doesn’t see where the ball is. On replays, he’s looking into left field, then he finds it and starts running. Pedroia twists off-balance in mid-air and just misses nabbing Sheffield at first.

Once again, Mags doesn’t have a prayer against Dice-K. He reaches back and blows an 88-MPH fastball by the defending batting champ.

Cabrera walks on four straight pitches, and the bases are juiced for Guillen. I have no reason to believe something good will happen here, I just don’t. He works the count full but flies out to center, leaving three ducks on the pond.

Bottom sixth

Lugo singles up the middle, almost taking Grilli’s right leg off, and Grilli responds by striking out Pedroia looking.

He jumps ahead of Youkilis with no balls and two strikes, and decides he’d like a hanger right down the heart of the plate to follow. Youkilis plops the generous Grilli offering right in front of Jacque – who misplays the ball – and it bounces off the hard surface of the warning track to the wall. Lugo scores, Youkilis on second with one out.

Pudge and Grilli have to convene on the mound twice during Ortiz at-bat to see how they can dance around the inevitable meltdown. They’re not on the same page, and probably shouldn’t be on the same team.

After all that talk, Ortiz walks. Manny’s up with two on and one out – and I hate to say this – but regardless of what he does, this game is over. This team is in no position to put up four runs in three innings, especially with Dice-K throwing the way he is and staring down Okajima and Papelbon in the later innings. Not going to happen. The ghosts of 2003 are creeping just a little bit closer …

Cabrera makes a great diving stop on a hard-hit Ramirez grounder and there’s Guillen again straddling the bag. People, he is literally standing over first base as he receives the ball. If Manny wanted to be Manny in a mean kind of way, he could lower his shoulder and put him on the DL. Whenever at a loss of words, Rod always comes up clutch. “I just don’t know what he’s doing out there, really,” he says.

Grilli walks Lowell and Drew back-to-back – Drew’s producing a run -- to finally chase himself. It’s 5-0 in the sixth, Leyland wants Aquilino Lopez, and Dave Dombrowski is posting job openings for pitchers on CraigsList.

Lopez strikes out Varitek with a back-door breaking ball, and shows off a little fist pump. Are you kidding me? A fist-pump when you’re down five and about to fall to 0-7? That just shows what kind of makeshift relievers we have. Let’s get done with this. 5-0 Sox after six.

Top seventh

As is the norm with Tigers at-bats this year, there’s nothing to talk about this half-inning. More notably, Dice-K exits after walking Inge with two outs. His line: 6 2/3 IP, four hits allowed, seven strikeouts and four walks. 108 pitches though, so I don’t ever want to hear about this guy throwing 250 pitches in high school again. Renteria flies out, Tigers are out. Again.

Bottom seventh

Another bold prediction: Pudge won’t make it through this season with the way he’s getting beat up behind the plate because these relievers seem to believe the dirt is part of the strike zone. “Must be the shadows between the mound and the plate,” I mutter to myself. Must be. Heading into the eighth, 5-0 Red Sox.

Top eighth

Someone left a comment down there about the youngster Porcello – currently playing on the Lakeland Flying Tigers – being ready for the show. My take is this: If he’s as impressive as we were told he was in the spring, he should be up here sooner rather than later. It’s become blatantly obvious that this team has serious pitching issues both in the rotation and the bullpen. I understand that he’s only 19, but what are the Tigers waiting for? This team is built to win a championship now, not next year or the year after that – the optimal time to ship him north. If he can get major league batters out, he should be here, regardless of age or experience.

Just to remind you, if the Tigers don’t give me something to talk about when they’re up, I’m not going to force it. Another easy half-inning for Boston pitching.

Bottom eighth

Youkilis singles the Red Sox 12th hit to center field, just flipping his wrists at the ball, then Ortiz grounds into a double play. I’m down with anything that speeds this debacle up. Lopez gets Manny to swing out of his shoes to end the inning, giving his customary fist-pump as if that was a big out or something.

Top ninth

Hideki Okajima is a crazy cat. This guy doesn’t even look at the plate when he throws the ball, and yet he still has Guillen striking out swinging like he doesn’t see the ball. Pudge flies out and Jacque strikes out to fittingly end the seventh Tigers strike out of the season.

Postgame

I’m sitting here at a loss for words. I honestly don’t know what to say. A little birdie on my left shoulder is telling me that they’re just in a funk, playing badly and lacking confidence. But another birdie on my right shoulder is telling me that the other birdie is na├»ve and ignoring the problems that have seemed so prevalent thus far this season.

I keep thinking back to something Sparky Anderson once said: "Over 162 games, if my big guys are hitting and we get even halfway decent pitching, we'll beat their (our opponents) brains out.”

Which is what makes this early season pill that much tougher to swallow. The pitching has been decent, assuredly good enough for this lineup to close an eye or take a couple one-handed swings and still squeak out a couple of runs for the win. But this offense has just been so stagnant, that the only thing I can think of is a shake-up in the lineup.

If I were skip, I’d move Cabrera into the No. 3 hole, followed by Ordonez and Sheffield. I have this gut feeling that Cabrera might not relish hitting a couple spots deeper than he really should be. But what do I know – Leyland’s forgot more about baseball than I know.

Another thing: I don’t like the approach they’re taking at the plate. They seem more passive than aggressive. Dice-K was feeding them first-pitch strikes and taking control of at-bats, and most of the lineup looked uncomfortable, not swinging at quality pitches and squaring up on balls. This is a collection of scary hitters, but they aren’t to be feared if they don’t swing the bat.

And for Pete’s sake, would one of the coaches get Guillen onto the field early and teach him how to maneuver around first base? The fact that he’s been doing this for a full week is inexcusable.