With The Window Closing, Tigers Have Options

Do you feel the wind dying down? That’s the Detroit Tigers’ window for a Championship closing.

Some people will tell you the window is already closed, and all you’re feeling is hope. Others won’t. I don’t think I’m in that group just yet.

But like the window shutting, I feel my hope is diminishing with each mounting loss.

The Tigers had a great run at it including two World Series appearances in the last 10 seasons, including four straight divisional titles from 2011-14. It’s something to be proud of, but pride comes before the fall.

It feels like disappointment – especially with the passing of Tigers owner Mike Illitch who wanted to win a championship as badly as any fan. You can’t be too down on an era that brought this town a lot to be happy about.

But if this is it for the Tigers, and they do go into the July 31 trade deadline with selling on their mind, I have a great way for them to do business.

(Keith Allison/Wikimedia Commons)

Let’s start with the obvious move, trade J.D. Martinez. He’s a free agent at the end of the season and he’s on pace to make a boatload of money. Re-signing the 29-year-old slugger as the roster currently stands is highly unlikely. He’s going to want too much money, and the Tigers already have too much money spent elsewhere. Coffers are tight with the Tigers walking a tight rope with luxury tax.

As a rental player, it’s ok to trade him within the division. And the team that I think could use a big bat to bolster their line-up is the Cleveland Indians. The Tribe aren’t known to be big spenders. So using Martinez for half a season will be good enough for them.

Cleveland came so close to winning it all last season after losing a heart-breaking game seven to the Chicago Cubs. Cleveland has the pitching to win that final game, but the bat Martinez can bring to their line-up could put them over the top.

In return the Tigers should inquire about right-handed pitcher Triston McKenzie. The 19-year-old starter is the No. 50 prospect according to MLB.com and Cleveland’s number three prospect within the organization.

He has a long slim frame standing at 6-foot-5 and 165-pounds but the kid has been dealing in High-A ball this season. The Tigers should also ask about Cleveland’s No. 12 prospect shortstop Will Castro.

Jose Iglesias might not be around much longer and Castro could be his replacement down the line and give you options along with Andrew Romine and Dixon Machado.

If the Tigers are going to sell the right way then either one or both of Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander has to be dealt.

This is a tough decision because both players have given so much to the organization, and they’re two of the best at their respective positions. But Verlander has shown signs of slowing down and I believe he’s easier to replace out of the two.

Fulmer has already shown he has the moxie to be the Tigers’ ace, and with adding some more prospects in these trades, along with the development of Matt Boyd and Daniel Norris, I’m confident The Tigers could rebound from the move.

An average season for Cabrera is hitting a .320 average, blasting 34 home runs, and driving in 120 runs. Those are legendary numbers. He was recently on Buster Olney’s list of greatest right-handed hitters in the game; and Olney knows his stuff.

Plus even if Cabrera gets slower he can always DH once Victor Martinez is gone which is only another season away.

If Verlander starts to slow down he can really hurt this team. The only thing worse than having one Jordan Zimmerman on this team is having two of them.

A great fit for Verlander is in New York wearing pinstripes.

Justin Verlandwer (Keith Allison/Wikimedia Commons)

C.C. Sabathia is a free agent at the end of the season. So there’s $25 Million off their books that nearly pays for Verlander already. Plus Matt Holiday is a free agent giving the Yankees $13 Million and Michael Pineda another starting pitcher is also heading to free agency. Verlander has enough juice left to where I believe the Yankees would do it. He’s also a marketable guy especially with soon-to-be wife Kate Upton.

Even with Verlander’s age and contract I’m still a believer that you can get a nice haul back for him. He is a former Most Valuable Player, the only pitcher to do it in the American League since 1992, and he finished second in the Cy Young voting just last season.

The Tigers in this scenario could ask for starting pitcher Chance Adams who is number 99 on MLB.com’s Top-100 prospects list and seventh in the Yankees organization. The 22-year-old has been dominant in both AA and AAA this season and could see the big leagues as soon as this year in return. New York also sends outfielder Dustin Fowler the No. 8 prospect in the Yanks farm system.

So two trades in and the Tigers have sacrificed almost $40 million in payroll. This next player to be moved is a little more tricky.

Tiger outfielder Justin Upton has a no-trade clause, plus he has a player option with Detroit for the next four seasons. So teams may avoid him for those reasons. But, you only need to find that one team to dance with, and the San Francisco Giants need help – badly.

With some key injuries, the most notable being stud starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner who is out until after the All-Star break, the Giants could take on Upton and his contract looking to make a run at the playoffs.

Upton won’t be enough to muster a couple prospects back so I’m sending the Tigers No. 17 prospect Matt Hall with him.

Hall is a left-handed pitcher who can’t even touch 90 MPH on the gun and only has three pitches. In return the Tigers get another lefty back in Matt Krook. He’s the No. 12 prospect In the Giants organization and does have his red flags.

Oregon starting pitcher Matt Krook (21) warms up before the start of the first inning. (Michael Shaw/Emerald 2014)

Krook had Tommy John surgery back in college, which can be concerning. He’s also had control issues. The good news is when his game is on MLB.com says he can be “unhittable.” He has a big 6-foot-4 225-pound frame and can hit 96 MPH on the gun. At worst he’s a lefty reliever in the pen who can throw hard. Those are hard to find.

The Tigers also receive second basement Jalen Miller. He’s the No. 23 prospect for the Giants and would provide some infield depth in the Tigers organization. Out of the Tigers Top-30 prospects three of them are infielders. So Miller – along with Castro – will certainly help out.

So there you have it. Three trades and $61.88 million saved later. There were some tough decisions to be made but this is business and the Tigers need to look out for themselves while building toward the future.

There are three free agents the Tigers should go after when the season is over if they want to stay in contention for the playoffs next year.

Bryan Shaw is a 29-year-old relief pitcher for the Indians and only made $4.6 Million this season. He has a career earned run average of 2.98 in 415 appearances. He’s been a solid bullpen arm – something the Tigers always seem to be short of.

Lance Lynn is another veteran I’d love to see in a Tigers uniform to help replace Verlander. He’s been a member of the St. Louis Cardinals his entire career and done well for the historic franchise.

In 136 career starts Lynn has an ERA of 3.33 and a walks-hits per innings pitched of 1.29, which isn’t bad. Lynn made $7.75 Million this past year so he may cost around $15 Million to get.

Detroit Tigers Season Preview: Is The Window Still Open?

As the Major League Baseball season begins the boys in the old English D will look to make the playoffs after missing out the past two seasons. Expectations and hype are down in the Motor City for the Tigers, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons to be hopeful for the 2017 season.

In his first off-season as general manager, Al Avila shook up the roster a bit, but many argue not for the better. Avila let starting centerfielder Cameron Maybin walk after a productive-injury plagued season. But unlike years past, the Tigers didn’t bring in a marquee name to replace him. Instead, Avila brought in former Tampa Bay Ray outfielder Mikie Mahtook who has a .231 batting average in 290 career at-bats.

The only other major league free agent signing was one Tigers fan could see coming from a mile away with Alex Avila coming back to Detroit in a backup catcher role behind James McCann. Avila spent last season as a backup with the White Sox.

Before I go into prediction mode let’s breakdown the Tigers roster as we head into the new season.

Bullpen: 

If you thought the bullpen wasn’t good last year, well, you shouldn’t raise your expectations much, if at all, this season. The bullpen is essentially the same with mostly the same faces returning for another season. Francisco Rodriguez will handle the closing duties after coming off a solid season. The 35-year-old was 44-for-49 in save opportunities last season and ended the season with a 3.24 ERA.

Justin Wilson will likely get eight inning duties after starting to show consistency last season, but he will have to fight off a guy who has been up-and-coming for a few years now in Bruce Rondon. The weight issues still linger for Rondon, but he continues to show flashes of great potential that are hard to go unnoticed as his hard throwing style is something the Tigers continue to covet.

The Tigers have another left-handed pitcher in Kyle Ryan who will continue to serve as middle relief. Ryan beat out Blaine Hardy and rule five draft pick-up Daniel Stumpf, and will hopefully be able to hang on to it for the season. The Tigers need Ryan to bring consistency this season as Justin Wilson can’t get every lefty out himself. The newest addition to the pen is $16 million man Anibal Sanchez, who lost is spot in the rotation to Matt Boyd after a solid spring. While Mike Pelfrey was so bad the Tigers decided to pay him to not play for Detroit this year, Sanchez found a way to not pitch himself out of the organization but to the bullpen as he continues to tinker with his delivery. He’ll be the Tigers long relief pitcher. So anytime a starter goes out and gets bombed in the early innings expect Sanchez to be the first guy out of the bullpen.

 

Rotation: 

Justin Verlander returns after finishing as the runner up in the Cy Young race to Boston Red Sox pitcher Rick Porcello in 2016 and will without question anchor the staff. Michael Fulmer will look to avoid that infamous sophomore slump after winning the American League Rookie of the Year. Having another season with a 3.06 ERA and 1.12 walks hits per innings pitched seems unlikely. But even if Fulmer can keep it close to those numbers, Tigers fans and the organization will be plenty happy.

Jordan Zimmerman, along with the entire Tigers fan base, looks to stay healthy this season and live up to his 5-year $110 million contract. Zimmerman might have the most pressure on him of any Tigers pitcher as he was the first big free agent Avila went after. The three youngsters in the rotation can use their inexperience as an excuse for dips in performance from last season season. But Zimmerman makes too much money, even if that isn’t entirely his fault, to look like Jeremy Bonderman.

Speaking of the youth the back end of the staff will be two young lefties in Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd. Norris has had health issues the past couple season but has shown he can handle major league hitters. Norris could be the real X-factor this season if he can stay healthy and produce at the level we all hope he can reach. Boyd will be the fifth starter for the Tigers in his first full season. Boyd’s numbers don’t look pretty in his young two-year career but he’s fully capable of being a solid fifth starter.

Catcher:

McCann will look to breakout this season at the plate after showing the past two seasons he is a force defensively. McCann threw out nearly 45-percent of runners who attempted to steal against him last season and has rightfully so earned the Detroit-made nickname McCannon. Could he produce more with the bat? Absolutely. His .221 average last season doesn’t sit well with Tigers fans. But he doesn’t need to hit .270 to have a good season.

If McCann can hit .240 with 15 home runs and 55 runs batted in I’ll take that with his great defensive skills. Avila will certainly get his share of games behind the plate. To be honest as long as Avila doesn’t hit below .200 I’ll take it, he still brings value defensively.

 

Infield: 

For the most part the starting four is set for the season. After hitting .285 with 18 homers in just 110 games, Nick Castellanos proved he’s a legit big leaguer. His defensive ability still needs a little work but even that was improved last season. He’ll never be a gold glove third baseman but as long as he continues to get better at it and can hit like he did last year (and in spring training) he’ll be just fine. Ian Kinsler will bat leadoff again this season and continues to be great with the glove. I have my doubts Kinsler will hit 28 home runs again, but he doesn’t need to.

Miguel Cabrera, enough said. The leader of the Tigers lineup doesn’t need a paragraph to explain expectations. We all know what is expected of Miggy. As long as he can avoid the nagging foot injuries he’s had in recent years he’ll have another monster season.

Jose Iglesias might be in for an interesting season. If the Tigers season turns sour, Iglesias would be a likely trade target at the deadline. He’s been more productive at the plate than expected since he’s come to Detroit and is a wizard defensively. But Dixon Machado inched his way closer to a starting role this season by being placed on the Tigers bench. Machado is a good defensive player himself. My biggest fear with Iglesias is his boastful Javier Baez-like attitude towards the game. Iglesias can be a ‘hot dog’ as the old-timers would say and I always fear that will cost the Tigers at some point during the season.

 

Outfield:

J.D. Martinez is turning into a true stud. If he can improve even more this season he might hit his way into the most valuable player discussion, though he is no Mike Trout. Martinez earned himself a Tigers life-time achievement award for his pinch-hit home run off Chris Sale last season in his first game back from injury. And yes we all know you along with every other Tigers fan called it. I like J.D. though and would hate to see him go if the Tigers do go into a fire-sale mode next season.

For the love of Ernie Harwell, Justin Upton can not get out to the start he got out to last season. Upton was absolutely, un-godly awful for the first four months of the season in 2016. But then somehow he completely turned it around and hit 22 home runs after the All-Star break. If Upton can be more consistent this season, that would be huge for the Tigers offense. I expect Upton to remain comfortable at the plate on his way to finish with a .258 average with 29 home runs and 88 RBIs.

Centerfield will be entertaining to say the least for the Tigers this season. When J.D. Martinez returns from the disabled list it’ll be likely be platooned between Mahtook and rookie JaCoby Jones. While Mahtook brings experience and… that’s about it, Jones brings energy and speed. If Jones can hit above .240, I think he’ll become the everyday starter. Even though.240 doesn’t sound like a good average, it could be a tall task for a guy who doesn’t have great plate discipline (though he shows flashes this spring) and only 28 career at bats. But I’d love to see the kid get a crack at it cause the potential is definitely there. He just needs time.

Designated Hitter:

Rapidly becoming my least favorite Tiger, Victor Martinez will be the DH because he’s still good enough at the plate to overcome his lack of speed. And by lack of I mean none at all. He’s getting older and with bad knees it’ll be interesting to see how many times gets pinch run for in late inning close game situations (we’ll put the over/under at 35 ½). Last seasons, 55-percent of Victor’s extra base hits were home runs and I expect that number to increase as second base has only gotten farther away from the plate for him.

Prediction:

This Tigers team has the talent to win 90 games, but they also have the capability of winning less than 80. Cleveland is the only real threat in the A.L. Central and the Tigers can’t go 4-14 against the Tribe like they did last year including an 0-11 start against their division rival. If they can at least go .500 against Cleveland they have a good shot at winning the division.

The lineup will do their part as it mostly did last season. There is too much firepower on the offense for it to be the reason this team fails. Last year the Tigers dealt with some major injuries with Castellanos, J.D. Martinez, and Maybin all missing significant time. If Detroit can avoid the injury bug they’ll make a good run at it.

The bullpen has to step up, I know that’s becoming an old bit in this city but for another year in a row it’s the truth. I think Rodriguez will hold his own as the closer but they’ll need more consistency out of guys like Rondon, Justin Wilson and Ryan. If Sanchez can continue his progression he showed in late spring he could be a valuable asset to the pen.

The rotation is going to make or break this team. We all know what Verlander will do, but that isn’t enough. To make the playoffs and win a division you need at least three or four starters to have good seasons. And with the back end of the rotation full of youth that’s a lot to ask for from the Tigers young starters. Not only can Fulmer not have a major set-back season but out of Zimmerman, Norris, and Boyd at least two of them have to step up and I’m not so sure that they’ll be able to.

I don’t see a divison crown in sight for the Tigers this year. They’ll make the playoffs as the last wild-card team and win the play-in game. The season won’t last much longer as they’ll get ousted in the American League Divisonal Series.

 

Red Wings Preview: Going Streaking or Going Home?

 Detroit Red Wings left wing Henrik Zetterberg, right, congratulates goalie Petr Mrazek (34) after beating the Minnesota Wild in a shootout during an NHL hockey game in Detroit Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Henrik Zetterberg, right, Petr Mrazek (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Last year was what has become a normal year for the Detroit Red Wings: they were one of the last teams to qualify for the playoffs and were sent home in the first round. It was the third consecutive year the Red Wings got booted out of the playoffs in the first round and the fourth time in the last five seasons.

Heading into the 2016-17 season, the belief in the Red Wings doesn’t appear to be much better. They are either projected to again just squeak into the playoffs or to not even make at all, which would be the first time in 25 seasons.

It’s easy to understand why optimism isn’t so high: Pavel Datsyuk took his last few years of hockey home to Russia, and the few free agent signings they Wings made aren’t eye popping.

But I actually don’t think the Red Wings will be worse than last season.

Some other teams in the Eastern Conference might be better than they were last year which is why the Red Wings might not make the playoffs. But, I don’t think the Red Wings will finish worse than their 41-30-11 record of last season.

I know missing out on Steven Stamkos was big for the Red Wings. Stamkos is the type of player the team needs who can consistently go out there and score 35-40 goals year after year, but he went back to Tampa Bay so I don’t look at it as the Red Wings swung and miss.

On the bright side, one of the free agent signings Frans Nielson just got done playing in the World Cup of Hockey and impressed a lot of people with his performance. He didn’t impress by appearing on the score sheet a lot unlike his teammate Tomas Tatar did. But, he showed that he can be a good two-way player which is fitting for the Red Wings system. And sometimes the right fit can be a player who just does his own thing and scores goals.

The biggest question mark acquisition hands down is Thomas Vanek.

He spent the last two seasons in Minnesota where he scored 21 and 18 goals respectively – sounds like a Red Wing already. But

 Thomas Vanek

Thomas Vanek

all kidding aside, this is a guy who has scored more than 40 goals twice in his career and has hit the 30-goal mark two times as well. If he can somehow find that level of production again and even touch 25 goals, he will be a contribution to a team that badly needs goal scoring.

Another signing that I’m in the minority of liking is Steve Ott. A lot of people don’t like Steve Ott, but that’s why I think he’s great for the Red Wings. Ott may never show up in the score sheet – at least under the goals column. But, Ott will pester other teams and bring some toughness to the lineup. It’s possible Ott might spend a lot of time next to Drew Miller in the press box as a healthy scratch but I think that’d be a huge mistake. Ott needs to be the Wings’ agitator so Justin Abdelkader doesn’t have to worry about leading the physical side of the game for this team he can focus on more important things like finding the back of the net.

Why You Should Feel Positive

This team is moving in a younger direction, and I believe that is a good thing. Look at how the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup last season, they were quicker than every other team and had the energy to fight their way through four tough rounds in the playoffs. Similar to how Team North America was successful in the World Cup of Hockey. Speed kills people, it’s a fact.

Nielson could have a big impact on this team. He had 52 points last season – which would’ve been the most on the Red Wings.

 Frans Nielsen

Frans Nielsen

No, Nielson doesn’t have the magic hands like Datsyuk does or the ability to pick pocket guys at will, but Nielson has been healthier than Datsyuk the past few seasons and a player’s abilities are only useful if he’s on the ice. Datsyuk hasn’t played in more than 66 games the last three seasons.

Having Peter Mrazek as the full-time starting goalie is going to make this team better. Rotating goalies throughout a season is tough because a goalie can’t get into a rhythm. Mrazek is one of the best young goalies in the game. And with a good season, can become one of the best in the league. He looked stellar in the World Cup of Hockey representing the Czech Republic and playing in the exhibition tournament should help him get into mid-season form quickly. Plus let’s be honest, having Jimmy Howard as a backup is not a bad thing. There are plenty of teams out there who have much worse options to put out there as a backup.

Why You Should Feel Negative

I’m not even going to try and sugar coat this because quite frankly I can’t, the defense is atrocious. The Red Wings may have the worst defensemen from top to bottom in the league. Mike Green is above average but is more of an offensive defenseman. Niklas Kronwall is old and damn near useless – not to mention becoming injury prone. Jonathan Ericsson is almost as old and just as useless. And everyone else is young and just isn’t that good. I like what I see from Brendan Smith at times but I’m not sure he’s a top four defenseman on a good team. Mrazek can only do so much to keep pucks from going past him. If the defense doesn’t improve from last season it will most likely be the reason the Red Wings don’t make the playoffs.

Not signing Stamkos isn’t the end of the world, but this team still needs to find ways to score goals. The mainstay guys on the team have been inconsistent at best. Guys like Gus Nyquist and Tatar need to show us something. Many fans expect these guys to be 25+ goal scorers and it’s about time they show us they can be.

Have I mentioned Henrik Zetterberg yet? No, that’s because he isn’t that great anymore and is becoming that old and slow player that has enough skill to stay in the league. Zetterberg was the Red Wings leading point getter last season with 50, and that was best to just miss the top-100 in the league. That’s not good. Zetterberg might not be a first line forward on any team but since he’s Hank and is loved by Red Wings fans, he’s a top line guy in Detroit.

Team MVP

 Dylan Larkin

Dylan Larkin

Without question the guy who needs to lead this team is Dylan Larkin. It’s unfortunate to pin that on a 20-year-old, but that’s the kind of team general manager Ken Holland has put together. Larkin had a remarkable first half season and understandably so trailed off towards the end of the year. Larkin has the skill set to be a perennial all-star and will have to be that kind of player if the Red Wings want to have success in the playoffs.

 

 

Player to Watch

I think the guy we all need to keep our eyes on this season is Andreas Athanasiou. The 22-year-old scored nine goals and recorded 14 points in just 37 games last season and looked like he was getting more comfortable with each game he played. The kid has a lot of speed and showed off some nice moves in his limited time. For some reason Holland decided to re-sign Darren Helm which could limit Athanasiou’s playing time because they are similar players. I hope that’s not the case but it most likely will be. If AA gets to be in the lineup from game one he could end up being the unsung hero that helps the Red Wings reach the playoffs.

Prediction

While we are saying farewell to the Joe, I don’t think we’ll be saying bye to the Red Wings playoff streak.

The Red Wings will find a way to make the playoffs and keep the streak alive. The playoff run will be short lived – again – and they will be bounced in the first round of the playoffs. The NHL playoffs is usually about who is hot at the right time. And if Mrazek is on top of his game come playoffs, I could see the Red Wings making it to the second round. But if the Red Wings fail to make the playoffs for the first time since 1990 it might time to say farewell to head coach Jeff Blashill and it will without question be time to show Holland the door.

After Dominating In Conference Opener, Michigan’s Season Becoming Clear

Even if you’re still playing an inferior opponent, conference games tend to be more nerve-racking. They have a higher chance of being closer as the belittled opponent still knows what the big dog is all about.

Which is why I wanted to wait until conference play began to really judge the Michigan Wolverines. And even though Penn State looks like a four or five win team, there was still a decent chance they would give Michigan a good game.

But that didn’t happen – not even close.

The Wolverines dominated the Nittany Lions from start to finish in its 49-10 win; overwhelming them on defense, while overpowering them on offense. The run game on offense was especially effective which has been uncharacteristic of Michigan in recent years.

Michigan ran for a season-high 326 yards and averaged 6.7 yards per rush. Four different running backs rushed for over 50-yards and five of them scored a touchdown.

 Courtesy The Detroit News

Courtesy The Detroit News

While senior De’Veon Smith and redshirt junior Ty Isaac had big games – which isn’t totally unexpected – sophomore Karan Higdon proved that he can play a big role.

On Saturday, Higdon rushed for a career-high 81-yards and recorded his first multi-touchdown game finding the end zone twice. He showed off his speed and vision by reading the offensive linemen’s blocks and finding the gaping holes they left.

Unlike the last two games against Central Florida and Colorado, Michigan didn’t need junior quarterback Wilton Speight to help carry the offense to the finish line. The running backs were already there waiting for him. Speight was the only blemish on the offense. He under threw receivers at times, which could show that he is still feeling the effects of a vicious hit he took against Colorado. Speight, however, impressed most with his legs. He scrambled his way out of nearly a half a dozen sacks and kept plays alive.

The offense was only half of the annihilation. The defense was just as good if not even better.

Outside of a couple big gains, the defense kept star sophomore running back Saquan Barkley at bay holding him to under four yards per rush. Barkley is one of the conference’s most explosive players, as he can not only hurt you in the run game but is excellent at catching the ball out of the backfield as well. He not only led the Nittany Lions in rushing, but had a team-high 77 receiving yards.

A key reason Penn State’s running back led the team in receiving was because their redshirt sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley didn’t have much time to throw the football. The pressure the Wolverines front four put on him came early and often. Michigan sacked McSorley seven times throughout the game – including five in the first half. Senior defensive endTaco Charlton looked sharp in his first game back from injury recording two sacks, and senior defensive end Chris Wormley also recorded two sacks.

Rotational player sophomore Chase Winovich continued to impress everybody by playing beyond expectations for him. Winovich totaled three tackles and a sack against Penn State. He along with true freshman Rashan Gary has made the Wolverines defense line dangerous even when the seniors aren’t on the field.

Depth was going to be a strength for the Wolverines this season and it is clearly showing. Not just one or two running backs rushed for over 50 yards but four of them did. And not only did the two veteran stars on the defensive line look good – Charlton and Wormley – but the role players did in Winovich and Gary.

 Courtesy The Detroit News

Courtesy The Detroit News

The season is becoming clearer for the Michigan Wolverines through four games, and I am feeling much more confident about this team heading into its top-10 showdown with No. 8 Wisconsin on Saturday.

Give the Badgers respect where respect is due, they just went into East Lansing and dominated Michigan State – another opponent I had reserves that Michigan could beat – but even that hesitation is fading.

Michigan looks good. As long as they can continue to play at this level, the only team in the Big Ten that will give them trouble is Ohio State who doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Michigan won’t be able to play at this level for every minute of every game, they will have some moments where we scratch our heads and wonder what is wrong with them. But I still don’t think they’ll lose in those games.

If the Wolverines can keep this up, the college football playoffs will be a reality. There are few teams we can look at so far into the season and say “they look pretty darn good.”

But as we sit here today, I think one of those teams we can say that about is the Michigan Wolverines.

After Two Games We Know Michigan is Good, But Not Great

 

Two weeks into the season and two cupcake games later we know little about the Michigan Wolverines football team.

It is very hard to truly judge a high caliber team when they play such inferior teams. It is comparable to NFL preseason games.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t take anything away from Michigan’s first two contests against Hawaii and Central Florida.

Against the Rainbow Warriors, Michigan’s defense proved to be the brickwall they were built up to be in the off-season. Hawaii could not get anything going – passing or rushing – and failed to get a first down until nearly five minutes left in the first half.

The quarterback for Hawaii was constantly under pressure and his receivers were desperate to get open as the Wolverines secondary coverage was excellent.

It was a true meaning of the word dominant – both on offense and defense. Even true freshmen Chris Evans and Eddie McDoom were making stand out plays giving fans hope that it might be sooner than later that the youth of this team will be a difference maker.

But in the second game against Central Florida the Wolverines showed problems of old. And even though the margin of victory was 37, I’m still a bit concerned that these problems occurred.

Even though maize and blue fans may argue it, De’Veon Smith is not a top echelon running back, not in the country, and arguably not even in the conference. And even though Evans had a really good first week, it was Hawaii and everyone needs to take a step back and breathe.

Michigan averaged just 2.9 yards per rush against the Knights, and that’s not very good, especially against a team that didn’t win a game last season. I hate doing this but if you take away Evans and Smiths longest rushes of the game, their yards per rush individually are 2.1 and 2.3 respectively. Each dropping nearly two yards from what their totals actually were factoring in their longest rushes.

Those are not good numbers. Those kind of stats don’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy about playing the big boys in the Big Ten – Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa, and Ohio State.

Head coach Jim Harbaugh said it was the amount of “run blitzes” Central Florida ran that was killing the Wolverines run game. I’m not saying he is wrong but at the same time you are a far superior team and I’d hope you’d make some adjustments to at least get better at countering the run blitz as the game went on.

It wasn’t just offensively Michigan struggled with the run but they had problems stopping it on defense as well. Central Florida averaged 6 yards per carry. Even if you take out Adrian Killins big 87-yard touchdown run they are still at 4.1 yards per rush. Still pretty good and still better than Michigan.

The Wolverines gave up a handful of rushes of 20-yards or more and appeared to struggle with the Knights’ high-tempo spread offense. Tell me you’ve heard that before? That’s because you have.

For what it seems to be the last decade, the Wolverines have been awful at stopping the spread offense.  Which is a big reason why in the past few years they have struggled to beat teams like Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio State, because those are all teams in the conference that have ran spread offenses in years past.

Take last year for example. Michigan had no trouble stopping teams like Michigan State and Penn State but yet gave up over 40 points to both Indiana and Ohio State. Coincidence? I think not.

Michigan is going to have to figure out how to stop the spread offense before they run into a better team that has athletes close to Michigan’s caliber. Or else the end result might not end the same.

The Wolverines are also going to have to figure out ways to get the run game going. They have been mixing in younger guys like Ben Bredeson and Michael Ownenu into the offensive line which could cause some chemistry and communication flaws. And with whom they have played these first couple weeks I understand why they’re doing it.

But to be a great team, a team that can win a national championship, the Wolverines have to figure out a way to run the ball effectively. Because if the offense is one dimensional against top tier teams, they are going to struggle to even win their conference.