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About the Tigers running away from the AL Central…

Tigers lose

So…about that one time I told you not to watch the baseball regular season.

I said it was already over, that the 31-22 Tigers would run away with the division. I said it wasn’t that the Tigers weren’t that good, just that the rest of their division was that bad.

The Tigers have 16 games left. They sit a half game behind the Royals in the AL Central and a half game ahead of the Mariners for the final wildcard spot. I got it wrong. But I’m not alone.

When the Tigers traded for David Price and the Athletics traded for half the starting pitchers in the league, a lot of reporters joked about just canceling the end of the season and letting the Athletics and the Tigers square off for the de facto World Series. Now it looks like their series will be a one-game playoff between two wildcard teams.

How were we supposed to know the Tigers would be almost .500 (49-44) from there on out?

How were supposed to know the last-place Royals would play their next 88 games nearly 20 games over .500 (53-35)?

How were we supposed to know that the manager most Royals fans hate, the one with the crooked bottom lip was all of the sudden going to find the right formula?

How were we supposed to know that an “offensively-impaired” Royals team (as ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick put it) would be the first legitimate contender in recent history to have a chance to break the Royals’ 28-year postseason drought?

How were we supposed to know that a rookie starting pitcher, Yordano Ventura, would post a 3.27 ERA?

How were we supposed to know that Jason Vargas — career ERA 4.14 — would post a 3.25 ERA?

How were we supposed to know that Miguel Cabrera would hit one home run in all of August?

How were we supposed to know that Justin Verlander would never figure it out this season, that he would have a 4.82 ERA in the final month?

How were we supposed to know that the Tigers would give up their starting center fielder for David Price and that after seven starts for the Tigers Price’s ERA would be a full run higher than the 3.11 he posted in Tampa Bay this season?

How were we supposed to know that the only given the Tigers would have in their bullpen would be Blaine Hardy? (Well, to be fair, I did see Hardy’s manifest destiny of the American League coming.)

But after all that we didn’t see, we still might not be wrong. Very few things are givens in baseball, but one of them is that the Royals are still the Royals until they prove otherwise. Kansas City has half a month to screw this thing up, and even if they don’t the division will probably come down to a three-game series between the Tigers and Royals that starts on September 19th anyway. If the Tigers win that, then what I said in June will technically be right. The Tigers were in first place in June and they’ll be in first place by the end of September. You haven’t missed anything.

Still, it’s time to pay attention if you haven’t already. Especially on September 19.

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JMMA Week 1 update: We actually have players playing in the NFL

(New feature: Both George Johnson and Jacques McClendon are on actual NFL rosters and are playing in actual NFL games, so we’ll be checking in with them periodically throughout the season. It probably won’t be every week, but when something happens with the JMMA winners, you’ll know about it.)

Michael Strahahn holds the single-season sack record, with 22.5. George Johnson is on pace to break it, with wiggle room.

Johnson switched from No. 68 to No. 93 before the first game, the latter of which I assume will be his Madden rating by the end of the year. He recorded 1.5 sacks on Monday along with three tackles (two solo), one tackle for loss, two QB hits and one sweet Carlton-like celebration after he ran a stunt and barreled almost untouched into Eli Manning.

Fifteen more games of this and Johnson will end the season with 24 sacks. Unrealistic you say? I say you don’t know George. … And that you’re right.

That doesn’t change the fact that a man who went from being one non-call away from leaving football to making the rotation on one of the deepest defensive lines in the league just lit it up on Monday Night Football.

Johnson is a straight pass rusher. He’ll come in on long second and third downs and he’ll be going one-on-one most of the time as the opposing line devotes man power to Ndamukong Suh. It’s favorable for Johnson — if the Lions can get in those situations regularly.

The Giants — to use a technical term — are a fire in a barrel that’s been thrown into a dumpster fire. They can’t run, so they pass. And when they pass they have Eli Manning throwing the ball to Victor Cruz and a bunch of guys no one has in their fantasy leagues. It was the perfect situation for Johnson to do what he does. But that won’t always be the case. The Lions will be trailing in probably around 50 percent of their games. Teams will run the ball. When that happens Johnson will play only a handful of snaps a game.

So temper expectations, maybe to around 20 sacks or so.

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The Lions, the Giants and releasing those Monday Night Football demons

It was one game, one win over a bad team.

But it was one that left one presumably drunk man so content that he had no choice but to lie on a street in Detroit at midnight and tell the city that they as a group had f—— did it mannn. We’re on the outside. We laugh at this man and pity him. Sir, what are you doing? That ground is dirty and sticky. You should go home. Where are your friends? They must come get you.

On the inside, lying down was the most logical action. A lot of the reasoning behind it was the alcohol. Maybe all of it was the alcohol. But I think this man felt more than just drunk. He had something else in him. Something different. He would explain it to you if he could.

Were you not there? Did you not experience it? Of course you didn’t. If you did, you’d be lying on some curb like me. This collection of men thrown together to wear blue uniforms and push a ball down a field, they’re back after a long absence, after hope turned into despair. They dominated and they did it on with everyone watching. Don’t you get it? This doesn’t happen often, man. We can’t just let it go. Lie down. Let it soak in. We can hang onto to this for a little while longer. 

This was Monday Night football. A national showcase. The Lions don’t win national showcases. (Unless it’s 2011, but that year looks more like an aberration each day.) They go on nine-game Thanksgiving losing streaks and only get bailed out when they face a team led by Matt Flynn. They lose potential season-saving Monday Night games against 8-8 teams. This has been the Lions identity for three years. When they get the opportunity to play Carnegie Hall they forget their instruments.

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The 2014 Detroit Lions story: A referendum on Matt Stafford and his matrix

Wonder Boy

Wonder Boy

He was the Wonder Boy. No. He is the Wonder Boy. He’s the kid groomed to be a quarterback from sixth grade, the kid that as a seventh grader had Highland Park High School thinking about a state championship, the kid that as a freshman had Georgia thinking about a national championship. He’s the man supposed to break the curse of Bobby Layne.

Matthew Stafford is 6-foot-3, 232 pounds. He possesses a rifle arm, a firebolt football mind, a cool demeanor and an innate ability to have people want to follow him. He hasn’t so much lived a life as had one preordained for him. For the past 14 years he’s been molded into the closest thing to a robot quarterback outside of Peyton Manning.

I think his mind is a loop of matrix code. “Spider Z, Y Banana” and “Gun Flex Right 70 Z Option” falls continuously. When presented with a situation the code tells him what the perfect quarterback would do.

He wears his hat backwards and tugs on his shoulder pads. He gives credit to the offensive line and tells the media that it’s receivers making the plays. He dates a cheerleader, and when they get old enough he proposes and gives her a giant ring. He spends hours in a dank film room, picking apart every detail. Rewind. Play. Rewind. Play. He delivers on that state championship hope in his senior year and dadgummit he probably would’ve delivered the national championship in college too if not for so many injuries. He separates his shoulder as a rookie but bowls past trainers to rush onto the field and throw the game-winning touchdown pass in a meaningless game.

For a few plays every game, the code breaks down. Sometimes Stafford the person — the one with the thoughts and feelings and motivations — appears. You’ll see it on a simple swing pass. Wide open, with plenty of time, Stafford will drop his arm and fire a ball sidearm not to avoid a cluster of hands, but just to do it, to show he’s not the same. You’ll see it on deep passes.  He’ll be rolling out, buying time. The matrix will tell him to play it safe, throw it out of bounds or scramble for what you can before sliding. But midway through the play Stafford will have a glint of recognition. I’m Wonder Boy. He’s Megatron. I’m throwing it up. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. It’s probably a lot more successful than it should be.

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Your update on the baseball winners of the JMMA thinks about the end

Bootcheck after pulling a piece of rail of its track with his bare hands.

Bootcheck after pulling a piece of rail of its track with his bare hands.

This is supposed to be an update on all three baseball winners. It should probably focus on Blaine Hardy, whose ERA has stabilized around 2.00.

Or maybe it should focus on Jose Alvarez. Injured since May, Alvarez went on a rehab assignment and pitched one scoreless inning for the Arizona League Angels on August 26. Alvarez remains on Los Angeles’ 40-man roster. If he shows he’s healthy there’s an outside shot Alvarez is called up to finish the regular season.

But those will be the only mentions of the other two.

It’s time to answer what’s become a yearly question: Will Chris Bootcheck come back?

This year hasn’t been like the last two. Those years Bootcheck ended the season with solid numbers. An organization could look at his previous season and see he could provide “organizational depth.” This year he posted a 4.85 ERA in Triple-A, was demoted to Double-A, posted a 5.55 ERA there, and missed most of the last month of the season due to cracked rib he sustained while swinging a bat.

Bootcheck will attempt a comeback, of course. That’s what he does. That’s how you find a 35-year-old guy scratching out a spot in Double-A. But it’s going to be a long haul. He’ll have to recover from the injury, find a spot on a winter ball team in Venezuela or the Dominican Republic or some other Latin American country, pitch well, and then have his agent try to talk a squad into someone who will be 36 another chance.

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What cut day meant for current and former JMMA winners

george

George Johnson sliding onto to your favorite team like…

Final cut day might be the most important day of the year for winners of the James Mungro Memorial Award presented by (sponsor pending). The first cut gets rid of the stragglers. This one validates everything. It’s the completion of the long-shot story or the climax of the breakthrough from practice squad or the day of a dream deferred.

All three football winners of the JMMA had stories to tell after cut day. Here’s a recap of what they’ll be takling about.

We knew George Johnson a.k.a Georgie Boy a.k.a the current champ was clean by Game 3. The one benefit to giving the JMMA award to the media darling is that we hear a lot about him. So when the Lions make their cuts, writers use the defensive line section of their breakdown to write about him. He not only made the team, but he’ll play as a rotational end.

We thought Rodney Austin was clean from the beginning. The Lions refused to let him go to Tennessee last year, opting instead to put him on their active NFL roster for two games. I figured they’d want him to return so he could keep developing under their. I didn’t count on two things: the new coaching staff and Austin regressing.

The staff that loved Austin so much is gone. The one in its place runs a different offense. The skills that made Austin dominant last year might not translate to the new system. That, combined with Austin performing average in the preseasons game and reportedly poor at camp (ESPN’s Mike Rothstein reported the latter, but the link is broken now), changed the entire situation.

Detroit cut Austin on Saturday.

Apparently the Titans and every other team didn’t want him. He cleared waivers. The Lions signed him to the practice squad.

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Sunday Red Wings rumor roundup: Brian Lashoff’s days numbered?; A more definitive date set for Daniel Alfredsson decision

Every Sunday I’ll bring you a recap of all the legitimate Red Wings-related transaction and signing rumors from the previous week. I see all this stuff anyway. I figured I might as well share it with you.

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