Dave Dombrowski thought he had it all figured out.
The Detroit Tigers’ general manager knew that the bullpen posed the greatest problem in his team’s quest for a fourth straight American League Central division title. Dombrowski did what he could to directly address the issue without panicking by acquiring Joakim Soria from the Texas Rangers, but soon recognized that the market for serviceable relief pitching was too risky and too expensive.
So he turned to his starting rotation, already strong with reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, 2011 winner Justin Verlander, 2013 ERA champion Anibal Sanchez, a young and extremely underrated Rick Porcello in the midst of the best season of his career, and token lefty Drew Smyly. The Tigers starters had put together a stellar first half outside of a bumpy week and a half in May, and was generally seen to be the strongest aspect of a team ready to challenge for a World Series.
It could be reasoned that with a capable offense scoring runs and the starters pitching deep into games, the bullpen wouldn’t have to enter many high-pressure situations with little margin for error. The Tigers lineup was one of the strongest in the AL for the first half of the season, and the starting staff was providing solid innings—the formula was working, and the Tigers’ playoff train was chugging.
With that in mind, Dombrowski decided that the best way to fix his bullpen was to minimize their chances at failure. Enter David Price.
Last year, the St. Louis Cardinals put together an incredible season that far exceeded many expectations. The Redbirds set an all-time record for batting average with runners in scoring position (.330), which was key to scoring runs in an offense that ranked 27th in the majors in home runs (125). Meanwhile, the pitching staff saw several young arms emerge from the farm system. Rookies Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Seth Maness, Michael Blazek, Kevin Butler, Kevin Siegrist, Carlos Martinez, Tyler Lyons, John Gast, and Michael Wacha all saw playing time in 2013, and all made meaningful contributions to the team.
2013 could easily have been a disaster for the Cardinals, but somehow they were able to hit and pitch their way to a 97-65 record, tying the Boston Red Sox for the best regular season record in the big leagues. The Cards rode that momentum to a National League pennant, and held a 2-1 lead in the World Series before losing to the aforementioned Red Sox. All in all, the season was a rousing success for the Cardinals, although anyone in the organization would probably tell you otherwise after falling short of a championship.
Entering 2014, the expectations are high. With major league experience–as well as valuable playoff experience–their young arms are expected to carry the load alongside veterans Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, and Lance Lynn. Offensively and defensively, the team has upgraded in multiple positions from a few wise offseason moves. However, power may once again prove to be the team’s Achilles heel.
The Tigers are coming off of a somewhat disappointing season, in which they failed to run away with the AL Central division like they were expected to do all season. Although they eventually wound up in the AL Championship Series, the Tigers barely made it past the Oakland Athletics in the AL Division Series, only to have the bullpen fall apart in the late innings.
The expectation for the Tigers in 2013 was to win the World Series, and they failed to do so. Most of the pieces were there, but clutch hits and a solid bullpen eluded them when they were needed most.
Heading into 2014, those expectations will remain the same: World Series or bust. Two-time reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera has had an entire offseason to recover from his abdominal surgery, and the pitching staff once again features three potential aces in Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, and 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer. Combine that with a new and improved bullpen, and you have a team primed for another late postseason run.
Let’s be honest here: Michigan looked terrible yesterday against Wisconsin. The Wolverines’ shot selection left much to be desired, they couldn’t make stops on defense when they needed them most, and Wisconsin dominated the rebounding column. The Badgers showed up, and Michigan didn’t.
Yeah, it’s no fun to lose, especially at home. But good teams don’t let losses like yesterday’s carry over into future games. Instead, they learn from those defeats, and work on what they can do better. Often times, they come out better and more focused in their next game.
So was the Wolverines’ loss on Sunday good for the team?
It usually takes me a while to get into Olympic figure skating. I think what keeps me from appreciating the sport more is that it’s so hard to work up a basic understanding of what each skater does. It’s obvious when someone falls or looks shaky coming out of a jump, and you can generally tell when someone skates well, but I have no idea how the skaters are actually judged. It’s frustrating for me.
However, I rarely turn off Olympic coverage when it’s on, and last night, the men’s short program was sandwiched in between the men’s ski slopestyle competition. So, I kept the figure skating on… and I’m glad I did. I can’t stop thinking about it; the competition was that good, and the Olympic spirit was on full display.
The Sochi Olympics kick off tonight with the opening rounds of the team figure skating, women’s freestyle skiing, and women’s snowboard slopestyle events. If you’re like me, this day couldn’t have come any sooner.
I love the Olympics. I love the quality of the competition. I love the national pride that the athletes have, especially from smaller countries. I love seeing sports that I never see on the main channels in the U.S. that other countries love so much. It’s just a lot of fun for me.
So I make it a point to watch as much Olympic coverage as I can while still being a productive member of society. Four years ago, that took the form of watching curling with my roommates from 2-5 a.m. Two years ago, I was lucky enough to be out of school and thus not have homework, so I watched more than usual.
But in the last two Olympic games, I had a strategy. And I recommend it for anyone who may find themselves slightly… overwhelmed by all of the events over the course of the next two weeks.
I had an interesting conversation with a good friend of mine the other day about Sunday’s Super Bowl and whether it was a “good quality” game or not. He mentioned Sunday’s Seahawks thrashing as on par with some of the least competitive games in Super Bowl history–with the likes of Super Bowl XX (Bears 46, Patriots 10), Super Bowl XXIV (49ers 55, Broncos 10), and Super Bowl XXXV (Ravens 34, Giants 7).
That comparison is more than fair. Seattle led after the first snap, and never looked back. Denver never established the offensive dominance that had brought them to the big game in the first place, and looked woefully unprepared both offensively and defensively. The game was a blowout, and not much fun for many football fans.
I, on the other hand, enjoyed the game. It may not have been as close as some of the last few Super Bowls, but that was okay with me. Here’s why: