Welcome to Swami’s 2013 Detroit Sports Review!
It was a year of highs and lows here in the Great Lakes State for our sports teams. My Detroit Sports Review should cover most of the moments in 2013 that made us celebrate and some of the moments that left us shaking our heads. It started with the Detroit Red Wings season in limbo due to lockout. The year is ending with us reeling from another Detroit Lions collapse and major changes to the Detroit Tigers organization. The Wings and Pistons are running in the middle of the pack and we look to them to make a playoff push. MSU is Big Ten Championship bound with the Rose Bowl coming up next week. Let’s take a look back, team-by-team, at the year that was 2013.
Tigers are Favorites, but injuries prevail…
Back in January, it was the general consensus of Major League Baseball analysts that the Detroit Tigers were the favorite to win the World Series. We all looked forward to a strong season, as we had a solid rotation of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, and Rick Porcello. We also had a 3,4,5 triple threat in our lineup: reigning MVP and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera batting third, followed by slugger Prince Fielder, then returning slugger Victor Martinez. The addition of Torii Hunter also strengthened the lineup and our outfield.
Early season pitching staff injuries, along with unusual shakiness in Verlander’s pitching led to a start that, was not as dominant as we had hoped . Miggy was carrying the offense and looking to repeat the Triple Crown performance of 2012, while holding a batting average of over .400 well into May. He was also holding pace on to break 200 RBI. Then, just around the All-Star break, cracks really started to show.
The bullpen became ineffective. With no solid closer, the bullpen wore down fast. Injuries started to manifest. Then, the Biogenesis report named shortstop Jhonny Peralta to its list of PED users. Peralta received a 50 game suspension and we made a deal sending our rookie outfielder, Avisail Garcia, to the White Sox in a three team deal that brought us our shortstop of the future, Jose Iglesias.
The injury train kept rolling, though, as Miggy suffered an unknown injury in early August. This hampered his production, both offensively and defensively. He fell out of the Triple Crown race, and, as tough as he is, could not cover the loss of his bat in the playoffs. The Tigers, favorites in the beginning, won the Central for the third straight time and defeated the Athletics in the ALDS. But, we fell to the Red Sox in the ALCS 4 games to 2. It was learned soon after that Miggy’s injury was a groin tear that required surgery.
Sweeping changes to the Tigers started almost immediately. Manager Jim Leyland retired just after the playoff loss to Boston. Then, on November 20th, the first unthinkable move happened when the Tigers sent slugger Prince Fielder to Texas with cash for second baseman Ian Kinsler. Just as we were recovering from this, Dombrowski sent Fister to Washington for two unproven pitchers and a utility infielder. The Tigers continued to add manpower with the addition of closer Joe Nathan, who was signed to the roster, just after the Fister trade was announced.
Lions Start Big, But Fade:
This season, for most, did not seem to be too promising in June. The Detroit Lions had a poor record in 2012, but to those who noticed, they lost many of those games in the final 12 minutes. When the season started, everyone was looking at three things:
1) David Akers as the first new Lions kicker since the Wayne Fontes era, due to the retirement of Jason Hanson.
2) Could Calvin Johnson repeat his outstanding year as a receiver?
3) When would Mathew Stafford become the Lions’ All-Time passing leader?
Then, the unexpected happened. The Lions made a big free agent play, signing former USC standout Reggie Bush as our new running back. This gave Stafford another big offensive threat and opened up our offense. The roar was restored as the Lions stormed out to a 6-3 start. The playoffs seemed a sure thing, with a fairly weak schedule ahead of them. Then, we lost WR Nate Burleson to a freak accident for a few weeks to broken arm in a car accident while saving a falling pizza.
In Pittsburgh, Stafford broke Bobby Layne’s Lions’ passing record in a loss. That loss started the 2013 downfall, as the Lions lost 6 of their final 7 games. The sole win was on Thanksgiving against the Packers, 40-10. This was our first Thanksgiving win in over a decade.
The day after the season ended with a 7-9 record, the Lions fired Head Coach Jim Schwartz after five seasons and a 29-51 record. Lions President Tom Lewand had the following to say:
“The simple fact is we have fallen short of the expectations of our ownership, and those expectations are simple. They, very strongly, want to bring a consistently winning football team to the fans of the city of Detroit. We fell short of that, and the decision that was made today was a direct reflection of falling short of that goal. Quite simply, we didn’t win enough football games.”
Lewand continued, saying.
“I think this will be one of the most, if not the single most, attractive head coaching opportunity in the National Football League for a lot of different reasons, and that starts with our ownership,” and “We want, the expectation is to bring a consistently winning football team to the city of Detroit immediately.”
Red Wings Switch Conferences, Lose Rivalries…
2013 started off with the Detroit Red Wings 2012-13 season in jeopardy from the NHL lockout. The lockout ended just in time for a 48 game season. The Red Wings started their final season in the Western Conference, as realignment would occur for the 2013-14 season. The Red Wings weren’t favorites, but weren’t considered a bottom tiered team either.
The team had a different feel from the get-go, as longtime defenseman Niklas Lindstrom had retired following the 2011-12 season. The Wings struggled to a 24-16-8 record, barely qualifying for the Western Conference playoffs. We defeated the Ducks 4 games to 3 in the first round. Then, we dropped the Western Conference semifinals to our soon-to-be-ex-rival, the Chicago Blackhawks 4 games to 3.
Fast forward to the fall and the start of the 2013-14 season. New conference, new division. The Wings are now in a division with Boston, Tampa Bay, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Florida, and Buffalo: The Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference. No more Blackhawks rivalry, no more rivalries with the Avs or our former Norris Division rivals, the Stars or Blues. Of all the rivalries affected by the realignment of the NHL, the Wings lost the most. We switched conferences and now only our ages-old rivalry with the Maple Leafs means anything.
Currently, the Wings sit fourth in the division and are locked with Toronto at 45 points. We are in a deadlock with three teams for the 5-6-7 playoff seeds. There are still 4 months left before the playoffs and it is still anyone’s game for those playoff spots.
Pistons Are Rebuilding.
The 2012-13 season for the Detroit Pistons was one of the worst in the club’s history, as we watched the Pistons go 29-53. The Pistons looked like my eighth-grade daughter’s basketball squad could beat them, losing by double digits quite often during the year. The Pistons only had one month with a winning record: April. They went 5-3, after a March in which they went 1-13. They finished last season 9 games out of a playoff spot.
The 2013-14 season, so far, looks much better for the Pistons. The return of Chauncey Billups has brought some life and wisdom to this squad, as they sit 14-18 coming up on the halfway point. They are just 11.5 games out of first place in the Eastern Conference and 7th place in the East. They may make the playoffs this year, so they are on the turnaround. But, they still have a long way to go before we see another Pistons NBA Championship.
Griffins Soar, Win Calder Cup!
Over in Grand Rapids, there was hockey all year in 2012-13. The Griffins did not disappoint, finishing 42-26-4-4. Not only did they accomplish a great record, but they won the Calder Cup for the first time in franchise history. I mention this here because not only were the Griffins the only champions in the state this year, but they are also the future of the Red Wings.
Wolverines Basketball Rolls, Football Flops…
In 2013, Wolverines basketball did not seem to be a big factor when the season started in 2012. But, everyone underestimated the Fresh Five and company, who started off winning the NIT Season Tip-Off Championship and finished 31-8, 12-6 in the Big Ten. They were the fourth seed in the South Regional, but unranked in the AP and Coaches Polls. No one expected much from the Wolverines in the Final Four Tournament except the Wolverine faithful and they proved their doubters wrong. Michigan made it to the Championship Game before falling to Louisville 82-76, with a missed call being the big memory among Wolverine fans.
In the fall, the Wolverines started off the football season 6-1 before a loss in the annual big U-M/MSU game started a slide. The Wolverines lost 4 of the final 5 games of the regular season, finishing 7-5, 3-5 in the Big Ten and unranked. They earned a trip to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against a 7-5 Kansas State, where, on December 28th, they lost 31-14.
Spartans Head to Sweet 16, Rose Bowl!
The Spartans basketball team ran up a 27-9 record, 13-5 in the Big Ten, earning themselves a #9 ranking in both the AP and Coaches Polls. They also earned the Midwest Region’s #3 seed for the Final Four tournament. The Spartans powered ahead into the Sweet Sixteen, setting up hopes for a U-M/MSU National Championship game. Those hopes faded as the Spartans fell to #6 ranked Duke, three wins shy of the National Championship game and a face-off against the Wolverines.
Spartans football kicked off the season unranked, a team that was not even considered to be in the running for a BCS bowl. this was largely due to their weak schedule. After the seventh week, when they were 6-1, they finally made the rankings at #24. The Wolverines ranked #23 as they faced off for the annual Paul Bunyan Trophy. The Spartans defense was too much for the Wolverines and they won the game. The Spartans started to rise in the rankings, reaching #10 entering Championship week where they faced heavily favored #2 Ohio State. The Spartans shocked the football world by upsetting the Buckeyes, winning their first Big Ten Championship since 1987 and earning their first BCS Bowl Game appearance. The Spartans finished with an 8-0 Big Ten record and earned the first 12 win season in the team’s history. Only a few upsets that never happened in college football this year kept the Spartans from advancing to the BCS Championship Game. They had to settle for a #4 ranking and an appearance in the Rose Bowl against #5 Stanford.
Okay, maybe you have never heard of them. But, the Detroit Dark Angels of the Women’s Football Association are an outdoor, professional and full contact women’s football league. No, it’s NOT bikini football, either! They followed up their 8-1 2012 season and a first round playoff loss, with a 2-6 season where they were outscored 253-31. A tough year indeed, but hopefully they can turn it around in 2014. Yes, the Swami is planning on covering them.
Looking Ahead To 2014…
We still have to finish the Spartans football season and college basketball. The NBA and NHL are starting to wind up for their spring runs. Spring Training in Lakeland opens up in 6 weeks. The Lions are just now heading home, unsure of who their next coach will be for 2014. A lot of questions lie ahead. Can the Tigers contend with a rookie manager and the losses of Fister and Fielder? Will the Lions regroup and snap the Curse of Bobby Layne? Are the Wings going to show signs of life? Can the Pistons pull a winning season out of the return of Billups? How will the Spartans and Wolverines basketball teams do this March? Will the Dark Angels rebound to their 2012 greatness? Will we see a new pro football team in Michigan in 2015? Hint: It could be either the new A11FL or the New USFL.
All these questions and more will all be answered starting Wednesday morning.
Thanks for being a fan in 2013 and for reading my year end Detroit Sports Review.
Happy New Year, everyone!