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(Lovable) Losers No More: The Pittsburgh Pirates and Detroit Lions

In Sports on July 20, 2011 at 6:02 pm

by: Eric Buenning

 

The Pittsburgh Pirates are in first place in the NL Central, their first time since 1992.

I just checked.  Hell is still at it’s very high temperature.  It is indeed not frozen over.  So that must mean..that..the Pittsburgh Pirates…are..playing quality baseball?

Yes.  That is exactly what that means.  For the first time since I’ve been alive, the Pirates are a threat to possibly win the division crown.  But these are the Pirates, they’re always supposed to suck.  I thought that was the case too.  However, they have finally tapped into their potential and are putting together what could be a magical season.  Here’s how they are doing it:

Clint Hurdle:  The former Rockies manager has brought a whole new level of optimism and excitement to the team and city of Pittsburgh.  He’s brought an entire different philosophy to the ball club.  When he arrived at Spring Training, not once did he settle for merely trying to steadily improve a few wins at a time.  He told his players that they were very, very talented and were capable of contending.  His confidence in them made them believe again; some for the first time since making it up to the majors.  Nobody expected anything out of them expect for the new guy that looked like Rex Ryan sans fast food.  Right now, they have totally bought into what he’s selling, and the “all in” approach is a dangerous one (see: 2010 Milwaukee Bucks, 2009 Florida Gators, every sports movie team, and poker players..get it? I digress…)

Pitching:  Their starting rotation (Jeff Karstens, Paul Malholm, Charlie Morton, Kevin Correia, and James McDonald) have combined for a 39-29 record, with a  3.43 ERA.  They average just over 6 innings per start, and their bullpen has been beautifully anchored by closer Joel Hanhrahan (1.24 ERA, 28 saves).  This is all without solid starter Ross Ohlendorf and phenomenal bullpen arm Evan Meek.  If they keep this up, we may even see some Cy Young considerations from some of these guys.

Quality youth:  The team averages out at about 26 years old, which is a pretty young team.  26 is roughly when athletes start to reach their physical prime, so their is much to look forward to here.  Their oldest player is Lyle Overbay at 34 years young.

The reason i threw the word “quality” in there is because of the lack of ego on this team.  You don’t hear about players getting into trouble outside of the ballpark, and you don’t have anyone demanding multi-million dollar deals in exchange for their play.  The Pirates highest paid player is Paul Malholm ($6 million a year).  Yes, the Pirates don’t have a bottomless payroll, but it’s refreshing to see that everyone seems to enjoy their role on the team, and that they are willing to put everything else aside to win now.

In all likelihood, the Pirates will not have enough offensive firepower to stick around for the home stretch of this playoff fight.  That is a good thing, though.  They have already invigorated their fan base, and have received national attention for their play.  They may not be all the way back to contender yet, but it must be nice to not be baseball’s punchline anymore.

The Detroit Lions are very close to becoming one of the NFL's dominant teams. Get ready.

 

I’ve always been afraid of this.  Just like the Pittsburgh Pirates, I can’t remember a time in my life when I actually feared the Detroit Lions.  This was the team that thought Joey Harrington was a good idea.  This was the 0-16 team.  There was no way that the Lions could ever be feared.

Damn it.  Wrong again.

Over the last few years, the Lions have steadily built a future powerhouse while we all laughed at their misfortunes.  Even though the hometown Packers are primed to be strong Super Bowl contenders for the next handful of years, the Lions should be right there with them.  Let’s take a look:

OFFENSE

Matthew Stafford (QB)-  The former #1 overall pick has shown glimpses of that talent in his first few seasons, but has yet to remain healthy for a full one.  However, Stafford insists that he is not afraid of getting hurt anymore, and that has to be a good sign.  Having him on the field creates a terrifying dynamic to that offense.  With Shaun Hill/Drew Stanton in the game, teams were allowed to force Detroit to throw the ball.  If Stafford stays healthy, he will punish defenses that choose to play that card.

Running back(s)-  The Lions do have a small clutter at running back with Jahvid Best, Kevin Smith, and Mikel LeShoure.  Some see that being a problem, but this can allow the Lions to be more creative offensively, possibly having Best spread out wide as a game changer in the passing game.  It’s not like these backs are the type of egos that demand carries;  the Lions will figure out a way to maximize each runner’s talents.

Receiver-  Calvin Johnson is a top-5 wide receiver in this league, which only a few teams can say.  They also have solid supporting receivers in Stefan Logan, Nate Burleson, Bryant Johnson, and rookie Titus Young.  This corps, along with tight end Brandon Pettigrew, will give Stafford plenty of weapons a la what Aaron Rodgers has in Green Bay.  With time, everyone will fill into their role and this offense could be on the verge of being explosive.

DEFENSE

Here is where things get scary, at least on the line.  Every  Sunday, the Lions will be able to put out one of the best D-Lines in the league.  They will have Kyle Vanden Bosch, Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, and some mix of Corey Williams/Cliff Avril, and Lawrence Jackson.  Suh could arguably be the best defensive lineman in the league, and Fairley was believed to be the #1 pick in this year’s draft.  The Lions got an absolute steal when he fell to #13.  I don’t even want to think about how good that line will be, let alone talk about it anymore.

The linebackers are decent, and the secondary is improving.  However, with All-Pro Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha testing the free agent market, the Lions would be fools to not sign him.  He would take away one half of the field, and would provide the defensive line even more time to get to the quarterback.  The Lions could also try and pick up a linebacker in the free agent period, and after that, look out.  This defense could be top-5 for years to come.

I’ve always liked when the Green Bay Packers met up with Detroit on Thanksgiving.  It was always the perfect compliment to a great feast having Green Bay drag the Lions up and down the field.  Thinking about what the future holds for this team, though…..I’ve already lost my appetite.

 

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