By: Jamie Samuelsen
And it’s over.
The career of perhaps the most divisive athlete in the history of Detroit sports came to an end when the Tigers gave Brandon Inge his unconditional release after the game on Thursday. I doubt that anyone will ever invoke the same love/hate passion in Detroit fans. I know that nobody will ever do it while putting up Inge-type numbers. He was a good guy. He was a good fielder. But he was a terrible hitter. It’s amazing that his shelf life lasted as long as it did.
But now that he’s gone, who grabs the torch?
Who will be the next Brandon Inge? Who will be the most divisive player in Detroit sports?
Here are some candidates –
1) Ryan Raburn – Many Tiger players seemed saddened by the news of Inge’s departure. Raburn had to be crushed. Because now, people will be coming after him. As bad as Inge was in his 20 at-bats this season, Raburn is only slightly better. The difference is that Raburn was being counted upon to be so much better this year, especially after his hot spring. The difference here is that I don’t think too many people are going to be sticking up for Raburn the way they stuck up for Inge. The whole cold start/hot finish routine is getting really old.
2) Jimmy Howard – You know the drill by now. Regular season success means nothing in Hockeytown. The greatest Red Wing goaltenders have rings on their fingers and after this season, Howard has now lost more playoff series than he’s won. I still like him and don’t think he’s the ‘problem’ with the Wings right now. But fan expectations for the goaltender are much, much higher and Howard will take some heat if he struggles next year or if the Wings don’t advance deep into the playoffs.
3) Max Scherzer – I got into a heated debate with a fan last year on Twitter who suggested that Justin Verlander and Scherzer were the best 1-2 starting combination in the American League. This was in April. Then as the first half progressed, Verlander and Scherzer was as good a 1-2 as anyone out there. This fan let me hear about it. In the second half, the story changed. And that’s the problem with Scherzer – the story always changes. Tiger fans have seen plenty of bad pitching, so they’re a little numb to it. But what gets the blood boiling is when a guy clearly has good stuff but can’t seem to master it. That’s what we’re seeing with Scherzer.
4) Rick Porcello – Just re-read what I wrote about Scherzer and apply it to Porcello. We’ve all been waiting for the Porcello who was drafted in the first round and showed so much promise in 2009. All we’ve gotten since is inconsistency. I long for a spring training in the future where Porcello isn’t listed as the Tigers x-factor. In fact, maybe that should be his new nickname. X-factor Porcello.
5) Austin Jackson – Too soon? After a terrific rookie season, Jackson hasn’t been the leadoff man that the Tigers need him to be. He strikes out too much and he doesn’t steal once he gets on base. The good news is that he got off to a good start this year and plays brilliantly in centerfield. Hmmm – good fielder. Strikes out too much. Sound familiar?
6) Jeff Backus/Dominic Raiola – the end is nearing for these two Lions and the fact that team had a playoff year last fall has taken some of the heat off them. But with Riley Reiff now in the mix and Backus coming off an injury – expect some heavy critiques of Backus as the 2012 season rolls around.
7) Jonathan Ericsson – Mike Babcock loves Ericsson and calls him the key to the Red Wings resurgent penalty kill in the latter part of the regular season. Fans see an oversized defenseman who makes too many mistakes. With Brad Stuart leaving and Nicklas Lidstrom contemplating retirement, Ericsson will get plenty of key minutes next season. So he’ll have more chances for greatness, and more chances for mistakes.
8) Jose Valverde – It seems like fans have already dismissed the 49-for-49 in save opportunities last year and the outstanding playoff run. He’s an adventure almost every single time he’s out there. But that’s the closer. When he succeeds, he gets no credit. When he fails, he gets most of the blame. It could be a long, hot summer for Valverde.