The Press Newspaper
Because of 93 wins, the American League Championship Series, and an AL Central Division championship, 2013 was a huge success for the Tigers.
Yet a team with the returning MVP, Cy Young Award winner and championship expectations finds itself at a crossroads. It starts with the retirement of longtime manager Jim Leyland, a Perrysburg native and former Pemberville American Legion Post No. 183 baseball player, where he teamed with current Pemberville Legion coach Don “Chopper” Schmeltz.
In addition, the Tigers made sweeping changes to its roster. After numerous trades, signings and injuries the Tigers have more questions than answers heading into the season.
After a couple tough postseason losses, despite great pitching, the Tigers made an obvious commitment to speed and defense over the power offenses of the past. Also faced with several escalating salaries, the Tigers were forced to let go Prince Fielder, Jhonny Peralta, Doug Fister, Jose Veras, Joaquin Benoit and Omar Infante.
Most of the names they brought in are not as well known. Welcome Rajai Davis, Ian Kinsler, Alex Gonzalez, Nick Castellanos, Ian Krol, Joba Chamberlain and Joe Nathan. A couple of the moves, Peralta, Fister and Fielder, were to save money and opened up spots for top prospects that General Manager Dave Dombrowski feels are ready.
The Fister trade opens up room for Drew Smyly in the rotation. The Fielder trade allows Miguel Cabrera to move back to first, his stronger position, and allows top prospect third basemen Nick Castellanos to have an opportunity. Joe Nathan was brought in to secure the ninth, which was a big weakness in the postseason.
The addition of speedsters Rajai Davis and Ian Kinsler are expected to help the Tigers manufacture runs. Despite being second in baseball in runs scored last year, the Tigers were one of the worst at getting shutout. They were barely able to score at all in the playoffs, wasting one brilliant pitching effort after another. The Tigers were last in baseball in stolen bases with only 35 as a team. Davis alone stole 45 bases last year, Kinsler 15.
Former Tiger catcher Brad Ausmus was hired as the new skipper. It's his first managerial job. It’s another bold move by Dombrowski.
The good news is Dombrowski kept the Tigers three best players, MVP Miguel Cabrera and CY Young award winners Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. Paired with Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly, the Tigers should have the best rotation in the AL Central.
The bad news is the harsh cold spring has not been kind. Spring training brought the loss of three starters to injury. Shortstop Jose Iglesias and set up man Bruce Rondon, probably are the two most talented young Tigers, but were lost for the year to injury.
Andy Dirks, expected to platoon in the outfield, was lost for three months to back injury. This has the Tigers scrambling for replacements. Shortstops Andrew Romine and Alex Gonzalez were both acquired by trade to replace Rookie of the Year runner up Iglesias.
Offensively, I think the Tigers will still be productive. The speed will help and hopefully they'll win more of the low scoring pitcher's duals. They still have proven quality major league hitters Torii Hunter, Ian Kinsler, Victor Martinez, Austin Jackson and of course the best hitter in the game, Miguel Cabrera. The biggest concern offensively is protection for Miguel Cabrera so he'll actually see some pitches. Victor Martinez certainly has the resume to protect Cabrera, but an injury or down year could be devastating for the Tigers. He has to be on the top of his game or teams will pitch around “Miggy.”
The loss of Rondon is a big blow for the bullpen. The Tigers acquired one on the best closers in the game in Joe Nathan. His presence is huge, but getting to him could be interesting. The Tigers will be relying on several unproven players to keep the bullpen steady. Joba Chamberlain, Phil Coke, Al Albuequerque, Ian Krol all figure to have prominent roles. Defensively they're lightning fast in the outfield and solid and reliable on the infield.
The injuries concern me. Sometimes a couple injuries, bad luck or a bad locker room can spell doom for even the most talented teams. Just ask the Yankees, Blue Jays and Angels last year.
Certainly the Tigers have the top end talent and the pitching to win the division, but with so many new faces it's hard to predict how the pieces will fit together. The rotation looks solid, but a down year or key injury to a player or two could have a big impact. The Tigers have some options but depth appears to be an issue.
Last season, my predictions were nearly right on the money. I picked the Tigers to win 93 games and make it to the ALCS.
I also warned those pesky Cleveland Indians would be good and they were. Amazingly, the Tigers won exactly 93 games, as my preview predicted. Believe it or not this is the second time I've predicted the exact number of wins.
With all that said, I find this prediction one of the most difficult. If the Indians get starting pitching, they can take the division, but I think the Indians will struggle to be as good as they were last year.
The Kansas City Royals will be stronger and may be finally ready to contend. However, I still like the Tigers chances and in a weaker division because of pitching. I see the winning the division being a much bigger struggle this year.
I think the Royals will battle it out with them all year with the Tigers edging them out at the end with 89 wins. To me, too many things have to go perfect for the Tigers to take the next step. I think they barely make the playoffs but lose in the first round.