Detroit Tigers fans are bristling with anticipation. The economy may be down, but the Tigers are up. They led the AL in ERA during spring training, finishing a game out of first in the AL at 20-14.
Last season the Tigers went for a youth movement trading popular veterans Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson for prospects Austin Jackson, Phil Coke, Daniel Schlereth and Max Scherzer. Most Tigers fans were disappointed to lose their favorite players for a group of lesser knowns.
All four had strong seasons and along with Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Brennan Boesch, and Rick Porcello are now the cornerstones of a young and talented team, a contender for the foreseeable future.
Last season, the Tigers started strong and were in first around the all star break, but a flurry of injuries to Magglio Ordonez, Brandon Inge, Joel Zumaya and Carlos Guillen derailed their chance at winning the division. They also endured the dreaded sophomore slump from Rick Porcello and Alex Avila and still managed to finish 81-81. Overall it was a tough luck season for the Tigers and the worrisome thing is that all those injury prone players are back along with injury prone Brad Penny.
Personally, I am buzzing with excitement that I will no longer have to watch Gerald Laird bat four times a game. It was like watching Rob Deer minus the 30 home runs. In comes proven veteran catcher Victor Martinez to take his place. Martinez is usually good for 20 homers 80 RBI and a close to .300 average. Martinez will hit fifth behind Miguel Cabrera and provide much needed protection for the Tigers’ franchise player. He will see some time at DH and behind the plate with another promising Tiger prospect, Alex Avila (.228, 7 HR, 31 RBI in 294 AB’s).
The bullpen got a major upgrade with the acquisition of Joaquin Benoit from the Rays. Benoit was 1-2 with a 1.34 ERA. He joins an impressive group of tough flamethrowers; Daniel Schlereth, Joel Zumaya, Jose Valverde, and Ryan Perry. All five have the ability to be big league closers. Valverde will start the season as the club’s ninth inning man. When he controls his pitches, Valverde is as good as any closer in the game and appears unhitable at times. Let’s hope his swoon at the end of last season was an aberration. If the Tigers can get to the seventh inning with a lead, they should be a very dangerous team.
As usual, the starting pitching will make or break this squad. Gone are Jeremy Bonderman and Armando Gallaraga; in are Phil Coke and Brad Penny. Rick Porcello will be counted on to rebound from his sophomore slump where he went 10-12 with a 4.92 ERA on the heels of a rookie season when he won 14 games. If he and fellow hard-throwing right-hander Max Scherzer can take the next step and reach their potential and team with perennial Cy Young candidate Justin Verlander (18-9, 3.37 ERA), the Tigers could be very very good. Scherzer started off rocky, eventually getting sent down to the Mud Hens. After a Memorial Day call up, he finished out the year 11-7 with a 2.46 ERA, regularly dominating hitters. Coke had a great year in relief and now the Tigers are converting him back to his original role as a starter. He was 7-5 with a 3.76 ERA and has looked strong as a starter this spring. Penny at one point in his career was a dominant front line starter, but injuries have continually sidelined him in recent years and he remains the staff’s biggest question mark. The good news is all five of the Tigers starters have a great deal of up side and the potential to win 15 games each. The bad news is, other than Verlander, you just don’t know exactly what you’re going to get.
The offense looks to be significantly improved. The expected starting line up is: Austin Jackson (.293, 27 SB), Will Rhymes (.304, 1 HR, 17 RBI, in 191 AB’s), Magglio Ordonez (.303, 12 HR, 59 RBI), Miguel Cabrera (.328 38 HR, 126 RBI), Victor Martinez (.302 20 HR, 79 RBI), Ryan Raburn (.280, 15 HR, 62 RBI), Jhonny Peralta (.253, 8 Hr, 38 RBI in 217 AB’s), Brandon Inge (.247 13 HR, 70 RBI) and Alex Avila (.228, 7 HR, 31 RBI in 294 AB’s). The line up is filled with proven big league hitters who have had a lot of success driving in runs. The only question marks are how the Tigers top prospects will progress. Avila, Boesch, Wells, and Rhymes could give a huge lift to a veteran lineup if they can deliver on their potential. Rhymes will start the season with the opportunity to win the second base job. Depending how he fairs, Carlos Guillen is rehabbing on the disabled list and will likely take over the job eventually.
On the bench they have solid utility players Ramon Santiago (.263, 22 RBI) and Don Kelly (.244 9 HR). Two of the Tigers top power hitting prospects Casper Wells (.323 4 HR 17 RBI) and Brennan Boesch (.256 14 HR 67 RBI) will also see time in the outfield and at DH. With Brad Thomas, Brayan Villarreal and Enrique Gonzalez expected to handle the long relief.
Overall, I’m worried about injuries. But I really like the Tigers talent level. This is the most talented team they’ve had in recent memory. I like the Tigers to battle with the Twins, overcoming them for the AL Central Title, 91-71. Eventually, they will lose in the AL Championship.