It’s Spring time in Michigan and we’re only a few days from Opening Day down at Comerica Park. As southeast Michigan and the rest of the state eagerly get ready for this special day a few of our go-too-sports-gents talk Tigers, Cabrera, World Series and more.
With such high expectations, how can the Tigers avoid a high-priced collapse similar to 2008?
Jason Scott: The Tigers need their pitching staff to produce. I mean DJ Premier/Dr. Dre produced Justin Verlander is one of the five best pitchers in the Majors. He cannot come out and have another brutal April. He has 20-win stuff, but he can’t get caught up in trying to throw the ball through every batter he faces. Max Scherzer is a strong No. 2 who pitched like an ace last season after he was shipped to Toledo in May. Rick Porcello is the wildcard in all of this. If we see the Porcello that we saw two years ago, this team will be a force. If not, they could just narrowly miss (again) on the AL Central title. Brad Penny and Phil Coke are upgrades over the departed Jeremy Bonderman and Armando Galarraga, but who know what you can get. Penny, much like Edgar Renteria, flamed out in his one season in the AL (ironically with the Red Sox like Renteria), while Phil Coke goes from set-up man to starter. The bullpen (barring injuries) could be a problem. Jose Valverde was a beast in the first half last year prior getting hurt after the All-Star Break. The newly-signed Joaquin Benoit is one of the highest paid set-up man in the game and he needs to give the Tigers what he gave Tampa last year. The middle relief (Daniel Schlereth, Ryan Perry, Enrique Gonzalez, Bryan Villarreal, Brad Thomas) is mostly young and could be shaky to start the season. But if starters can pitch seven strong innings, it could be lights out.
Offensively, this team (on paper) should cash out. The top of the order is solid with Austin Jackson, who could swipe 30+ bases and be a spark plug. The middle of that lineup will be a monster. Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera, and Victor Martinez give the Tigers a much more formidable middle than what they were projected to have 3 years ago. The bottom of the order will still be a question mark, but at least it won’t be a black hole. This time last year, the 7-8-9 slots were Gerald Laird, Adam Everett, and Brandon Inge. YIKES! By mid-season Inge was injured, Everett was gone, and Laird’s batting average (.168) was lower than my current weight (175). Alex Avila isn’t exactly much of an upgrade (it took until mid-August for his average to finally crack 2 bills) but he has room to grow and showed signs of being a potential power threat in late 2009.
My biggest worry about this team is defense. I don’t know which has the potential to be worse: the infield or the outfield. At least on the corners you have Inge and Cabrera. Up the middle is the issue. Avila’s arm is better than Martinez behind the plate. The problem is, so is mine, and I haven’t caught since Jr. High. Then there’s that little issue of 2nd and Short. Will Rhymes played solid defense last season and earned the spot in Spring Training over Scott Sizemore (you know, the guy they got rid of Placido Polanco for). Problem there is that he’s keeping the spot warm for, wait for it…Carlos Guillen. The same Carlos Guillen who runs like Herbert from Family Guy. The hell with Will Rhymes, I’d rather have Busta Rhymes at 2nd than Carlos Guillen. At Shortstop, you have Jhonny Peralta (yes, that name is spelled correctly). The Indians shipped him here because his bat was getting weaker and his once great range has sadly diminished. If his bat is productive, he can get away with being a waste in the infield. If not…trade him. The Outfield: Ryan Raburn has way too many brain farts on fly balls in left field. Austin Jackson…no worries. The Tigers didn’t lose a thing defensively when they traded Curtis for him. We all know that Magglio is not exactly Ichiro in right field. But since you have Victor Martinez to largely DH, you have to put him somewhere and pray. Brennan Boesch looked like a Hall of Famer in the first half last year, and looked like a Ham & Egger in the second. Something in the middle could make him an option if (when) Raburn flops or Maggs gets hurt.
Patrick Smith: The similarities to that ’08 squad scare me. The Tigers have the ’11 version of Sheff in V-Mart, they’ve got the Renteria equivalent in J-Honnie, Penny is (a worse) Kenny and so on. Not to mention on paper, the team is worse at catcher, second base, third base and left field then they were in ’08. Not defensively, just where it really matters, at the plate. That being said, the superficial similarities don’t really mean anything, besides that they make me nervous. Verlander looks good coming in, and count me as a believer that he will be a legitimate Cy Young candidate this year. Even when their pitching was at its best in 2006, this generation of Tigers haven’t had a real ace in the staff. If Justin can go from de jure #1 to de facto, Detroit will have the stopper to prevent any long slides.
Mike Fossano: Much like the 2008 squad, this year’s Tigers team is no doubt loaded with talented players across the diamond. Both teams included an interesting, if dysfunctional mix of wily veterans with wistful youth—along with a few prized acquisitions. Some names remain the same (Magglio Ordonez, Brandon Inge), while others fill a vacant role (Brad Penny as the Kenny Rogersian over-the-hill-pitcher-with-something-left-to-prove; Victor Martinez reprising Miguel Cabrera’s role as a new-faced masher in 2008). Likewise, pitching still remains a question as Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer are being counted on as legitimate hurlers merely one year after each endured a brief Triple-A stadium tour. Ultimately the fate of this team rests in the hand of the skipper Jim Leyland, who thus far has seemed shockingly flippant about his post-2011 fate with the team.
What will the Tigers need to change from last year to claim a division title and make the post season?
JS: The biggest change they need to make from last year comes in the form of finishing the deal. This team finished 81-81. You tend to forget that they were a 1/2 game out of First at the All-Star Break, and within 2 late in July before the bottom fell out…again. The last time the Tigers had a winning record in the 2nd half of the season was in 2004. Yep. 2004. Remember, when they got to the World Series in 2006, it was after they blew an 11-game lead in the AL Central (including a brutal last weekend of the season sweep at the hands of a 100-loss Kansas City team). Winning in April-July is nice, but you make your money in August and September. They have to prove they can close. Aside from that, they better hope they don’t get bitten by injuries.
PS: They need to pitch better. The addition of Victor Martinez and the expected growth of Austin Jackson should boost last year’s offense, which posted second-in-the-division runs scored per game and hitter VORP. While the bottom of the Tabbies’ line-up is pretty ugly, with the 6 through 9 hitters having all posted a below-league-average OBP last year (including .314 for Jhonny, eeek), the top is strong enough to make them the best offensive team in a mediocre central. The real issue is whether their starting pitching can improve upon its third-in-the-division VORP and runs against in 2010. Considering that all of their rotation, outside of Verlander, is something of a question mark, that will be a difficult task. Personally, I believe Scherzer and Porcello are going to be better than expected, and I’m optimistic about Coke, but I also thought the Pistons would finish near .500 so… If those three youngsters exceed expectations the Tigers will win the Central, if they pitch below expectations they will lose. If they pitch exactly at expectations, then the Twins, Tigers and Sox will all tie.
MF: It sounds simple, but this team will be successful only if they can win close, low scoring games. In other words, it’s going to come down to pitching and defense—arguably this team’s two greatest deficiencies. Inge will return to his usual 20+ errors, Jhonny Peralta will challenge Ordonez for the team’s Statue of the Year award, the Carlos Guillen/Will “Busta” Rhymes/Danny Worth troika is devoid of any defensive prowess and Cabrera, while improving, is still a below average fielder. With Ryan Raburn manning left field opposite Ordonez, Austin Jackson will have to bring his P.F. Flyers to the park everyday—which he proved capable of last year.
Will Cabrera prove to be more of a distraction than a leader? How can the team help him overcome the media attention?
JS: The only way Miguel Cabrera can be less of a distraction is if he does what he does: Bat .320, hit 35-40 HRs, drive in 140 runs, and be a monster. That’s the best way to get people to forget. Cabrera’s personality does not scream leader, his play does the talking. The team needs to win. Winning cures all ills. (BTW: He also may wanna mix in a salad or two.)
PS: Given the choice between the two, I guess distraction, but I don’t think it will be either. Miggy is just going to be an amazing hitter, an average first baseman and an alcoholic. Unless he misses time I don’t think his off-the-field problems are going to distract anyone, he also isn’t going to be leading anyone. Unless by leader you mean leading the team in every relevant hitting category, then: leader, definitely.
MF: So long as he continues to mash at his usual rate, his debauchery will be put on the backburner in Detroit. Road games will be a different animal however, as it would be foolish to bet on anything but raucous greetings in places like Chicago and Boston. This will be a distraction with out-of-town media members likely to needle him with uncomfortable questions, and the infatuation will only fester more as the season wears on if he chooses to not address his issues.
Who will be the team’s MVP this season?
JS: Miguel Cabrera may not just be the team MVP, he stands a great chance of being AL MVP. Other possible team MVP: Verlander. A potential 20-win season and an ERA of 3.35 or better, and he could have his first Cy Young.
PS: Miguel Cabrera. He may be the AL MVP. Ordonez says Cabrera is a man on a mission. Magglio is never wrong. Yes, I realize I predicted the Tigers would have a Cy Young and an MVP candidate, that is why…
MF: While Cabrera is an obvious choice, I’m going to go with Martinez who I think will produce well for them while also being pressed into heavier catching duties due to a lack of production from Alex Avila.
Where do you see them finishing in the standings?
JS: This division is a three-horse race, as always. The White Sox bolstered their bullpen, re-signed Paul Konerko and snagged left-handed power-hitter (and strikeout machine) Adam Dunn. Playing in Comiskey, he could hit 50 HRs, but also strike out 165 times. The Twins are still the damn Twins. They win with pitching and defense. They lost three important parts of that bullpen, but they get closer Joe Nathan back. Justin Morneau’s concussion issues are going to be key to their start. Cleveland and KC…as bad as they are, and they are Charles Barkley “turrible”, they give the Tigers and White Sox hell late in the season every year. KC single-handedly cost the Tigers 2 division titles in the last 5 years. As loaded as the Tigers and White Sox are, until one of them KOs those cockroaches in Minnesota (and the Tigers prove they can win after July 31), I have to go with them (unfortunately) to win this division. Tigers win 88 games, but will fall just short.
PS: I think they will win the Central and finish 4th in the AL. PECOTA has the Twins finishing one game ahead of the all-tied Tigers and White Sox, which is basically a wash. I’d say strong performances from Scherzzer and Porcello, the fact that Peavy won’t pitch more than 5 games and Buehrle is hopelessly overrated, and Mauer sitting out one of every three, not to mention blatant homerism on my part, tilts the scales in Detroit’s favor.
MF: I see them finishing second behind the Chicago White Sox in the American League Central Division, missing out on what could be their last crack at it for quite a while. Detroit fans needn’t worry, however, as the Tigs will find a way to put it all together this season and win the Wild Card in what could be a rare down year overall for the AL.
How do you see the AL/NL playoffs breaking down?
AL: Yankees def. Twins, Red Sox def. Angels.
Red Sox def. Yankees
NL: Phillies def. Padres, Giants def. Brewers.
Phillies def. Giants
World Series: Phillies def. Boston
AL: Red Sox def. Tigers, Yankees def. Athletics
Red Sox def. Yankees
NL: Phillies def. Cardinals, Giants def. Braves
Giants def. Phillies
World Series: Red Sox def. Giants
(Which is going to be obnoxious.)
AL: Detroit def. Boston, Chicago def. Oakland
Chicago def. Detroit
NL: Cincinnati def. Philadelphia; San Francisco def. Milwaukee
San Francisco def. Cincinnati
World Series: San Francisco def. Chicago