Here it is, at long last. I would have had this done sooner, but spring training this year just so happened to coincide with a rather sizeable paper that’s due on Monday, and as much as I don’t want it to, school still comes first. At any rate, last year the theme of my preview was ability and execution, and that’s certainly true for this year as well. This is a hard team to guage. They could win as many as ninety or as few as seventy, but if they play the way they’re capable of playing, they’ll get close to the higher end of that scale. There’s also another word this year that may become a running theme: Redemption. After all, the Tigers were in first place for almost the entire season before treading water in September while the Twins just kept winning and winning (I still haven’t figured that part out). It’s time to take what should have been ours. Likewise, there are several individuals on the team who have redemption goals of their own, either through poor play, injuries, or off-the-field issues last year. Maggs, Cabrera, Guillen, Inge, Bonderman, Willis, and so on. Now, if these guys (or the team) tank in April, this redemption theme ain’t gonna get too far. But hopefully it doesn’t come to that.
Rotation: Wouldn’t it be great for Justin Verlander to build on his dominant season last year? He wasn’t all that impressive in spring training. I wouldn’t be concerned about that except for the fact that last year, I ignored the fact that I wasn’t impressed by the offense in spring training last year and that turned out to be significant. JV would be dominant for the most part, but in one inning would go all ADD or something and get hit hard, like in his last start. However, for what it’s worth, Zack Greinke got roughed up by the Padres for six runs in HIS last start, so take that for what you will. Rick Porcello, on the other hand, has had a fine spring, and hopefully that will translate into a sophomore slump-free season. Max Scherzer will likewise need to translate from the NL to the
, which there has been surprisingly little press about. On the flipside, when Valverde signed with the Tigers, everyone seemed concerned about how he would adjust to the AL. I would think Scherzer would have a tougher time of it, simply because he’s used to facing the opposing pitcher. When Valverde comes into pitch and the pitcher’s spot comes up, he faces a pinch-hitter 99.9% of the time. Then there are our two bounce-back guys. Bonderman will actually pitch next Saturday because of that three-game suspension he earned from hitting Delmon Young. Bondo’s not my favorite guy to watch, but he’s got the ability to pitch a good game. And then the Tigers decided to take one more gamble on Dontrelle Willis. Now I don’t think that’s really the right move and I would much rather that they’d have gone with Nate Robertson, but I was amazed at how passionately angry people got when Nate was traded to Florida. It was like the Tigers had traded Justin Verlander for a bag of baseballs while taking on his contract. I’m not sure that much outrage was justified, especially since both guys are free agents at year’s end, but oh well. Nate will probably do better in the National League anyways. And I’d say 99.9% of Tigers fans consider Dontrelle unraveling to be a question of “when” and not “if,” but the Tigers need to keep a short leash on him. At any rate, I don’t think they would have traded Nate away without some sort of contingency plan in case D-Train implodes once more. AL
Bullpen: Not a whole lot to say about them. There’s no real surprises. Hopefully Phil Coke and/or Fu Te Ni can step up and fill the role vacated by Bobby Seay (because, realistically, a torn rotator cuff is a really hard thing to come back from). Likewise, Eddie Bonine fills in for Zach Miner. If there’s a “Juan Rincon” candidate this year (good spring that doesn’t translate), it might be Brad Thomas, but I hope not, because it’d be cool to have an Aussie on the team. It looks as though Perry and Zumaya (there’s another redemption case) will be setting up Valverde in some fashion.
Offense: Lots of redemption stories here, and you all know what they are. Pretty much all of them have had good springs except Guillen (No, Adam Everett is NOT a redemption story, because you’re not supposed to expect a lot of offense out of him in the first place). The offense got off to a good start in spring, but they’ve slowed down as of late, for what it’s worth (although I don’t think it’s fair to expect a lot of offense on Opening Day, with Greinke and all).
Defense: It was really good last year, and they’ve gotta keep it up. I still say Gerald Laird should’ve gotten the Gold Glove last year. I expect his caught stealing numbers will go down a little bit because Bonderman isn’t good at holding runners, and I get the feeling Scherzer isn’t that good either. Inge, Everett, and Cabrera need to continue to contribute solid defense. Scott Sizemore is the one unknown in the infield. He seemed rather error-prone in
last year, but he’s been decent during the spring. Austin Jackson will have a lot of ground to cover in center. Maggs is regarded as a poor defender, but I wonder if that’s just because of his lack of range. He always struck me as someone who would catch the balls that he could get to. I’m not sure what to expect out of Johnny Damon, because I’ve spent the greater part of the last three years being taught that he’s the worst defender in the history of the game. Still, most Tigers fans think he’s better than Guillen, weak arm and all. Toledo
Health: The Tigers won’t have much wiggle-room when it comes to injuries. They’ve already lost Seay and Miner, and hopefully they can absorb that. But if someone like Cabrera or Verlander were to be lost for a prolonged period of time, it would be really hard for them to recover. That’s just a fact.
The Rest of the Central: Just about everyone was predicting the Twins to repeat. Then Joe Nathan got hurt and some (but not all) of them switched their vote to White Sox. The only vote I’ve seen for the Tigers was someone on AOL Fanhouse (and it was just a vote, with no rationale given). That doesn’t really bother me. After all, when was the last time the preseason favorite won this division? At any rate, the Twins have a powerful offense, but unless I missed something, their pitching doesn’t impress me all that much. Unless their guys have career years, their path to the playoffs will be to largely outslug their opponents. Everyone is speculating about how the Twins will do now that they’re outside, but let me remind you that the Twins only have nine home games in April, so weather might not play THAT big of a factor. The White Sox, on the other hand, look to be built on pitching. They’re not expected to do a lot offensively, although that will probably mean nothing when they play the Tigers. And I’ve had a feeling ever since the offseason to not count the Indians out. They’ve got Westbrook back, Carmona had a strong spring, and they’ve gotten a lot of talented prospects in the last couple years. If those prospects get things together sooner than expected, they might surprise.
probably doesn’t have to oomph to make a sustained run, but they have gotten off to quick starts the past couple years. Kansas City
I suppose that’s all for now. I made one offbeat prediction on a Bless You Boys prediction thread game about Felix Hernandez throwing a no-hitter, but I also predicted that Armando Galarraga would be the fifth starter and that Johnny Damon would sign with the White Sox. Which is why I don’t make predictions. What does my gut tell me? I don’t know. I feel like something will disappoint, but not necessarily record and I’m not sure who (if it’s a person). So that takes me back to the beginning themes: Ability, Execution, and Redemption. By the way, I talked to the Baseball Guru tonight, and his weigh-in is that the Tigers’ offense will be fine, Verlander’s a stud, don’t be too worried if Willis walks a lot of guys so long as there’s not several in an inning and he doesn’t give up a ton of runs, the Yankees’ pitching staff is a concern (to him), Greinke is overrated, and Johnny Damon is a crappy defender. We’ll see if he’s right. And with that, Happy Easter to those that celebrate it, and I will see you all on Monday.