This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.
Today we look at the Tigers, once the kings of the AL Central, who many now believe have lost their edge. One too many early postseason exits has left them with something to prove.
Projected Lineup: 2B Ian Kinsler, CF Anthony Gose*, 1B Miguel Cabrera, DH Victor Martinez, LF Yoenis Cespedes*, RF J.D. Martinez, C Alex Avila, 3B Nick Castellanos, SS Jose Iglesias
Projected Rotation: LHP David Price, RHP Justin Verlander, RHP Anibal Sanchez, RHP Alfredo Simon*, RHP Shane Greene*
* new additions
Not many people are talking about the Tigers this season, despite them being a staple in the playoffs every year.
Could you even imagine the playoffs without the Tigers? They’re that perfect team you don’t like, but don’t hate, and at least they’re not the Yankees so you tolerate them. Plus, you know the national broadcast will show a few cutaways of Kate Upton in the first row, so there’s always that to look forward to.
This year’s team is out to prove they can make it back without last year’s ace Max Scherzer, who was a big loss. The guy onto whom most of that responsibility falls is Justin Verlander.
Justin Verlander was the Tigers’ ace for so many of those recent October runs. After a couple forgettable years, he now has to step up and be that guy again. He’s still just 32 years old, and there should be no reason for his performance to be declining the way it is. So instead of asking ‘will he rebound?’, maybe we should be asking, ‘why shouldn’t he rebound?’
It’s very likely that Verlander’s various injuries were holding him back the past couple years. He had core surgery in 2014, and he pitched through a shoulder injury in the middle of last season. And on top of all that, pictures of his naked ass ended up on the internet. Do you think you’d be able to focus on pitching if your ass was all over the internet?
Verlander will have help from David Price, who will pitch at least some of the year for Detroit. He’s in a contract year, so if the Tigers are out of contention by midseason, they might deal him. But they’ll enjoy last year’s MLB leader in strikeouts and innings while they have him.
The whole pitching staff will benefit from Jose Iglesias returning as the starting shortstop. He is a defensive whiz, and could enter the running for a Gold Glove if he stays healthy all season. And Tigers fans better hope he stays healthy—they need this guy.
Speaking of guys they need to be healthy, Victor Martinez is currently rehabbing from a torn meniscus, on which he underwent surgery in February. He is allegedly on track to be ready for Opening Day, but one has to wonder whether he’ll come back as the same player. After his last knee injury, a torn ACL in 2012, he came back in a massive slump, hitting around .230 for several months before finally finding his groove and looking like himself again. Precedents are depressing things sometimes, but you have to pay attention to them.
Of course, one can’t write an article about the Tigers without a mention of their infamous bullpen. Just a quick Google search for “Tigers bullpen” brings up pictures of dumpster fires, actual feces, and The Dream Team (not the one you’re thinking of).
The funny thing is, the bullpen isn’t that bad. Sure, they’ll be walking on pins and needles every time the now 40-year-old Joe Nathan enters a game with the lead. But they’ve got a few good things too.
They’ve got Al Alburquerque, on whom they’ll be relying for a larger role, possibly that of a set-up man. He was very strong in the second half last year, posting a 1.93 ERA with just a .185 batting average against.
They added Tom Gorzelanny, who posted a minuscule 0.86 ERA in limited action with the Brewers last year. Don’t count on him to be quite that good, but he’ll be a dependable lefty arm who can go multiple innings if needed.
And then there’s the looming return of Bruce Rondon. He’s known for throwing baseballs really really hard. So hard, in fact, that his arm doesn’t always cooperate, as he can attest with his recent Tommy John surgery. The question is whether he’ll be able to stay healthy. Tigers fans know all too well the pain of having a pitcher who throws too hard, and hope Rondon won’t turn into another Joel Zumaya. Keep him away from the Guitar Hero!
The Tigers look good going into the season, and knowing the franchise’s perennial playoff expectations, I expect them to do what it takes to get there.
Fear not, internet. We haven’t seen the last of Kate Upton.
Projected Finish: 87-75, Second place in AL Central, Wildcard berth