The last two seasons have ended in a disappointing fashion for the Detroit Tigers. With the baseball season right around the corner, here are 14 things that I expect out of the Tigers in 2014. Some are more outrageous than the others, but all of these things will have an impact on the Tigers’ success this season.
14. Justin Verlander will get back on track
If it weren’t for the 2008 season, 2013 would have been Verlander’s worst season in his career. His 3.46 ERA, 1.315 WHIP (Walks + Hits per Inning Pitched), and 2.89 strikeouts per walk were all his worst since the ’08 season. Verlander also failed to pitch a complete game in 2013, the only full season in his career that he had not thrown at least one. JV will be a dominant pitcher once again in 2014, similar to his play in last year’s playoffs. In three postseason starts, Verlander pitched 23 innings, allowed one earned run, gave up three walks, and recorded 31 strikeouts. Detroit can expect Verlander to win at least 15 games and have a winning percent no lower than .650.
13. Brad Ausmus will receive his first ejection as a manager before the end of May
Jim Leyland was never one to pass on the opportunity to argue with an umpire. Leyland was ejected from four games in 2013, but his first didn’t happen until July 11. There are a lot of things that Ausmus does differently from Leyland but this will not be one of them. There’s a level of respect that managers get from their players for standing up for them. Ausmus does not necessarily have to win over the clubhouse but as a former professional himself, he understands what the players look for out of their managers.
12. Win at least 90 games
The Tigers have averaged 92 wins over the last three seasons and 2014 will mark the third time Detroit has had at least 90 wins since the 2011 season. In terms of their starting rotation and their offensive lineup, the Tigers are still considered one of the league’s most talented teams. Playing under a new manager with a different mentality is just what this team needs to become World Series Champions, just look at what John Farrell did with the Boston Red Sox.
Cabrera is the best hitter in professional baseball, hands down. It would come as a surprise if he didn’t win his third consecutive AL MVP Award in 2014. Spending the majority of his time in the field back at first base will help him steer clear of any injuries, unlike last season. Surely he won’t have the same level of protection behind him as he did when Prince Fielder was in Detroit, but I’m not sure teams will consistently pitch around Miggy to get to the switch-hitting Victor Martinez.
10. 3 million fans will walk through Comerica Park’s turnstiles
Fans in Detroit are eager for a World Series Championship and more than six million fans have sat in the seats of Comerica Park over the last two seasons. The team has a new look, a new manager, and a new mentality, which are all reasons why more than three million fans will walk through Comerica Park’s turnstiles again in 2014.
9. Dave Dombrowski will make a trade nearing the trade deadline
Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski knows that owner Mike Ilitch is committed to doing whatever it takes in order to bring a championship to Detroit. Following a mid-season trade to acquire shortstop Jose Iglesias, he continued to be active during this past offseason by dealing Prince Fielder and Doug Fister. If the Tigers find themselves in need of a player and are able to identify exactly what that missing piece is, Dombrowski will not shy away from making a deal. He’s the best in the business.
8. Win the AL Central
With teams like the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians on the rise, the American League Central will be one of the toughest divisions in 2014. The Indians clinched a postseason berth as a wild card team last season and they had 92 wins. I like the Tigers’ chances to win the AL Central for the fourth season in a row, their last six series of the season are all against division opponents.
7. Max Scherzer will sign a long-term deal
The Tigers’ front office knows that this guy is a special pitcher. Coming off a Cy Young-winning season, Scherzer is eligible for free agency after this season. If he becomes a free agent, his asking price will skyrocket. Detroit needs to lock him up before this season comes to an end and I am confident that Dombrowski will get a deal done.
6. Jose Iglesias will win his first Gold Glove
Iglesias is the most sure-handed shortstop that the Tigers have seen in a long time. In just 46 games as a Tiger, I can think of at least five instances that Iglesias has left me in disbelief after making an unbelievable defensive play. He is the complete package as a shortstop, he has the quickness that puts himself in a position to make a play on nearly every ball as well as the arm strength it takes to make an out on every ball he gets to.
5. An increase in stolen bases
Ausmus has encouraged is players to be aggressive on the base paths throughout spring training, allowing them to steal bases at their own discretion. Stealing bases is just as important as not making outs on the bases and the new Tigers’ manager wants his players to discover what their abilities can allow them to do. Detroit has been horrendous at swiping bases under Leyland, stealing just 35 bases in 2013 (league-worst) and 59 in 2012 (second-worst). In the last two seasons combined, the Tigers have stolen 104 less bases than the MLB average. (Det-94 MLB avg.-198)
4. Andy Dirks will hit 20 home runs
Many would describe this statement as “going out on a limb” but I would characterize it as a “gut-feeling”. In his three seasons at the major-league level, Dirks has totaled just 24 home runs but he is at the point in his career where players really begin to develop. He has the strength and bat speed to hit the long-ball, he just needs to find himself in the right situations to be aggressive. Curtis Granderson hit more than 20 homers in his final three seasons with the Tigers, so what’s holding back Dirks from doing so?
3. Brad Ausmus will win AL Manager of the Year Award
The 2013 AL Manager of the Year Award could have gone to either John Farrell of the Red Sox or Terry Francona of the Indians, each won more than 90 games in their first season serving as the manager of their current teams. Ultimately, Francona was presented with the award and Ausmus could follow in his footsteps.
2. Victor Martinez will spend more time in the field
Thankfully the Tigers won’t have to play in a National League ballpark nearing the end of this season, unlike last year. However, Martinez’s new manager has already said he will consider playing Martinez at catcher during Interleague Play. Whether the Tigers find themselves behind in the standings or Alex Avila is injured, playing Martinez at catcher in NL ballparks is definitely an option that might become a reality. Even if the Tigers don’t find themselves in a position where he is needed behind the plate, Martinez could spend a lot of time at first base if Cabrera is needed at third base.
1. The Tigers will win the World Series
That’s right. The Detroit Tigers will be the 2014 World Series Champions, exactly 30 years after the Tigers’ last championship season. Don’t write off their ability to win based on the fact that they are not as good on paper, teams don’t become champions based on that alone. If that were the case, the Tigers would be heading into this season looking for their third consecutive championship. The Tigers have been underachievers the past two seasons and with everybody in Detroit ready to count them out before one pitch has been thrown, I’m counting on them to win it all.