The 2014 Major League Baseball season is nearly upon us. If you’re not excited for that, then you’re in the wrong place. The Detroit Tigers, fresh off an early departure in the 2013 American League Championship series have World Series aspirations once again. It will be a much different Detroit squad — by way of trades, free agent signees, and (sigh) injuries — but that’s not to say this team can’t achieve great things in 2014.
Here are 5 reasons why you shouldn’t worry about the Detroit Tigers this year:
1. That rotation
Yes, the Tigers traded away Doug Fister for three fairly unknown and unproven young players. That doesn’t change the fact that they still might have the best starting rotation in all of baseball. The trio of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez could be aces of almost every other team in the league. Scherzer won the 2013 Cy Young, Verlander won the 2011 award as well as the MVP and Sanchez claimed the ERA crown last year. Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly round out the rotation, which will be one of the major strengths of this team.
Verlander had a “sub-par” season by Verlander standards. JV finished 13-12 last year, with a 3.46 ERA and 217 strikeouts. For the seventh straight year, he threw more than 200 innings. In September and then into the postseason, Verlander was back to his old self and appears to be so far this spring. He allowed just one earned run throughout his spring starts. He will start Opening Day on Monday once again.
Scherzer is coming off of his best season and it’s the final year of his contract. He recently turned down an extension for 6 years, $144 million that the Tigers offered him. That whole drama-filled incident shouldn’t impact his performance on the field. Expecting Max to replicate last season is a bit unrealistic, but he should be a solid “No. 2″ guy for the Tigers.
Sanchez is often overlooked thanks to the first two guys I mentioned. He had a stellar year in 2013, posting an AL best 2.57 ERA. Don’t be surprised if you see all three of these guys among the Top 5 in Cy Young voting at the end of the year.
Porcello is/was poised for a breakout year. A team built more around speed and defense plays into the style of the groundball pitcher. Since the injury to Jose Iglesias, that defense has taken a hit and Rick has struggled thus far in Spring Training. It will be interesting to see how well he does in his first year in the No. 4 slot in the rotation.
Smyly moves from the bullpen to the rotation this year and will be asked to fill in for Doug Fister. He was good two years ago in a limited role as a starter and was great in the pen last year. The transition will have some bumps in the road, but there’s nothing to suggest he can’t be a solid guy at the back end of the rotation.
2. Speed and defense
Speaking of the new-look Detroit team, newcomers Ian Kinsler and Rajai Davis will bring an element of speed that the Tigers have lacked for years. Detroit swiped just 35 bases a year ago, which was the worst the AL. Davis stole 45 by himself last year and Kinsler stole 15. Those two, as well as guys like Austin Jackson and Andy Dirks (when he returns from injury) will provide a boost in aggressiveness on the bases.
New manager Brad Ausmus has already used this aggressiveness in Spring Training. Not only are the speedsters looking to take that extra base, but he has challenged his entire team to do so. Gone are the days where the Tigers rely on the three-run home run to win games. You will see a team that can actually manufacture runs this year.
Defensively, Jhonny Peralta and Prince Fielder exit the infield. Just in doing that, the team is way better defensively. Miguel Cabrera slides over to first, and rookie Nick Castellanos will play third while Kinsler will man second.
With the injury to Iglesias, the shortstop situation has become quite the conundrum. The Tigers have traded for switch-hitting Andrew Romine and veteran Alex Gonzalez. The duo is expected to platoon at the position. I’m not that worried about these two guys. The damage was done when Iglesias went down. Regardless of which route they went (trades or in-house options), the loss of Iglesias was basically insurmountable. When it’s all said and done, though, the defense will be vastly improved from a year ago.
3. The lineup
Peralta and Fielder are gone. That’s a big hit in terms of offensive production, but this team still has one of the best lineups in baseball. Here are the two main lineups I’ve seen been projected so far:
VS Lefties VS Rightes
1. Rajai Davis 1. Ian Kinsler
2. Ian Kinsler 2. Torii Hunter
3. Miguel Cabrera 3. Miguel Cabrera
4. Victor Martinez 4. Victor Martinez
5. Torii Hunter 5. Austin Jackson
6. Alex Avila 6. Alex Avila
7. Austin Jackson 7. Nick Castellanos
8. Nick Castellanos 8. Rajai Davis
9. Alex Gonzalez 9. Andrew Romine
The 2014 Tigers will not score more runs that the 2013 Tigers, but they won’t need to. With the pitching and defense, this team will win more 1-run games this year, which was something they struggled mightily with in 2013.
If you really have a problem with the way that lineup looks, then I’m not sure what to say. I think that Jackson and Avila will be the keys to the offense’s success. Jackson dropping down in the order seemed to do the trick in the playoffs, so the hope is for that to translate into a regular season. For what it’s worth, he’s hitting .415 (22/53) in Spring Training, with five doubles, two triples and two home runs. Avila is hitting .316 so far. If he can hit anywhere around .260 with 18 home runs and 65 RBI, then that’s a big boost for the Tigers.
Rookie Nick Castellanos finally gets his chance to start at his natural third base position. He could be a guy that struggles or thrives deep in the order for Detroit.
This will be an extremely exciting offense this year. I hope you’re ready.
4. The Division
The Central is still the weakest division in the American League. The Kansas City Royals should be the next best team and it wouldn’t surprise me if they got one of the Wild Card spots. I just don’t see the White Sox, Indians and Twins being able to stack up with Detroit over the course of the year. This is old news though. The Central hasn’t been that good top to bottom ever, really.
The Tigers should and will win its fourth AL Central Division title in a row.
No words needed.
Rest easy, Tigers’ fans. 2014 will be another fun year. Monday can’t come soon enough.