If the Indians are to win the AL Central they’re not likely to do it by virtue of winning 100 games. The truth is that they’re going to need some help from the Tigers, who on paper are clearly the Central’s best team. They need Detroit to underachieve this season, which, by the way, is entirely possible.
Prince Fielder: Everyone forgets that the Tigers lost Victor Martinez for 2012 with an ACL injury. Fielder is essentially replacing Martinez’ production, which was very good in 2011. Everyone is also forgetting that Fielder has forced Miguel Cabrera over to third base rather than to DH. This move I still cannot understand.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend I’d rather have Jack Hannahan and Casey Kotchman at third and first over Cabrera and Fielder, but it’s certainly an advantage to have defensively.
On top of that, maybe Fielder struggles early and the Tigers get off to a slow start. Regardless, Tigers fans shouldn’t be worried about Fielder switching zip codes, leagues and ballparks so much as they should the possible ramifications of his becoming one of the highest paid players in baseball history.
There’s no way of handicapping how that may or may not affect him (it probably won’t), but if you’re an Indians fan it’s definitely worth getting hopeful for.
Justin Verlander: Verlander had an amazing season last year, probably one of the top 10 greatest we’ve ever seen. But as great as Verlander is, he did get somewhat lucky last year (.236 BABIP, career .285; xFIP of 3.12; LOB percentage of 80.3 percent, higher than his career average of 73.3 percent).
Sure he'll be an elite pitcher this year, but a lot of stat junkies are expecting a regression that will bring him back to his 2010 numbers (3.37 ERA, 1.16 WHIP), especially with his suspect defense this year.
With that said, there’s a reason Verlander won not just the Cy Young but the AL MVP last year. He was that good and hence that important to the Tigers' success. In other words, you could argue the Tigers weren’t as good as their record showed; Verlander was just pitching on another level.
Jhonny Peralta: I’ll admit it right now that my view on Peralta is completely biased on account of my being a slightly bitter Indians fan that wishes he had played this well in Cleveland from 2008-2010. Anyhow, it’s expected that 2012 Peralta will not perform up to the standards of 2011 Peralta. Or so I keep telling myself.
Jose Valverde: Last season Valverde saved 49 games in 49 save situations. The baseball gods will see to it that this will not happen again this year. Again, I keep telling myself this, but there’s always the chance that maybe, just maybe, Valverde is the next Eric Gagne, so you never know.
Delmon Young: Just like the two above mentioned players, everyone outside of Detroit is predicting regression from Young this season. I guess it all depends on how you feel about sabermetrics.
2008: Doesn’t this Tigers team smell a little like those 2008 Tigers? I’ll refresh your memory. Entering 2008 Detroit was supposed to score 1,000-plus runs, win 105-plus games and stampede their way through the division.
The reasoning for this was mainly because they were coming off an 88-win season in which they had underperformed, and they entered 2008 having just traded for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis.
The Tigers didn’t live up to these expectations, though. They came miserably short and finished at 74-88, good for last place in the AL Central.
So yea, if you’re an Indians fan you should be banking your team’s postseason chances on this fact because, despite everything I just said, the Tigers are really, really good.
But if you’re a Detroit fan you’ve got to be a little freaked out that every single “diagnosis of the Tigers” article you’ve read has mentioned all of the same things that I just said. You’ve also got to be a little freaked out that Jonah Keri—who, rumor has it, is the best at predicting baseball overs/unders—has the most confidence in his “Tigers under 93.5 wins” pick.
Prediction: Tigers win the Central with 90 wins, and Cleveland finishes second with 87.