Being strong up the middle separates a good team from a bad team, having a pitching staff that consistently throws strikes can make a good team, great.
New pitching coach Rick Knapp recently stated in a interview that he would like his pitching staff to throw more strikes and trust their defense.
The signing of Adam Everett was a step in the right direction as he is a upgrade in the field over Edgar Renteria.Placido Polanco is a Gold Glove winning second basemen and Brandon Inge will start at third base after playing utility man last season.
In center-field, Curtis Granderson is the perfect fit for Comerica Park where speed is very important along with a good arm.
With a bullpen that is a still undecided and under construction,the biggest opportunity for the starting pitching staff this season is to pitch deeper into games. Justin Verlander is the ace of the staff and a bounce back season is a must have for the Tigers if they plan on repeating 2006.
Verlander started slow last season and didn't win his first game until his fifth start, a 10-2 victory over the Texas Rangers.
Last season the Tigers lost five or more games in a row six times. All six streaks could have been stopped with a victory by Verlander. Entering his fourth full season in the major leagues I predict that Verlander will return to being the ace of the Tigers staff and win 16 to 19 games.
After Verlander there isn't a clear number two starter, Jeremy Bonderman is coming off surgery that removed a blood clot and one of his ribs. Armando Galarraga won 13 games last season and was clearly the Tigers most productive pitcher.
Edwin Jackson acquired in an offseason trade with the Tampa Bay Rays for Matt Joyce, was a 14-game winner last season but struggled with his accuracy.
If Bonderman comes back and can win 14 games like he did in 2005 and 2006, I feel that the Tigers will be in good shape.
That leaves three players for the final rotation spot—Nate Robertson, Dontrelle Willis, and Zach Minor. Willis and Robertson have the most to prove this season as each was given big contracts last offseason. Willis spent the majority of last season in Lakeland, FL at the Tigers spring training facility working on his mechanics and accuracy.
If Robertson or Minor wins the final rotation spot over Willis,he will be pushed to the bullpen as a long reliever. If Willis is given the final rotation spot, I believe the Tigers will try to trade either Minor or Robertson because they won't need two right-handed pitching long relievers.
The back of the Tigers bullpen is also up for competition between Brandon Lyon,Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya. Rodney was second on the Tigers last season with 13 saves, but was heavily scrutinized by manager Jim Leyland and fans for being extremely inconsistent.
Zumaya pitched in 21 games last season with a 3.47 ERA, he also walked as many batters as he struck out. Lyon played last season for the Arizona Diamondbacks where he had 26 saves.
I look for Lyon to win the closers roll this season and for Zumaya to be the eighth inning pitcher with Rodney pitching in the seventh.
Majority of the teams report to the fields in Arizona and Florida this coming Monday, it's only the beginning of what will be a interesting March as teams set their roster for April and beyond.