Predicting the Full 2012 Postseason Roster for the Detroit Tigers
The Tigers won the American League Central Division, winning the division crown in back-to-back seasons for the first time ever, and advancing to the postseason in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1934 and 1935.
After a dominating division championship in 2011 and an appearance in the American League Championship Series, the Tigers came into the 2012 campaign as runaway favorites to win the division again.
Detroit signed Prince Fielder in the offseason and returned AL MVP Justin Verlander and 2011 AL batting champion Miguel Cabrera to lead a promising supporting cast.
But injuries and inconsistency plagued the Tigers all season long, and Detroit was forced to fight its way to the division crown, overcoming a three-game deficit to the Chicago White Sox with 15 games remaining.
Behind Cabrera's chase for the AL Triple Crown, and dominating starting pitching, Detroit overtook Chicago with more than a week remaining, and have been on cruise control since, winning seven of its last eight games.
Manager Jim Leyland attempted to mix and match his lineup all season, and often received scrutiny for going with the numbers, or going with his gut, rather than putting the nine best players on the field.
But lately, Leyland found two or three different lineup combinations that worked, and it has paid off for Detroit, as the Tigers have won 14 of their last 20 games.
Leyland will have some decisions to make before the postseason begins as the rosters decrease back to 25 players, and rookies like Avisail Garcia and veterans like Don Kelly will be among the interested parties to hear the skipper's final cut.
Here are my predictions for the Tigers' 25-man postseason roster:
Justin Verlander (17-8, 2.64 ERA)
Max Scherzer (16-7, 3.82 ERA)
Doug Fister (10-9, 3.32 ERA)
Rick Porcello (10-12, 4.59 ERA)
There's no doubt that Justin Verlander will be the Tigers No. 1 pitcher in the postseason, but beyond Verlander, there are a lot of questions concerning Detroit's rotation.
Verlander has picked up where he left off from his MVP season a year ago, going 17-8 with a 2.64 ERA this season, but Max Scherzer, the Tigers' No. 2 starter, has been battling a deltoid injury in his throwing shoulder, forcing him to miss his last start, and to be pulled from his start on Sept. 18 after just two innings.
Scherzer is adamant that he'll be 100 percent for the postseason, and insists he won't miss a beat.
After Scherzer, the Tigers will run out Doug Fister, who has recovered from injuries and on-field struggles in the first half of the season, boasting a 3.32 ERA.
Fister, who will throw tonight against the Royals has won three of his last four starts, and has a 2.34 ERA in September.
After Fister, I think the Tigers will finish with Rick Porcello in a four-man rotation. Porcello earned the win in the Tigers' division-clinching victory on Monday, and despite his mediocre 10-12 record, and elevated 4.59 ERA, Porcello has been with the Tigers his entire four-year career, and has shown he can step up in big starts and hold his own.
I think if Scherzer is truly healthy, the Tigers will relinquish newly acquired Anibal Sanchez to the bullpen, asking him to be a long reliever if a starter struggles.
Jose Valverde (3-4, 3.78 ERA)
Joaquin Benoit (5-3, 3.68 ERA)
Brayan Villarreal (3-5, 2.52 ERA)
Octavio Dotel (5-3, 3.57 ERA)
Al Alburquerque (0-0, 0.68 ERA)
Phil Coke (2-3, 4.00 ERA)
Drew Smyly (4-3, 4.01 ERA)
Anibal Sanchez (9-13, 3.86 ERA; 4-6, 3.74 ERA with Tigers)
Luis Marte (0-0, 3.32 ERA)
Darin Downs (2-1, 3.66 ERA)
The Tigers have carried an extra reliever all season, and when the playoffs begin, that story won't change.
With a four-man rotation, Anibal Sanchez is the odd man out, and former starter, Drew Smyly has proven to succeed in any role the Tigers have asked him to fulfill this year.
The Tigers got a healthy Al Alburquerque back just in time to help a bullpen that has been largely inconsistent all season.
Alburquerque returned on Sept. 4 from offseason elbow surgery and boasts a 0.68 ERA this season, holding opponents to a .133 average in eight appearances.
Darin Downs has made a couple spot starts for the Tigers this season, and might get a roster spot if Jim Leyland decides to go with another reliever, but it's not likely.
1) CF: Austin Jackson
2) LF: Quintin Berry
3) 3B: Miguel Cabrera
4) 1B: Prince Fielder
5) DH: Delmon Young
6) RF: Andy Dirks
7) SS: Jhonny Peralta
8) C: Alex Avila
9) 2B: Omar Infante
This is the lineup that has made the most sense for the Tigers down the stretch.
When Quintin Berry has played in the No. 2 spot in the lineup, he's hitting .268 with a .353 on-base percentage in 168 at-bats in the two-hole this year. He's done the most damage there, moving Andy Dirks to the No. 6 spot in the lineup.
Leyland critics have wondered why you put Berry, who has 21 stolen bases this year without getting caught, ahead of Cabrera, because if Berry steals second, pitchers can give Cabrera a free pass, but with the improvement of Prince Fielder lately, that's a good problem to have.
Leyland has inserted Omar Infante into the No. 2 spot when right-handers are on the mound, and Infante has been better in that spot than in the No. 9 spot, but with all of his tools, Berry poses a much bigger threat higher in the lineup.
2B Ramon Santiago
OF Brennan Boesch
C Gerald Laird
OF Avisail Garcia
UT Don Kelly
2B Danny Worth
With all the injuries the Tigers have battled through this season, they've depended a lot on their bench.
Ramon Santiago has been an integral Tigers utility player for several years, and despite just a .206 average with two home runs and 17 RBI, Santiago will definitely get a roster spot and will see some time in the postseason.
Santiago has a .285 OBP and is usually dependable to lay down a bunt when he's been asked to.
Gerald Laird has flourished in his backup catcher role this season. Re-joining the Tigers in 2012 after being a backup for the World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals last season, Laird is averaging .282 with two home runs and 11 RBI in 63 games this year.
Laird has been pressed into duty with multiple injuries to Alex Avila and has proven to be a dependable backup on both sides of the ball.
One of the last questions is whether the Tigers will elect to keep utility man Don Kelly on the playoff roster.
Kelly, who hit .300 in nine postseason games a year ago, can literally play every position on the field and came up big in a pinch-running role this month for the Tigers.
Kelly is hitting just .187 with one home run and seven RBI's in 73 games this season, and won't start in October, but might be asked to pinch-run or come in as a defensive replacement in late-game situations this postseason.
Rookie phenom Avisail Garcia was called up when the September rosters were increased to 40 players, and the 21-year-old Cabrera look-alike impressed in his first 21 career games.
After being called up from Double-A Erie, Garcia hit .333, with a .388 OBP and three RBI this month, and with a gun for an arm, could threaten Brennan Boesch for the backup role in right field.
Dirks cemented himself as the No. 1 option in right field, but if Garcia gets the nod for the 25-man roster, he could see some time in right field.
Quintin Berry should play every game this postseason.
With several dazzling plays this season, Berry has proven to be one of the best Tigers' defensive outfielders, and because he can do so many things for Detroit, Berry's value becomes increasingly important in the playoffs.
He can play every outfield position and might not start every game this postseason, but should see some time, in some capacity, every game.