Detroit Tigers Should Be Favorites to Repeat as AL Champions, and Here's Why

Zach Dirlam@Zach_DirlamSenior Analyst IIJanuary 29, 2013

Although the Detroit Tigers were swept out of the World Series by the San Francisco Giants to conclude the 2012 season, there should not have been anyone feeling bad for a team general manager Dave Dombrowski put together to be a perennial contender for the next several years.

Despite the fact several teams in the American League brought in highly sought-after free agents during the offseason, the Tigers should be the favorites to win the pennant for a second straight year.

Nobody in the AL Central is anywhere close to being on the same level as Detroit, which should provide the Tigers with an easy route to a third consecutive division crown.

One of the only question marks surrounding Detroit heading into the 2013 campaign is 22-year-old closer Bruce Rondon, who will have to replace the once-dominant Jose Valverde; however, the Tigers still have more talent than anyone in the AL.

Detroit will have the most feared lineup in all of Major League Baseball this year and the Tigers finally made an offseason move to address the one thing that had kept them from contending for a World Series crown even earlier than last season: starting pitching.

Enough with the small talk though; here are the three reasons why the Tigers should be the favorites to repeat as champions of the AL!


Offseason Acquisitions

Yes, the Tigers overpaid to bring starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez back for five more years, but the move will pay major dividends in the postseason when Detroit establishes its four-man rotation.

Dombrowski made one of the best moves last season by striking a deal with the Miami Marlins for Sanchez and second baseman Omar Infante. It did not take long to see why the Tigers were on the winning end of the trade with Miami.

Sanchez only managed to post a 4-6 record in 12 starts for Detroit, but the seven-year veteran saved his best performances for the playoffs, which is when the Tigers will need his production the most this season as well.

The Venezuelan righty struck out 18 batters, only surrendered four runs and posted a 1.77 ERA in three postseason starts for Detroit.

The 6'0", 205-pounder should be able to turn around his 9-13 overall record from a year ago considering how potent the Tigers' lineup is expected to be this season, and Sanchez will be an important cog in the deepest rotation in baseball come October.

Meanwhile, Detroit also upgraded its outfield and top of the order by signing Torii Hunter to a two-year contract.

The four-time All-Star will be the Tigers' everyday right fielder and is likely going to be sandwiched between leadoff man Austin Jackson and Triple Crown hitter Miguel Cabrera, which should allow him to hover around a .300 batting average for the second year in a row.

Hunter will bring more than just his bat with him from Los Angeles, though. In addition to the veteran leadership he will provide for some of Detroit's younger players, the nine-time Gold Glove award winner is still a solid defensive player in the outfield and is a significant upgrade from Brennan Boesch.

Owner Mike Ilitch ponied up this offseason to help the Tigers win a World Series ring for the first time since 1984, and he should be rewarded for his efforts with a second straight AL title at the very least.


Victor Martinez is Back

After taking the entire 2012 season to recover from a torn ACL and microfracture surgery, Victor Martinez is ready to return to Detroit's active roster and will give the Tigers yet another prolific hitter in what is going to be the most dangerous lineup in 2013.

The Tigers were unable to get any production out of their No. 5 hitters last season and ranked near the bottom of the MLB in OPS (.671), on-base percentage (.284) and runs produced (124), but Martinez is the perfect man to fix all of that.

Since 2005, Martinez has only hit below .300 twice; he batted .330, including a .406 average with men on base, in his first season with the Tigers two years ago.

Martinez will not be used behind the plate going forward, but he will be Detroit's designated hitter during the regular season, though he could probably catch a few games in the World Series if the Tigers do indeed repeat as AL champs and want to keep his bat in the lineup.

With a healthy Martinez hitting behind Cabrera and Prince Fielder, there will be a lot of sleepless nights for AL pitchers this season.


The Big Three

Forget the Miami Heat's three superstars, because the real "big three" are in Detroit.

The reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera is coming off of a Triple Crown year, Prince Fielder finished with a career-high .313 batting average in his first season with the Tigers and Justin Verlander is still one of the most dominant pitchers in the game.

Do not expect a Triple Crown repeat from Cabrera this season, but nevertheless his batting average should remain well above .300 as it has for the past four seasons. His RBI numbers are not going to suffer, either, with Hunter occupying the No. 2 spot in the order.

Teams will still have to give Fielder more pitches to hit than they would like to if Martinez is able to stay healthy behind him, which could lead to the best all-around statistical year the Tigers' first baseman has ever had.

The 2011 Cy Young Award winner is going to be a workhorse once again for Detroit in 2013 and will likely throw well over 200 innings for the seventh straight year.

The hard-throwing right-hander will be among the league leaders in strikeouts this season, and there should not be a whole lot of fluctuation with his 2.64 ERA from 2012.

Detroit's ace will headline the deepest rotation in the AL, which also features right-handers Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Sanchez and either Rick Porcello or lefty Drew Smyly.

The Tigers' Big Three will carry Detroit to a second straight World Series appearance, but Detroit is going to need its bats to stay hot in the cool months of fall in order to bring home the only piece of hardware that matters: the Commissioner's Trophy. 


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