This series will evaluate one team per day, starting on January 23, 2013 and ending on February 22, 2013 (the first game of spring training). It is based on last season's performance, offseason changes since and the author's outlook for the team in 2013. Please keep in mind that rosters can, and will, change before Opening Day. We started in the AL East, previewed its NL counterpart, and now go back to the AL and tackle the Central in alphabetical order. Next up, the Detroit Tigers.
2012 finish: 88-74 (1st place, AL Central; lost in World Series 4-0 to the San Francisco Giants)
OF Torii Hunter
LHP Daniel Schlereth, RHP Jose Valverde, OF Delmon Young, 2B Ryan Raburn, C Gerald Laird
Why they will improve this year
The Tigers were confounding for most of the 2012 season, when yours truly predicted a runaway AL Central title. Instead, they made it interesting and only started pulling away from the White Sox in the last few weeks of the season. The real Tigers showed up in the playoffs, running through the A's and Yankees before being swept by the Giants in the World Series.
For some reason, 2013 feels different. It could be that the enigma of Valverde is no longer anchoring the bullpen. Or that the middle of their order (as well as outfield defense) got a boost from the signing of Hunter. Bringing back a solid starting pitcher in Anibal Sanchez doesn't hurt, either.
Essentially, the Tigers are returning an AL-champion team with a stronger pitching staff, more consistent bullpen and better lineup. That should be an absolutely terrifying thought for other teams. Even though the league is stacked in its own right this season, the Tigers will be the favorites for good reason.
With a lineup headed by reigning Triple Crown and MVP winner Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers will be able to slug with just about anybody in the league. The overall pitching staff was the third-best in the AL in 2012, but they subtracted Valverde and will add a full season of Sanchez and promising rookie Bruce Rondon.
On the offensive side, not only did they add Hunter, but will get Victor Martinez back from injury. All things added up, the Tigers should make an improvement in the win category in 2012 and are certainly expected to really run away with the division this time.
Why they will regress this year
It's hard to fathom, but who knows? The team I expected to rip its division to shreds didn't even win 90 games in 2012. On paper, the starting pitching looks dominant, but how reliable is it really? After ace Justin Verlander, you have a string of three pitchers who are very talented, but have struggled in their careers at various times.
That doesn't necessarily mean they will take a step back, but Tigers fans might be underwhelmed by the overall consistency of Sanchez, Doug Fister and Max Scherzer this season. For example, Fister had a great year in Detroit and has been solid since coming over from Seattle. But in a pitcher's park at Safeco Field, he never had an ERA before 4.00 in two seasons.
And can Martinez bounce back after missing a full season and just return to solid hitting form? Is Austin Jackson going to continue to get better? Will Rondon thrive in his first big league season, or get knocked around enough to make Tigers fans miss Valverde?
Detroit already underperformed with a less impressive roster in 2012, but still made it to the World Series. So they really should improve in 2013, but things don't always go as planned. The starting pitching and back end of the bullpen could slump, and the lineup might lack a bit of pop if some veteran bats don't step up.
The outlook for 2013
Ignore everything I wrote in the regression section (okay, don't really because they are some legitimate possibilities). But if I am to realistically see a change in the 2013 Tigers' win total, it's going to go in a positive direction. I think the lineup gets a huge piece in Hunter, and that Martinez will overcome a slow start to turn in a solid year.
Verlander, Fister, Scherzer and Sanchez make up one of the better starting rotations in the league, and the bullpen looks great on paper. I fully expect Rondon, if he doesn't throw his arm out with those triple-digit zingers, to have a big rookie season at closer, as well.
I expect a progression from Jackson, better power numbers out of Prince Fielder and a better overall performance from catcher Alex Avila. When all is said and done, the Tigers should easily fend off the improved Royals and scrappy Indians to coast to an AL Central title in 2013.
They are built to win over a long season, and strengthened the weaknesses that bit them in the World Series. I won't go as far as to say Detroit is returning to the World Series, but I do think they are the best team, going into the season, in the AL. It's the opinion of this writer that Detroit wins almost 95 games and runs away with the Central.
Potential changes before Opening Day
The only potential moves I see being explored in Detroit before the season begins are finding a deal for Rick Porcello or bringing in a proven closer who can spell Rondon if things go South. I don't think any major move will be made; expect the staff to look the same by Opening Day.
Detroit is seemingly always in the mix for shortstop help, though, and the wheels are turning ever so slightly there. Rumor had it that the Tigers were interested in new Diamondbacks shortstop prospect Nick Ahmed before he went to Arizona from Atlanta in the Justin Upton deal.
Obviously that won't happen, but could they be in the mix for a young Cuban player? George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press thinks they might be (h/t MLBTradeRumors.com).
Biggest surprise: Bruce Rondon
Biggest disappointment: Jhonny Peralta
Bold prediction: Victor Martinez hits 20 home runs, drives in 80 runs
1. Austin Jackson, CF
2. Torii Hunter, RF
3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
4. Prince Fielder, 1B
5. Victor Martinez, DH
6. Andy Dirks, LF
7. Alex Avila, C
8. Jhonny Peralta, SS
9. Omar Infante, 2B
1. Justin Verlander, RHP
2. Doug Fister, RHP
3. Max Scherzer, RHP
4. Anibal Sanchez, RHP
5. Rick Porcello, RHP
Projected finish: 93-69, 1st place
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You can follow Jeremy on Twitter @Jamblinman.