Detroit Tigers: Reasons Why Winning the AL Central Isn't a Lock
The Detroit Tigers may be the best team in the AL Central on paper, but that doesn't guarantee anything. Often times, the most talented teams fail to make the playoffs. While it is hard to imagine the Tigers as one of these teams in 2013, it could happen.
The Tigers arguably have the best starting rotation in the American League, as well as the past two AL MVP winners in Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander. Additionally, the Tigers went out this offseason and addressed one of their perceived weaknesses from last season, adding veteran right fielder Torii Hunter.
Even with the Tigers' strengths, there are still several obstacles that could prevent them from winning the division.
Here are four reasons why the Tigers may not win the AL Central.
Injuries are a part of the game.
Over the past few years, the Detroit Tigers have been fairly lucky in dealing with injuries during the season. Yes, some key players like pitcher Doug Fister and outfielder Austin Jackson have missed time during the season, but fortunately they weren't long stints on the disabled list.
The only major injury that has affected the Tigers was Victor Martinez's torn ACL, which put him on the sidelines for all of the 2012 season. Though the Tigers missed Martinez's offense, the impact of his injury was mitigated shortly after with the signing of Prince Fielder.
As spring training is about to begin, the Tigers are currently healthy—but no one can predict when a serious injury might occur.
If players as crucial to the Tigers as Miguel Cabrera or Justin Verlander miss a significant portion of the season, the Tigers might not be able to hold off their AL Central opponents.
3. Season-Long Slumps
Slumps occur all the time in baseball. Sometimes they only last a few games, but other times they may continue through an entire season.
The Detroit Tigers benefited from two players having the best seasons of their careers in 2012—Austin Jackson and Max Scherzer—who greatly improved from the previous season.
Jackson hit .300 with 16 home runs and 66 RBI last year. A lot of fans are expecting the 26-year-old to take the next step as he enters his prime.
But what if he doesn't? If Jackson regresses at the plate, then the batters behind him won't find as many RBI opportunities, and it could impact the whole lineup.
The same goes for Scherzer. Last season, he had a career year with an ERA of 3.74 and a K/9 ratio of 11.1. The Tigers are planning on big things from him in 2013. If Scherzer doesn't match his success from last season, the bullpen might be called upon more often. If this occurs, the added innings might decrease their effectiveness.
While Jackson and Scherzer are only two examples, in reality it could be any Tigers players.
2. Additional Workload from Previous Postseasons
The additional innings of the past two postseasons should be a real concern for the Detroit Tigers. The top three Tigers starters: Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister pitched in both the 2011 and 2012 postseasons.
While Verlander's pitching mechanics are sound, no one can be 100 percent certain of how his body will react to the 48.9 additional innings he pitched. Scherzer has thrown 33.0 extra innings, while Fister has thrown 36.1 over the past two postseasons. Innings accumulate quickly, and the Tigers' coaching staff must monitor them for signs of fatigue throughout the year.
If any of the pitchers struggle or need time off to rest, then there aren't any long-term quality starting pitchers ready to fill in for the Tigers. That is why both Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly need to remain with the Tigers.
1. A Surprise Team
One of the greatest things about the game of baseball is when a team begins a season with low expectations and then surprises everyone by making the playoffs.
Baseball is played on the field—not on paper—which is why every team believes they have a chance to win their division.
While the Tigers are being talked about as the favorite in the AL Central, it seems that no one is giving any real consideration to the other AL Central teams. This is shortsighted because the Tigers could play great this season, but another team could simply just play better and win the division.
The Minnesota Twins won the AL Central title as recently as 2010, and they still have Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer. It appears both Morneau and Mauer are healthy going into the 2013 season, which could mean trouble for the rest of the AL Central's pitchers.
The Kansas City Royals improved their pitching this offseason by acquiring pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis from the Tampa Bay Rays. Between their new acquisitions and their young talent, one of these days, the Royals could win.
This past offseason, the Cleveland Indians added slugging free-agent outfielder Nick Swisher, along with manager Terry Francona. They both bring World Series rings and winning attitudes to the Indians, which could turn the team into a contender.
The Chicago White Sox surprised a lot of people last year when they only finished three games behind the Tigers. With luck and solid pitching, the White Sox could give the other Central teams a difficult time again.
*Baseball-reference.com was used for all baseball statistics