10 Things We Want to See from the Detroit Tigers in 2013
With pitchers and catchers due any day down in Lakeland, Fla., the 2013 Detroit Tigers season will soon be upon us.
As with the start of any season, there are certain dreams and goals fans and players alike want to achieve to consider any given season a success. These fans want a world championship and so do the Tigers.
Coming off the American League Central division championship and the pennant, the Tigers were within striking distance last year of their first championship since 1984.
Re-signing Anibal Sanchez to stay in the rotation, along with the return of Victor Martinez from injury and Torii Hunter coming from the Los Angeles Angels via free agency, should help the Tigers move closer.
For the Tigers to make the next step, however, they need things to go right from the start. A certain amount of luck is always required to win championships and the talent level is certainly there as well.
If these 10 things can happen for the Tigers, they will be in the catbird seat when October rolls around.
Justin Verlander Agrees to an Extension
While he still has two years to run on his current contract, fans and Tigers brass alike would like to see ace pitcher Justin Verlander agree to an extension before 2013 gets too old.
Verlander is not going anywhere. He has embraced Detroit and the city adores him.
The recent extension, however, of Felix Hernandez by the Seattle Mariners—pending his physical—and the likely extension of Clayton Kershaw by the Los Angeles Dodgers will set the blueprint of what the Tigers and Verlander should agree on.
On the off chance that the Tigers wait until next offseason to re-sign Verlander, the money they will have to pony up could be substantially more than what it will be right now.
Also, it would stop the inevitable questions that will come into general manager Dave Dombrowski and Verlander about his future. Helping to relieve fan anxiety is always a good thing.
Victor Martinez Returns to Form
With Delmon Young headed off to the Philadelphia Phillies, the Tigers are grateful that Victor Martinez is ready to return to the lineup.
With Prince Fielder firmly entrenched at first base and Alex Avila set to be the everyday catcher, Martinez will be the designated hitter.
A healthy Martinez should be able to best Young’s line of 18 home runs, 74 RBIs and a batting average of .267. In his first year with the Tigers in 2011, Martinez hit 12 home runs, drove in 103 and hit .330.
Whether he matches the power number or not, he certainly will hit for a higher average and have enough opportunities to drive in runs to beat Young’s RBI total from last year.
First Four Starters Should Win 60 Games
A rotation that features Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez should be averaging 15 wins apiece at a minimum with their expected 129 starts.
Verlander and Scherzer finished first and second in the AL strikeout race last year while Fister and Sanchez would be no worse than the third starter on any other American League team.
Even with the added offense that Hunter and Martinez bring to the lineup, these four pitchers have to do their part going deep into games and shutting the opposition down for the Tigers to be successful.
The more they can help the bullpen, the better the bullpen will be come October.
Bruce Rondon Adjusts to the Closer Role
One of the gaping holes the Tigers had to patch through last postseason was the poor pitching of José Valverde.
Not only did the Tigers make no effort to sign Valverde this offseason, they expect to hand the closer’s role to the 21-year-old kid from Venezuela.
Bruce Rondon has never pitched a major league game before. How he handles the pressure in spring training and when the team comes north will say a lot about how this Tigers season will go.
There are other options for the Tigers, namely Octavio Dotel, but the brain trust is ready to give Rondon his chance. If he can put the fans at ease early, everyone will be happy that a major hole from last year will have been fixed.
Win the Central
Sometimes it’s the simple things that get lost in the explanation.
On paper, the 2013 Tigers are clearly the team to beat in the AL Central. That, however, was also the case for Detroit last year.
While the Tigers struggled to clinch the division in the season’s last week over the surprising Chicago White Sox, they cannot come into this season thinking they will be saved by a wild-card berth if they come up short again.
Even with such a good starting rotation, they can't afford to leave their season to a one-game playoff and not set up their starters for the rest of the playoffs.
Again, it’s the little things that can derail a season.
Losing one of the front four starting pitchers or one of the big hitters such as Miguel Cabrera or Prince Fielder for any length of time would be a major blow.
With such a long regular season, keeping players fresh is important.
With the division becoming better overall with the big offseason acquisitions of the Kansas City Royals, Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins, manager Jim Leyland will have a more difficult time this year picking and choosing when to give his troops a day off and when to press.
Andy Dirks Wins the Left Field Position
After a postseason that saw him platoon with Quintin Berry, this should be Andy Dirks’ first year as an everyday player.
The concern with Dirks will be how he hits left-handed pitching. Last year, Dirks hit .328 against right-handers and just .299 against lefties. While on the surface that may not seem too bad, he only had two extra-base hits against left-handed pitchers in 67 at-bats while having 29 in 247 against righties.
Dirks is capable of hitting 15 home runs and 30 doubles if he plays every day. That boost would help take some of the pressure off the big three in the Tigers lineup over the course of a long season.
Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder Match 2012 Production
The heart of the Tigers lineup last year hit 74 home runs and drove in 247.
While Cabrera won the Triple Crown, Fielder hit .313 himself and walked more times than he struck out.
That twosome combined for 387 hits in 2012 and scored 192 runs. With Victor Martinez now hitting behind them, they should continue to get hittable pitches.
Even though Delmon Young did an admirable job last year hitting fifth, Martinez has a better eye at the plate while Cabrera and Fielder are just as good hitters as they are sluggers.
Better Middle Infield Defense
One of the early keys of the season will be just how well Omar Infante and Jhonny Peralta gel in the middle of the infield.
Coming over from the Miami Marlins in the trade that also gave the Tigers Anibal Sanchez, Infante showed below average range at second base.
Peralta, while having an above average fielding percentage, is also considered a below average shortstop.
Elementary baseball tells us that pitchers have to trust their fielders behind them. With a sinkerball pitcher such as Rick Porcello on the mound, that is especially true.
Infante and Peralta do not need to have Gold Glove years, but an improvement to an average range for a second baseman and shortstop will make it easier for pitchers to get the job done.
Win It All
With the level of talent and the perceived ease of the rest of the division, just making the playoffs will not be good enough for the Detroit Tigers.
It does not need to be a “win or bust” season for the Tigers to be successful, but they need to make some noise in the World Series to consider this a more successful year than 2012.
They have the best starting rotation in the American League, one of the best managers of the game in Jim Leyland and a very potent offense that will score some runs.
This is the year they have moved from just being a contender to being a champion. The window for Leyland and Torii Hunter is closing and it has to happen soon.
There are probably four teams in baseball this year that expect to be in the World Series. Sadly for the Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds and the defending champion San Francisco Giants, they all play in the same league.
The Tigers, on the other hand, are the most balanced team starting the year in the AL. They may not be there come mid-October, but right now there is no reason why they shouldn't be.