Jim Leyland and Justin Verlander are prepared for another deep run in October
In 2012, the Detroit Tigers represented the American League in the World Series. This time around in 2013, the team is even better. From the front office down to the players on the field, everything is clicking in Detroit.
Though the American League is chock full of some of baseball's best teams, there's no doubt in my mind that the Tigers are the cream of the crop.
Ahead, we'll take a look at a variety of reasons for why the Tigers will yet again represent the American League in the World Series.
Torii Hunter and Austin Jackson are just two names in this deadly lineup
One of the reasons why the Tigers are so successful is because of their balanced lineup. Miguel Cabrera gets a boatload of publicity—and rightfully so—but the media tends to forget how talented the rest of these guys are. In a year in which Prince Fielder is carrying an offensive wins above replacement (OWAR) of -0.1, players like Torii Hunter, Austin Jackson and Jhonny Peralta have more than picked up the slack.
As a team, the Tigers rank first in the majors in batting average (.280), first in on-base percentage (.346), third in slugging percentage (.439) and second in runs (554 as of Aug. 4). They're doing just about everything right, and it shows.
Now, it hasn't happened yet, but the Tigers will probably lose Peralta to a 50-game suspension thanks to the Biogenesis situation. But, as Pat Caputo of the Oakland Press says, it really isn't that big of a deal:
If you compile a list of the Tigers’ most valuable players, Peralta doesn’t rank that high. He is definitely behind Cabrera, Fielder and the underrated and underappreciated Austin Jackson. Probably Torri Hunter and Martinez, too, the latter because he hits behind Cabrera and Fielder. In regard to value, the Big Four in the Tigers’ starting rotation each rank higher than Peralta. So does setup-man-turned-closer Joaquin Benoit. Omar Infante is arguably a better all-around player than Peralta.
Sure, they'll miss his .305 batting average and OPS of .824, but the Tigers do not rely on Peralta as much as some may like to think.
As long as the team remains healthy, the lineup will not be holding Detroit back from any sort of success.
Miguel Cabrera is the MLB's best player
Yes, I just went on a rant about the Tigers' lineup as a whole, but this man deserves his own slide. We've run out of superlatives to describe how good Cabrera actually is, but the numbers speak for themselves.
For the past year, Cabrera has been getting a lot of love from the media, but it was long overdue. He had one of his best years in 2012, but check out the comparison to his career numbers in the table below to grasp how good he's been in his 11-year career.
|Career average (162 games)||.321||123||35||104||195|
Sure, 2012 represented a jump in these statistical categories (thank you for the lineup protection, Prince Fielder), but those career averages are flat out absurd.
If Cabrera is healthy, you can count on him to carry the load.
Justin Verlander still instills fear in the opposition
2013 hasn't exactly been a banner year for Justin Verlander, but the 2011 AL Cy Young winner is still a force to be reckoned with. Despite his struggles, he checks in with an 11-8 record and 3.88 ERA as of Aug. 4. That's not the Verlander we're used to, but it still is a formidable starter.
The puzzling thing about Verlander this year is his inconsistency. Anyone trying to determine how well he'll do in the coming weeks will be stumped when they look at the recent trends. In short, he's been all over the place.
Still, he ranks sixth in the American League in both wins and strikeouts. Granted, he has also allowed the fifth-most walks, but not all is lost. Thanks to the emergence of Max Scherzer and the solid 3-4 of Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister, they don't need him to be a world beater.
When it comes to the postseason, though, I wouldn't worry about the 6'5" right-hander. Last year, three of his four playoff starts lasted seven or more innings, and he allowed no more than one run in each of them. I'm willing to give him a pass against the San Francisco Giants because, let's face it, the whole team was dismantled.
Ultimately, Verlander may not regain the form of his past few dominant seasons. However, he is only one year removed from being voted the toughest pitcher to face by MLB players. My money is on them still fearing him when they enter the batter's box in October.
Max Scherzer has taken the AL by storm in 2013
With Justin Verlander taking a step backwards, Max Scherzer has blossomed this year. Already a quality starting pitcher—exemplified by his 15 and 16 win seasons in 2011 and 2012, respectively—Scherzer already is 16-1 in 2013. This time, he has a 2.85 ERA to go along with it.
It's hard to imagine that Scherzer will finish the season on his current torrid pace, but he looks to be a near lock to win 20 games. Regardless of how good the Tigers' offense is, that's the indicator of a consistent pitcher who gives his team quality starts time and time again.
In last year's postseason, Scherzer made three starts and finished with a 1-0 record and 2.08 ERA. He may not be the kind of pitcher who consistently goes eight or nine innings per start, but he is reliable and always keeps his team in the game.
With Scherzer and Verlander as a 1-2 punch, the Tigers might have the best top of the rotation in the American League.
GM Dave Dombrowski is one of the best in the business
Sure, GM Dave Dombrowski does not actually play for the Tigers, so some may object to him being included on this list. For me, though, he is a huge factor in their success. Year after year, Dombrowski aggressively tries to make the team better by addressing its weaknesses.
In this past offseason, the Tigers resigned Anibal Sanchez and Scherzer, exercised a 2013 option on Peralta and brought in Torii Hunter on a two-year contract. Fast forward to the trade deadline, and the Tigers acquired Jose Veras from the Houston Astros and Jose Iglesias from the Boston Red Sox.
Can anyone really knock any of these moves?
Each and every one of these players is having a career year in some respect. Scherzer and Sanchez both maintain an ERA below three, Peralta and Hunter are both batting over .300 and Veras is having his best season by far at the age of 32.
It's too early to call how Veras and Iglesias will turn out, but it's safe to say that both address a need for the Tigers. Now it's up to the players to keep making Dombrowski look smart.
Jim Leyland isn't afraid to speak his mind
In the four major professional sports, it seems that baseball's managers are the most heavily criticized. In reality, baseball doesn't have complicated plays like basketball, football or even hockey. But that doesn't mean the manager has no influence on the game.
Over the years, Jim Leyland has won over 1700 games and has won one World Series in three appearances. He's widely respected by both fans and fellow managers, as this article from Hour Detroit shows:
“In overall knowledge of the game, communication, and leadership, he’s the total package,” said Bobby Cox, the Atlanta icon who managed the Braves for 25 seasons and who tangled regularly with Leyland’s teams. “You could look forever and not find one thing wrong with Jim as a manager.”
That's some seriously high praise coming from Cox, a manager who led the great Braves teams of the 1990s and early 2000s.
It's hard to gauge the importance of a manager in the success of a baseball team, but it's clear that Leyland's players enjoy playing for him and that shouldn't be completely discounted when considering a team's chances of winning a championship.
Joaquin Benoit has alleviated many concerns about the bullpen
Through the first half of the season, the Tigers' bullpen was clearly their Achilles' heel. Despite leading the league in quality starts with 72, the team still only ranks eighth in the MLB in team ERA. That number has been improving recently, and they have improved bullpen performance to thank for it.
In 20 games and 19.1 IP this year, Jose Valverde had a 5.59 ERA as the closer. It doesn't take a genius to realize that those numbers do not get the job done.
Enter Joaquin Benoit.
In 45.0 IP this year, Benoit maintains a 1.40 ERA and has 12 saves and nine holds to his credit. He has stabilized the ninth inning for the Tigers and is a big reason for the team's rising winning percentage.
But it's not all about Benoit. On top of the recent addition of Jose Veras, the Tigers also have a fantastic set-up man in Drew Smyly. This year, Smyly sports a 1.77 ERA in 61.0 IP, has a WHIP of 0.93 and 9.59 K/9.
With those three men at the back end of the game, the Tigers must feel a lot more comfortable than they did just a few short weeks ago.
Jose Iglesias already looks comfortable in his new digs
One of the things that goes unnoticed on winning ball clubs is strong defense. Obviously it gets overshadowed by batting and pitching, but a clean fielding slate on the score sheet goes a long way towards victory.
Though you wouldn't expect it, the Tigers have the sixth fewest errors in the majors and maintain the ninth best fielding percentage. Though they have 18 more errors (51) than the Baltimore Orioles (33), the Tigers don't give away runs.
With Torii Hunter and Austin Jackson manning the outfield, you have two great defensive players. In the infield, critics often pick on Miguel Cabrera for his fielding ability. He certainly isn't great, but that is more because of his league worst range factor of 1.95 for a third baseman.
So what do the Tigers do at the trade deadline? They pick up Jose Iglesias, a 23-year-old shortstop who has drawn comparisons to Ozzie Smith and Omar Vizquel for his range and fielding prowess. The Scouting Book gives this review on his ability: "More than one scout has called him 'Ozzie Smith-style slick', and his fielding has already earned a perfect 80 on the scouting scale."
Defense doesn't necessarily win championships in baseball, but it certainly won't lose one for Detroit.
The Detroit offense isn't going to stop scoring
One thing that's for certain in Major League Baseball is that teams will go through offensive slumps. No matter how many All-Star bats you put into a lineup, sometimes the runs just don't happen (see Los Angeles Dodgers circa May 2013).
I'm here to tell you that, while it could happen to the Tigers, they're the team that it's least likely to happen to.
As I mentioned in the slide regarding the Tigers' lineup, they are at the top of the league in several major statistical categories. Well, I've got another one that indicates why Detroit's run production is so sustainable.
Though the Tigers hit a lot of home runs, ranking sixth in the MLB with 126 as of August 4th, they don't rely on the long ball. The Tigers score runs because they lead the league in hits. Though the ability to hit home runs changes from ballpark to ballpark, an RBI single almost always looks the same.
Going back to the idea of a balanced lineup, the Tigers have five batters with 50 or more RBI. Even the prolific Red Sox offense can only claim four such players. That kind of production means that they can withstand a slump from one or two players and still score runs.
Torii Hunter brings even more experience to a battle-tested roster
The Tigers aren't an old team by any means, but they have a lot of experience on their roster. With an average age of 29.1, they've certainly been around the block. In the past two seasons, this team has made it to two American League Championship Series, advancing to the World Series in 2012.
In the offseason, the Tigers added Torii Hunter, one of the most widely respected players in baseball. Along with his .315 batting average, nine Gold Gloves and one Silver Slugger, Hunter brings a calming presence to a clubhouse filled with big names.
Hunter joins a squad that has been there before and will be there again, as the boys from Detroit are pegged to have a 95.1 percent chance to make the playoffs according to ESPN. That's not a guarantee of making it, but it is difficult to imagine Cleveland beating them out.
Though we still have a significant amount of time remaining in the season, you can rest assured that the Tigers are ready to make a deep run into the playoffs. This time they may just bring back another World Series Championship to Detroit.