5 Reasons Why Detroit Tigers Will Win the World Series
In 2013, the Detroit Tigers had many people convinced they might be baseball’s best team. Boasting arguably the game’s best pitcher (Max Scherzer) and inarguably its best hitter (Miguel Cabrera), they seemed to have the necessary weapons to dominate any opponent.
However, after qualifying for the playoffs for the third straight year, Detroit’s season ended again in disappointment. A superior Red Sox team dismantled the Tigers 4-2 in the ALCS. Something had to give.
The first step was a change in management. Jim Leyland retired, and Brad Ausmus was hired as manager. Second, subtle tinkering to the team roster—a trade here (Ian Kinsler) and a signing there (Rajai Davis)—has morphed it into a more versatile and successful unit in 2014.
Detroit has begun this season in great style. Despite a four-game losing streak, the Tigers still maintain a stellar 4.5-game lead in the AL Central. With a record of 27-16, it is their best start to a season since the 1984 World Series-winning Tigers team.
ESPN’s Buster Olney commented on The Michael Kay Show this week about Detroit’s championship credentials: “Without a doubt the Tigers are the best team in baseball. Their lineup is so much more dynamic. They are settling their bullpen issues. That’s the team to beat.”
The following slides will list and describe the five main reasons why the Tigers’ title drought will end at 30 years.
5. Prince Fielder Is Playing for Texas
After only two years in a Tigers uniform, Prince Fielder was sent packing this past offseason. At face value, the burly slugger was highly productive in Motown. His offensive numbers—an average of .295, 28 home runs and 107 RBI per season—demonstrate that point.
However, diminished returns in the postseason led to his exit less than one-quarter of the way through a nine-year deal. A paltry output of only three RBI and a slugging percentage of .239 was all that he mustered in 24 October starts.
Fielder’s shipment to Texas brought second baseman Ian Kinsler in the opposite direction. His arrival in Detroit covered the departure of Omar Infante, who left via free agency.
Fielder’s departure has enabled Miguel Cabrera to cross the diamond and play first base. Escaping the hot corner will preserve the game’s best player and extend the prime years of his career.
Promoted in the lineup to fill the production void is veteran Victor Martinez. The Venezuelan has thrived thus far as Detroit’s cleanup hitter. His .329/.383/.615 slash line places him amongst the league’s best hitters.
Furthermore, his combination of discipline and power at the plate recently had USA Today comparing his feats to those of Joe DiMaggio.
There will only ever be one Yankee Clipper. However, Martinez’s hot start, as well as the contributions of others, has Tigers fans quickly forgetting about their bearded ex-first baseman.
4. More Versatile Offense
During the past several years, Detroit has possessed one of the most potent hitting lineups in baseball. Last season, this offensive juggernaut—led by two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera—was first in the AL in average and second in runs, OBP, slugging percentage and OPS.
Detroit’s offensive style had been built by general manager/president Dave Dombrowski over the previous decade. The emphasis was placed on one thing: power.
Hit-and-running, stealing bases and hitting behind runners was eschewed for trying to hammer their opponents into submission. Whilst bringing a measure of success to Detroit, ultimately it failed to yield a world championship.
A change in emphasis was needed. Fresh faces brought in this year, both on the playing and coaching staff, led to a culture shift. The Tigers now possess different weapons that can beat teams in different ways.
The improved running game is a prime example. With the acquisitions of Rajai Davis and Ian Kinsler, Detroit has gone from worst to first in stolen bases so far this year.
The Tigers are scoring runs as abundantly as last season, but they are doing it more consistently throughout the game in 2014.
The power threat still exists—Cabrera remains the game’s best hitter. But a blend of brawn and speed makes Detroit’s 2014 offensive product much superior to its earlier models.
3. Best Rotation in Baseball
The departure via trade of Doug Fister this past offseason provoked some agitation in Detroit. In two-and-a-half years, the curveball specialist won 42 games for the Tigers and recorded a 2.98 ERA in nine postseason appearances.
Last season, Fister and the rest of the starting cohort compiled a total of 76 wins with a combined ERA of 3.44, both first in the AL. They were also the only team whose starters accumulated over 1000 innings of work.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Right?
Yes, but Detroit had needs to fill (e.g. bullpen), which they did partially via the Fister trade. They also knew there was another iron in the pitching fire. After being bumped to the bullpen last season, Drew Smyly gets another chance to start.
Previously an all right-handed rotation, southpaw Smyly now gives Detroit’s opponents a different look every five days.
With him joining the team’s incumbent starters, they have climbed to even greater heights this year. The starters’ combined ERA (2.98), winning percentage (70) and batting average against (.235) have all improved on 2013.
The only headache this situation may create is who to omit when they shrink to a four-man rotation in October. This is one dilemma that most big league managers would not mind facing.
2. Strength over Nine-Plus Innings
If the game of baseball was played over six innings, then silverware would now be shimmering in Detroit. In 2013, The Tigers scored the most runs (606) and conceded the least (410) in innings one to six in the AL.
Contrastingly, from the seventh inning onward, they were a shadow of their former selves. The Tigers slipped to 12th in runs scored (190) and 10th in runs conceded (214).
Their tapering off of performance also manifested in some telling numbers in close contests. The Tigers were 20-28 in one-run games and 6-13 in extra-inning games. They were the only playoff team to have losing records in such games.
Detroit’s offensive transformation makes them a pluckier outfit this year. Whilst still below .500 in extra-inning contests (2-3), their record in one-run games has improved to 8-6.
If the Tigers continue to prevent their evil twin from emerging late in games, they could be unstoppable in 2014.
1. Improved Bullpen
In contrast to the outstanding starting rotation, the bullpen was a clear weakness for the 2013 Tigers. The relief corps’ combined ERA of 4.01 (12th in AL) and WHIP of 1.34 (11th) caused some very squeaky seats at Comerica Park last year.
With a vacancy at closer, a proven lockdown man was an offseason priority. Enter Joe Nathan, whose 352 career saves rank him first among active players. After a shaky start, his dominance has returned. This was exemplified by a recent streak of 10 consecutive saves.
Other bullpen inhabitants have also performed well. The table below shows the improvement of four of the key Detroit relievers.
|2013 ERA||2014 ERA|
With quality up and down the pitching staff, Detroit now possesses a formidable pitching arsenal from innings one to nine, not just one to six.
The bullpen also seems to be getting better as the season progresses. This month, they are third in the AL with a 2.87 ERA. Also, a recent streak of 18 consecutive scoreless innings further shows their quality.
All stats in this article were sourced from fangraphs.com
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