The Tigers are eager to put the memory of last year’s near playoff miss far behind them, and early indications show that this team has the players to do just that.
Many initially thought the Tigers wouldn't be in a position to compete this season when the team made some trades and cut payroll in the offseason, but things are looking up.
Here are five alliterative reasons why the American League Central Division will belong to the Detroit Tigers in 2010.
Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore may not be Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco—yet—but the pair may make us forget about the former Tiger All-Stars at times.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved Curtis Granderson (still do), but at age 29 he’s probably at (or very near) his baseball ceiling. He’ll probably always struggle with strikeouts and with hitting lefties, and while he’s speedy, he’ll probably never become an elite base stealer.
Austin Jackson, on the other hand, doesn’t have a defined ceiling. He’s only 23 years old and has yet to step into a Major League batter’s box. And while that’s a scary proposition, it’s a very intriguing one. Austin has shown all the signs in spring training that he’s ready to break out.
He’s done all the right things on the field. From all reports, the defense has been spectacular, he has seven extra base hits (he leads the team in total bases this spring), but best of all is his stunning .413 on-base percentage.
Scott Sizemore certainly won’t be as steady as Placido Polanco has been at the plate, but the rookie second baseman has all the tools to quickly replace Polanco’s offensive production. He’ll likely hit seventh or eighth most of the year so less will be expected of him (in terms of OBP), but he should see some opportunities to drive in the likes of Cabrera, Guillen and Inge.
The Tigers' offense should see a nice boost this year with some better health in the middle of the lineup.
Carlos Guillen limped out of the gate last year and was placed on the DL in early May with a bad shoulder. He was able to return after the All-Star break, but he wasn’t able to produce very much with the bat. The team hopes that slotting Guillen into the designated hitter role will keep him healthy and productive.
Brandon Inge made the All-Star team a season ago (21 home runs in the first half), but his production came to a standstill when both of his knees gave out (only six homers in the second half). Inge went under the knife in the offseason to repair the knees and early (spring) results look promising.
Miguel Cabrera wasn’t battling an injury last year, but revelations of alcohol abuse came to light at last season’s end. The word is that Miguel has stayed off the stuff and that it’s no longer a distraction. Maybe a sober Cabrera is an even better hitter (scary thought for AL opponents), wouldn’t be any worse anyway.
One of the most encouraging statistics out of this year’s spring training has been the number of doubles that the team has hit. The Tigers sit second only to Boston in the Grapefruit League in this category. Doubles can plate a sneaky number of runs and Comerica Park (with its big gaps) is the perfect park for a doubles hitter. How many times did we see this team string double after double together in 2006?
Where have the doubles come from so far this spring?
Among the team leaders are Alex Avila (he just made the team), Miguel Cabrera (no surprise there), Carlos Guillen (hopefully now healthy), Don Kelly (also just named to the team), and Johnny Damon (I expect lots of doubles from Damon this year).
If there’s one thing I know about Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski, it’s that he loves power arms, and the team won't be short on them this season.
Justin Verlander lead the way last season as the American League’s strikeout king and Rick Porcello showed he belongs in the big leagues.
This year the Tigers add starter Max Scherzer, who has struck out more than one per inning in his young career.
In the bullpen the Tiger’s will have Ryan Perry, Joel Zumaya, and Jose Valverde waiting.
Perry hits the upper 90s and everyone knows to watch the radar gun when Zumaya’s on the hill. It’s usually at this point in the games that opposing players wonder in anyone on the Tigers can throw softer than 95 miles per hour.
Valverde’s the new guy to the pen, but he was rock solid last year with Houston with 25 saves and a 2.33 ERA. He also struck out 56 batters in 54 innings of work.
Only one team had a player receive a first place vote in two the “big three” post season awards (MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year).
That team was the Tigers.
In fact, the Tigers had a player receive at least one first place vote in all three categories. Miguel Cabrera for MVP, Justin Verlander for Cy Young, and Rick Porcello for rookie of the year.
Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander will win their respective awards before their careers are over (you can take that promise to the bank) and Rick Porcello has given no indication that his quick rise to the majors was a fluke.
I fully expect Cabrera and Verlander to contend strongly for the awards this year and that bodes very well for the Tigers. Only the Yankees had a top five player in the Cy Young and MVP voting last year, and we all know how that ended up.