MLB: Detroit Tigers and Five Dark Horse Teams to Watch out for This Season

JohnContributor IIIJune 27, 2011

MLB: Detroit Tigers and Five Dark Horse Teams to Watch out for This Season

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    There are a few obvious favorites this season in the MLB, most notably the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies.  They may have the best records in the MLB, but there are other teams making noise. There are some teams that are good but few are realizing it.

    Dark horses, for instance.

    In this article, I'll tell you who I think other teams should watch out for. I'll list my reasons as to why I would pick these teams. You can comment below and tell me your opinion on the matter.

Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Last year, no one would have expected the Arizona Diamondbacks to be on the list of MLB teams to watch out for. Now, however, they are 43-36, only one game behind the NL West-leading San Francisco Giants.

    The Diamondbacks offense is a little behind most teams. They do, however, have some good hitters. Justin Upton has a .305 batting average and .387 OBP. He has 12 HR and 40 RBI this year. Miguel Montero has a .282 BA with 39 runs batted in. Stephen Drew has a .271 BA with 41 RBI, and Chris Young has 15 HR and 42 RBI. Not the best offense in the league, but they have some good hitters that have the skill to carry the team when needed.

    The Diamondbacks starting pitching statistics don't look that much better.  Aside from Ian Kennedy's 8-2 record and 2.90 ERA, they don't really have any starting pitchers that stand out.  Daniel Hudson is 9-5 with a 3.58 ERA.  

    J.J. Putz and David Hernandez lead the bullpen with ERAs of 2.45 and 2.50, respectively.  The Diamondbacks' bullpen is pretty good.

    The Diamondbacks have room for improvement on defense.  They are tied for 14th in the MLB with a .984 team fielding percentage.  The team has 48 errors on the season, 19 from the best. 

    Overall, the Diamondbacks pitching is ninth in the league with a 3.96 ERA.  Their offense is ninth with a .251 batting average.  For teams like Arizona, however, stats aren't necessarily all you should go by.  Just looking at the transformation form last years 65-97 to this years 43-36 shows that Arizona is capable of a lot more than most think.  

    They have not made it to the postseason for years, so most of their players don't have the much-needed postseason experience that some of the other top teams do.  The Diamondbacks have a lot of young players that are around their prime, and a postseason appearance this year may help them a lot in the coming years. 

Tampa Bay Rays

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    I think that the Tampa Bay Rays are a team to watch out for this season. It may seem improbable, but I think that they have the talent to get past both New York and Boston for the division title, or at least get the wild card.

    On offense, they may be a little behind the Yankees and the Red Sox. Matt Joyce, Tampa Bay's right fielder, has a .310 batting average and a .373 on base percentage for the year. He has 38 RBI and 10 HR. Johnny Damon is hitting .274.  B. J. Upton has 11 home runs and 41 runs batted in this year. Casey Kotchman is hitting .343 on the year with a .398 OBP.  Justin Ruggiano has a .305 batting average.

    Pitching isn't that much of a problem for the Rays. Starting pitcher James Shields is 8-4 with a 2.29 ERA and an 0.96 WHIP. He also has 117 strikeouts. Jeremy Hellickson has a 3.09 ERA and David Price has a 3.51 ERA.

    Their bullpen has some good pitchers too. They have pitchers like Adam Russell, who has a 2.63 ERA, Juan Cruz, who has a 3.14, and Kyle Farnsworth, who has a 1.99 ERA and an 0.85 WHIP.

    Tampa Bay is also second to only the Phillies in team fielding percentage at .987.  They have a plus-34 run differential, which shows that they have good hitting combined with good defense and pitching.

    I know that they have two great teams ahead of them in the AL East, but I think that the Tampa Bay Rays are a team to look out for in the coming weeks. They have won eight of their last nine games, and I won't be surprised if soon they are at the top of the division.

    The Rays really started getting into the division race in 2008, the year when they won the American League Pennant. Since then they have made many changes to their team.

    The team is a young club, but a lot of the players have postseason experience, which can be a big plus. I think that if they do end up in a tight race near the end of the season with Boston and New York, all three teams have great players with postseason and under-pressure experience.  It will be interesting to see how the rest of the season unfolds.

Detroit Tigers

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    Detroit started out the season far behind Cleveland. The Tribe has been recently slumping, and Detroit has had a chance to pull forward. They are now ahead of the Indians by half of a game and are first in the AL Central.

    In offense, the Tigers have some great players. Miguel Cabrebra is hitting .327. He has a .450 OBP with 15 HRs and 50 RBI. Victor Martinez is hitting .335.

    Justin Verlander is the Tigers best starting pitcher, and is considered by some to be one of the best pitchers in the league. He is 10-3 with a 2.38 ERA and 124 strikeouts. In terms of others, most of the other starting pitchers have ERAs over 4.00.  

    The Tiger's bullpen is better than their starting pitching. It includes pitchers like Daniel Schlereth, Jose Valverde, and Al Alburquerque. These relief pitchers have ERAs of 2.75, 2.51, and 1.75.

    On defense, the Tigers rank 23 as a team with 50 errors. They have scored 21 more runs as a team than they have given up, which is very good compared to many other teams. 

    Overall, the Tigers are a very good team that have recently emerged from behind the wrath of the Cleveland Indians.  I think that they are a team that everyone should watch out for. They have some middle aged to older players, and some have some postseason experience.

    Experience under pressure can be invaluable if they are close with the Indians near the end of the year. The Tigers don't have as much experience as someone like the Braves, Phillies, Red Sox, or Yankees, but they have more than the Indians, who are a relatively young team.

    In the playoffs, however, they may play more experienced teams-most of the current division leaders were in the postseason sometime in the last few years. I think that Detroit will, however, have a good chance against them.  

    Some of the Tigers' younger players may benefit a lot from a postseason experience. This will help to keep the team at the top of the division when some of the veterans leave.  

    Detroit may not be a favorite, but the Tigers are a good team, and if some of their players heat up, they have the skill to play a close series with some of the top teams.

Atlanta Braves

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    Although they are behind the Philadelphia Phillies for the NL East, the Atlanta Braves are one of the top teams in the league.

    Atlanta has one of the top pitching rotations in the game. Jair Jurrjens is 10-3 with a 2.07 ERA. Tommy Hanson is 8-4 with a 2.48 ERA. Tim Hudson has a 3.51 ERA.

    In terms of relief pitching, the Braves are near the top of the list, too.  Eric O'Flaherty and Johnny Venters have ERAs of 1.27 and 1.29.  Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta's closer, has 20 saves and a 2.84 ERA.

    On offense, Atlanta has a little less skill. The highest batting average on the team is their catcher Brian McCann. He hits .300. Some others are Martin Prado, who is hitting .277, and Freddy Freeman, whose batting average is at .269 for the year.  McCann has 13 HR and 43 RBI.

    On defense, the Braves are 19 in the MLB for team errors. They have 48.  They are 15 in the MLB with a .984 fielding percentage. They also have 39 more runs scored than runs given up.  This shows that their pitching, hitting, and defense are all good enough to compliment the others.

    Overall, Atlanta may be a team that gets the NL Wild Card or the NL East division title.  They are not talked about much because Philadelphia is ahead of them, but we will see whether they develop into a strong team later in the season. 

    They have some veterans and some young players.  They also have a good farm system that gives them high hopes for the future.  Most of the players on the team have postseason experience from last year. They have experience under pressure, which is very important if they end up in a close race near the end of the season. 

Milwaukee Brewers

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    I really didn't think that the Milwaukee Brewers would be leading the division at any point during the year. No one really did. They are now 44-35, ahead of the second place St. Louis Cardinals by 3 games.

    In offense, the Brewers have some great players. Ryan Braun is hitting .308 with 16 HR and 59 RBI.  Prince Fielder is hitting .305 with a .426 OBP, 21 home runs and 68 runs batted in. Rickie Weeks is hitting .290 with 14 home runs and 33 RBI.

    The Brewers' pitching is good, also.  Shaun Marcum leads their starting pitchers with a 2.95 ERA.  Randy Wolf is 6-4 with a 3.20 ERA.  Yovani Gallardo is 9-4 with a 3.92 ERA and 94 strikeouts.  

    The Brewers bullpen has pitchers like LaTroy Hawkins, who has an 0.46 ERA, Zach Braddock, who has a 2.19 ERA, and John Axford, who has 20 saves and 2.55 ERA.  The bullpen is stronger than some teams, but not as strong as others. It can match up with some of the top contenders, however.

    In fielding, Milwaukee is 14 in the MLB with a .984 fielding percentage.  They are also 14 with 45 errors.

    They have a plus-27 run differential, which is important in considering offense and defense combined. This isn't at the top of the list of division leaders, but it is good compared to last year's minus-54.  

    Overall, Milwaukee has some young players, but most were in the postseason in 2008 and have some experience under pressure.  No one really expected them to come off last year's 77-85 to hold out a division lead through late June.  With the Cardinals' best player injured, and the rest of the division close to .500 or worse, I think Milwaukee may be an unexpected division winner going into October.  

    One of their main troubles if they do make the postseason may be that they didn't have many great competitors in their division. They may not make it very far in the postseason, but they have a good team who may come through when they are needed. 

What Do You Think?

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    I've given you my opinion on this—what's yours? I'm just one fan—I want to know the majority vote.  You probably have some other teams in mind. 

    If so, feel free to comment below and let me and other readers know! If you have a convincing argument, I might add that team to the list.

    I would appreciate hearing your opinion. I'll ask you one question to respond to:

    Who do you think will be the next dark horse team to watch out for in the MLB?