Sunday, March 2, 2014

What's in Store for the Tigers?

The Tigers are going to be good, but how good? (RantSports)
The Detroit Tigers have been one of baseball's best teams over the past three years. In addition to winning the AL Central each year, they've made it as far as Game 6 of the ALCS (twice) and reached the World Series in 2012 (only to be swept by the San Francisco Giants). So despite averaging 92 wins during the regular season and going deep into the playoffs three times, Detroit has come up empty each time, unable to secure the World Series trophy that has eluded their franchise for three decades.

Could this be the year for the Tigers? It very well might be. There's a reason Vegas gave them the best odds to reach the Fall Classic of any American League team. Detroit boasts three legitimate Cy Young candidates in its starting rotation, has the two-time defending AL MVP anchoring its lineup (one that scored more runs than every team except the Red Sox last year) and addressed its bullpen woes by acquiring a six-time All-Star who's been the best closer this side of Mariano Rivera over the past decade.

The Tigers look great on paper and seemed poised to make another run at their first championship since 1984, when Sparky Anderson guided Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Kirk Gibson, Jack Morris and co. to 104 regular season wins and a World Series victory over the San Diego Padres. They don't figure to have much competition within their own division as Cleveland is likely to regress and Kansas City doesn't seem to have the pitching needed for a division title.

But while Detroit's fourth straight playoff appearance looks like a given, I still have my doubts. Call me crazy, but I feel like the Tigers have a lot of regression coming their way. For starters, Miguel Cabrera probably won't be as good as he was last year, when he enjoyed what was easily the finest season of his Cooperstown-caliber career. He struggled with injuries down the stretch, which leads me to believe that this could be the year he misses extended time with a major injury.

And Cabrera's not the only one at risk. Designated hitter Victor Martinez is 35. Torii Hunter is going to turn 39 this year and hurt himself going over the right field wall in Fenway Park, so his late-career renaissance is unlikely to last much longer. Ian Kinsler's not the player he used to be, and it's probably all downhill from here as the second baseman prepares to enter his age 32 season.

Reigning AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer can't possibly be as good as he was last year, and neither can ERA champion Anibal Sanchez, for that matter. Justin Verlander might be better, but he's 31 so maybe not. Doug Fister's quiet excellence will be missed.

The bullpen is supposed to be better, but a lot of that hinges on 39 year-old Joe Nathan. Nathan was absolutely tremendous last season (1.39 ERA, 0.90 WHIP) but did see his walk rate spike to 3.1 BB/9, his highest since 2003. He's a lock to for natural regression, which could be aggravated by age and/or injury.

Last but not least, they also have a rookie manager in Brad Ausmus, a far cry from the steady and experienced Jim Leyland.

I agree that the Tigers are a very dangerous team, and they should have no problem getting back to the postseason for the fourth consecutive year. But there are many ways in which they could step back, and accordingly I don't feel confident predicting them to make, much less win, the 2014 World Series.

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