Team Preview: Detroit Tigers

By: Josh Wasserman – Chief MLB Writer.

In the coming weeks leading up to Opening Day, FSLR will be previewing the 30 MLB teams and their respective chances for the 2014 season. Continuing with the AL Central, ALCS runner up Detroit Tigers are up next…

AL Central:
Day 6: Kansas City Royals
Day 7: Minnesota Twins
Day 8: Detroit Tigers
Day 9: Chicago White Sox
Day 10: Cleveland Indians

Detroit Tigers

2013 Record: 93-69 (1st)
2014 Projected Record: 96-66 (1st)

​Even though the Tigers are essentially guaranteed the division crown each year due to the lack of any strong dark horse, they deserve the recognition and praise regardless.

One of the most all-around sound teams in the game, the Tigers limit their opponents to few runs while piling on the score sheet on the offensive side. Losing Prince Fielder is rough, but it’s assuaged by the fact that they got Ian Kinsler, one of the premier middle infielders in the league, in return.

I’m prophesizing that their offense will remain as potent as ever, and with the crucial pieces of their dominant rotation returning, in conjunction with the fortification of their bullpen, the Tigers will fulfill their perennial powerhouse expectations as usual, and will find themselves contending for the World Series title once again.

Projected Lineup:
1) Austin Jackson, CF
2) Ian Kinsler, 2B
3) Miguel Cabrera, 1B
4) Victor Martinez, DH
5) Torii Hunter, RF
6) Alex Avila, C
7) Nick Castellanos, 3B
8) Steve Lombardozzi, SS
9) Don Kelly/Rajai Davis, LF

​First year manager Brad Ausmus is a fine coach and a good guy, but he’s also inheriting a stacked team from Jim Leyland. It has a well-balanced composition of speed and power, and youth and experience.

Leadoff man Austin Jackson has jumped around the batting order due to his inconsistency. Some weeks he’ll be stroking the ball to all parts of the park and stealing bases at will, and others he’ll be completely absent from box scores and struggling to get on base. Ausmus should at least give him the chance as the Opening Day leadoff man because, at his best, he’s the most complete leadoff man on the roster, and one of the best in the league.

New arrival and three-time all-star Ian Kinsler will sit behind Jackson. Some may consider Jose Iglesias to be a good idea in this spot, but the Tigers have always looked to maximize the amount of plate appearances Miguel Cabrera has, so Cabrera will hit third and Kinsler will take the place before him.

Kinsler is known for being one of the best all-around players in the game and possessing incredible qualities of hustle, attitude, and work ethic. He plays second base beautifully, and hits for both contact and power, knocking in runs while scoring them as well.

Cabrera puts up ridiculous stats every season, but he’s always had to rely on his own power to boost his RBI total. Now, with a solid table-setter for the first time in years, his RBIs should increase as hard as it is to believe.

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Veterans Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter will fit the 4 and 5 slots after Cabrera. Martinez is coming off a great campaign last year and his move from from catcher to DH a few years ago has helped him maintain his offensive prowess even at 35. Hunter also seems to be an ageless player who never seems to succumb to attrition. He has hit at least 16 home runs and 78 RBI’s every year since 2005. Talk about dependability and durability. And off the field, Hunter’s infectious energy endears him to all of his teammates, helping their performances and boosting team morale.

Following him will usually be Jose Iglesias, the AL Rookie of the Year contender last year, but the team reports that shin splints have been nagging Iglesias and he is unlikely to be back in time for Opening Day. However, once he returns to the lineup, he’ll be inserted into the 6 hole pretty quickly, offering an impressive plate presence and composure at a young age.

Steve Lombardozzi, fresh from Washington DC, should be his replacement for the time being as he made a name for himself among the crowded Washington infield.

Rookie Nick Castellanos is making a strong case to make the Opening Day roster and could very well take the starting third base position. He’s turned plenty of heads this spring and his minor league stats only act as further proof he’s ready for the next level.

Don Kelly and Rajai Davis are competing for the final spot in the lineup and they both excel at different facets of the game, Kelly with his average and Davis with his speed. Whomever they go with, the Tigers should be fine, and overall, they’re looking to prey on the entire league this year.

Projected Rotation:
1) Justin Verlander, RHP
2) Max Scherzer, RHP
3) Anibal Sanchez, RHP
4) Drew Smyly, LHP
5) Rick Porcello, RHP

​Top to bottom, Detroit’s rotation is about as reliable as you can find in this league. It kind of gets me reminiscing about the Giants’ rotation back in 2010.

The man who throws faster when he’s tired, the man who tossed two no-hitters in a year, the undisputable centerpiece of the rotation, Justin Verlander is returning to Detroit. Though he has just recently made his spring debut, there seems to be nothing that can hold Verlander back, especially attrition (incredibly, he starts the game throwing 94 and ends in the 7th or 8th with 99-100).

Some teams would be fine with having an unstoppable pitcher like Verlander and just him. But behind him is Max Scherzer, who managed to best Verlander’s stats last year. Scherzer’s 2013 season could be the best season of career and he’s only 30: he went 21-3, posted a 2.90 ERA over 214 innings, and allowed merely an unbelievable .198 BAA and .97 WHIP. In commonspeak, he allowed less than 3 runs every 9 innings, allowed 2 hitters to get a hit every 10 batters, and less than 1 runner on base every inning.

If dominance was previously the top level for pitchers, Scherzer’s year raised the mark to an unprecedented echelon.

Behind two of the top fifteen pitchers in the league as ranked by our site’s very own preseason fantasy rankings (worth a look under the Fantasy Baseball section) is Anibal Sanchez. There has never been a point in his career when critics have doubted his ability to play at the major league level. But when he came to Detroit, he shined on a platform people hadn’t seen since his rookie season. Ending with a career-high in wins and a career-low ERA, Sanchez is looking to continue his growth into 2014.

A reliever just last year, Drew Smyly is stepping in in place of Doug Fister, who was traded to the Nationals this winter. He posted great numbers in the pen last year and has had exposure as a starter since he began his career in Detroit as one.

The one important question for Smyly entering 2014 is whether he can deal with the workload of being a starter, as he’s never thrown over 100 innings and a season, and being in just his third year in the bigs, his body is still fragile.

The last spot should go to Rick Porcello, who’s been on the ascent after a poor sophomore year. His debut year turned heads, but he had issues the second year and has been working to overcome his identity as a weak link.

Porcello’s ERA has been steadily decreasing over the past few years and he’s durable, having pitched around 175 innings every season of his career. All the Tigers are looking for is for him to continue his upturn.

With a 5th starter as solid as that following an incredible rotation before him, the Tigers are set for a deep run from a pitching standpoint.

Projected Bullpen:
MR: Phil Coke, LHP/Joba Chamberlain, RHP
SU: Al Alburquerque, RHP/Bruce Rondon, RHP
CL: Joe Nathan, RHP

​After losing closer Joaquin Benoit to free agency in December, the Tigers had to fill that gap with a notable closer. Shrewdly, they maneuvered the signing of Joe Nathan from Texas.

Nathan put up some of his best numbers in years, finishing with 43 saves in 46 opportunities last year. He’s reaching the final stages of his career, but another year like the last provide the Tigers with the late inning security they’ve been accustomed to with Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit.

Flamethrower Al Alburquerque will probably be the setup man as he is typically dependable and youngster Bruce Rondon didn’t show signs of being ready for the pressure of being a full-time closer last year. However, Tigers management has thrust their support behind him and claim that he will soon be ready to be a closer.

A year or two more of acclimation to the majors will see Rondon as the closer the Tigers envision (another reason why Nathan only needs one more year of good work).

Phil Coke and Joba Chamberlain will be the middle relievers, but they won’t be called upon very often due to the rotation’s ability to pitch deep into games. Which is a good thing because Chamberlain and Coke aren’t known to be reliable for too long.

Coke had a few good years in New York while Joba has really had one or two. However, they won’t see much action and it won’t make much of a difference for the Tigers because they’ll usually have the game locked up by the 5th or 6th inning anyways.