2013 Detroit Tigers preview
After reaching the World Series in 2012, the Tigers look like the early favorite to represent the AL in the fall classic again in 2013.
The Detroit Tigers have not done a lot this offseason, but they have made the moves necessary to be the preseason favorite to represent the American League in the World Series again this fall. The Tigers let more players go than they got back in offseason moves, gone are catcher Gerald Lair, infielder Ryan Raburn and outfielder Delmon Young and pitchers Daniel Schlereth and Jose Valverde. The lone acquisition for the ball club was the signing of free agent right fielder Torii Hunter who last played for the Angels. Hunter should add some additional power to Detroit’s already powerful line-up, as will the return of designated hitter Victor Martinez who missed all of last season with a leg injury. The club is bound to come out of the gates swinging looking to avenge their embarrassing four-game sweep by the San Francisco Giants in the World Series last year and will try to dominate their division for the first time in nearly a decade.
The Tigers will have a solid pitching rotation returning from 2012 and it will be anchored by veteran Justin Verlander. Verlander went 17-8 with a 2.64 ERA last year and struck-out a league-high 239 batters. Verlander will give the ball club innings; he pitched six complete games last season and led the league in innings pitched with 238.1. Behind Verlander will be Max Scherzer who came off a career-best 16-7 record last season and struck out 231 men en route to a 3.74 ERA. Doug Fister will throw third and will need to bounce back from his rocky 10-10 season in 2012. The Tigers will need all five men in the rotation to pitch consistently if they want to run away with the division and not fight neck and neck with Cleveland and Kansas City all season long. Anibal Sanchez will pitch fourth and is back in the fold after testing the free agent market this offseason and he could be good enough for 14 to 16 wins if the Tigers’ offense can give him enough room to work with, and the fifth spot will go to either right hander Rick Porcello or lefty Drew Smyly.
Offensively, the Tigers boast one of the better designated hitters in baseball in Victor Martinez. After missing all of the 2012 campaign rehabbing a leg injury, Martinez is poised to make an impact this season and should be good for 24 to 28 home runs and 90 or more RBIs if he stays healthy all season. Expect Hunter to see some time at DH as well either to give Martinez a rest, or allow him to play first base to rest Prince Fielder. Detroit’s offense looks pretty potent from one through nine, and they will not likely miss the departure of Young and Raburn once the season gets rolling.
The Tigers will return their entire infield this season with Fielder expected to start at first, Omar Infante at second, Jhonny Peralta at shortstop and Miguel Cabrera at third. With Martinez returning he will likely see some time at first base when Fielder needs a day off. Last season Peralta struggled at times defensively and should that continue the Tigers will likely look to upgrade that position via trade. Defensively, the Tigers struggled a lot last season, and the lack of moves this offseason to upgrade themselves could be the team’s Achilles heel again in 2013. Austin Jackson returns at center and will join Andy Dirks at left and Hunter at right to make-up the Tigers’ outfield.
Looking at Detroit’s bullpen the role with the most concern is their closer as it will be handed to 22-year old rookie Bruce Rondon. Rondon is a true rookie, with zero innings of Major League baseball experience under his belt, and just eight innings of Triple-A ball heading into Spring Training this season. The Tigers are confident that the youngster will win over his critics this spring, but if he’s a bust, they have little in the way of a back-up plan to fill the void. Phil Coke and Joaquin Benoit will once again combine to set-up Rondon in the eighth inning. The rest of the pen will be rounded out by Al Alburquerque, Octavio Dotel and Brayan Villarreal.
The Tigers really didn’t do much this offseason, but they really didn’t have to. The team looks great on paper and the addition of Martinez and Hunter to last year’s line-up should keep opposing pitching shaking in their boots. Their pitching staff looks formidable with the lone exception of their closer, but they have the means to grab someone via trade if things get dire enough that it becomes necessary. Defensively, the team didn’t do anything to improve on a lack-luster performance last season, and that could be their downfall with the vast improvements that both Kansas City and Cleveland have made this offseason.
If the Tigers can hold it together they will surpass their 88-74 record from last season and run away with the Central Division by the end of June. If their defense fails them and their bullpen isn’t what they expect it to be, and if they have any serious injuries to one of their starting five, the team is going to struggle to keep pace with the Indians and the Royals. I believe it will be the latter and the Tigers will finish with an 86-76 record, taking the Division by two or three games over either Kansas City or Cleveland.
By Robert Gonzalez