Originally written February 20, 2013 on isportsweb.com:
2012 was a year of joy, torment, success, and embarrassment all wrapped into one odd little package for the Detroit Tigers. Overall, the team made it to the World Series, which is a huge accomplishment and a great revenue generator for the franchise. Losing in lackluster fashion via sweep at the hands of the Giants was a black eye on the season. The Tigers needed nearly the full 162 games to take down the upstart White Sox in 2012. Detroit ultimately won the AL Central by 3 games with an 88-74 record. The Tigers represented well at home, going 50-31 at Comerica Park. Sadly, they fell into some bad habits on the road and mustered up just a 38-43 record away from home. That same failure away from Motown is what doomed the Tigers in 2010. Looking ahead to 2013, Detroit has shed a lot of the roster occupants who frustrated fans the most. Gone are Brandon Inge, Ryan Raburn, Jose Valverde, and Delmon Young. Back is starter Anibal Sanchez via a 5-year, $80M deal and free agent Torii Hunter returns to the Midwest to bolster the Detroit outfield. Times are good in Detroit as the payroll will approach an all-time high of $160M. Fans are turning out in droves, at least 3 million heads per season is the new norm. The team is in a win-now mode from Owner Mike Ilitch all the way down the line. The only thing missing is the organization’s first World Series crown since 1984. Can they get it? 3 Up                                                                      Best Case Scenario for 2013 There is no question that Detroit is built to win and that the AL Central is theirs to lose. The Tigers haven’t had a losing regular season since 2008 and something approaching their 95-win effort in 2011 seems to be in order. When a team rosters the last 2 AL MVP winners (Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera) and ‘supplemental’ pieces like Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez, Austin Jackson, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Sanchez, and others, the end game is a World Series title. That’s what this team is shooting for. Anything short of it will be deemed failure. Most Important Tigers Victor Martinez Offensively, this has to be Victor Martinez. He was an obvious key to Detroit’s outstanding 2011 season. His absence in 2012 sent the entire bottom half of the lineup into disarray. Nobody got it going with any consistency. Martinez lost all of his 2012 season after knee surgery. A season earlier he hit .330 with 12 homers, 40 doubles, and 103 RBI’s while backing up Miguel Cabrera. Now he will be Prince Fielder’s protector and help form one of the deadliest 3-4-5 combos in all of baseball. If VMart can get his oft injured body (he missed a lot of time in 2008, 2010, and all of 2012) into good enough shape to be the regular designated hitter, this offense will be one that makes opposing teams queasy. From a pitching perspective, a lot of fans will point to probable rookie closer Bruce Rondon. To me, it’s Doug Fister. Again, this represents a player that has to remain healthy. Fister made just one start last year before hitting the disabled list for a month and then had a 2nd DL stint in late May/early June. In his absence, the Tigers had no answer for his rotation spot. With Jacob Turner and Andy Oliver now wearing different uniforms, the starting pitching depth in the system is even more depleted this year. It’s a tall task to ask Detroit’s outstanding starting 5 to all take the hill every 5th day, but that’s how this season has been set up. Secondary to Fister’s health is keeping Max Scherzer on point. He battles his mechanics often and had some arm fatigue at the end of 2012. He needs to stay out of the mechanic’s shop and off of the DL just as much as Fister. Potential Breakout Players Last year, Alex Avila looked like a broken down truck after a dominant 2011 season. His quick, powerful stroke seemed to be a distant memory as he had the look of a catcher in the twilight of his career, rather than an up and comer. Think Jake Taylor from ‘Major League’ and you will start to get the picture. Consider that he hit .295 with 18 homers and 82 RBI’s in 2011 and followed that up by going .243/9/48 in ’12. He was one of the main reasons why the bottom of the order was such easy fodder for opposing pitchers. Entering his age 26 season, Avila hasn’t even hit his prime years yet. He appeared to be battling nagging injuries all of last season. If he can get his body in shape to handle a full load this year he could be ready to return to his former ways of putting a hurt on the baseball. 22-year old Bruce Rondon has yet to throw a major league pitch, yet management has all but handed him the 9th inning keys. Why? Across 3 levels of the minors last year, ending up in AAA Toledo, he had a 1.53 ERA and 1.09 WHIP while striking out 66 hitters in just 53 innings. He allowed just 32 hits in those 53 innings. He can battle his control at times but easily makes up for it with a triple digits fastball and solid slider. I not only think he earns the job in camp, but think that 35 or more saves is a virtual lock if the Tigers stick with him. 3 Down Worst Case Scenario In this section last year I boldly spoke of how their worst-case scenario was a first round exit from the playoffs. The AL Central crown was a foregone conclusion. Go ahead and hit the repeat button. As scary as things got last year, the Tigers’ roster is much improved this season and they should wipe out the competition by at least 5 games when it’s all said and done. Areas of Concern Jhonny Peralta Actually, there are several. Detroit’s starting pitchers last year were terrible at holding runners at 1st base. Often times Avila and Gerald Laird never had a fighting chance at throwing out base stealers. This has to be a point of emphasis in 2013’s spring training as the infield defense is still full of holes and base-runners can’t be given free reign. The outfield should be vastly improved with Hunter in the fold but with Cabrera, Fielder, and Jhonny Peralta all logging full-time innings, opposing groundballs will continue to find plenty of open space. Pinning all hopes on a rookie closer is certainly not a sure thing either. On top of all of this, the likely 1-2 punch of Jackson and Hunter combined to K 267 times a year ago. These two have to find a way to get on base aplenty as they will play table-setters all year long for the big 3. Who Needs to Bounce Back From a Down 2012 Fortunately, a lot of these guys are no longer around. I’ve already documented the need for Avila to come back strong. Right in line with him is Jhonny Peralta. Their stories are almost identical. Peralta posted a .299 average in 2011 with 21 homers and 86 RBI’s only to go .239/13/63 last year. Interestingly, his strikeouts were up just barely and he actually walked more than he did in ‘11. The big differential was his batting average on balls in play (BABIP). In 2011, Peralta’s BABIP was .325. Last year it was just .275, which tied a career low. His career mark in this category is .310. With this in mind, it’s not unreasonable to expect Peralta to lift his average back up into the .260-.270 range with an increase in power production. To make matters more promising, Peralta has already lost about 20 pounds from his season ending weight of 236 lbs. a year ago. Another guy who actually appeared in the breakout category a year ago, now finds himself cemented on this list: Brennan Boesch. The Tigers aren’t ready to give up on a guy with his skill set, and rightfully so. Boesch received the most at-bats of his career in 2012 before the Tigers finally gave up on him around mid-August. He hit just .240 with a .286 on-base %. His numbers were down across the board and now he finds himself scrapping for a roster spot. With Andy Dirks the likely starter in left, Boesch’s best bet is to break camp as the 4th outfielder. He had a monster spring a season ago before falling flat in the regular season. He’ll need another big camp just to prove he still belongs on the roster. To receive an email each time a new Tigers article is published, fill out the Email Notification Form [Follow me on Twitter @isportsJoe]
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