The Detroit Tigers won the American League Central last season by 3 games over the White Sox and despite finishing with the fewest wins of any AL playoff team, the Tigers were able to win the pennant and advance all the way to the World Series before being swept by the Giants.
Coming into the 2013 season the Tigers are once again the team to beat in the AL Central.
If the White Sox want to catch the Tigers this year, they can start by beating them in their head to head matchups. Last season the White Sox won just 6 of the 18 games against the Tigers and had just ONE WIN at Comerica Park in 9 tries. When you lose a division by 3 games because you couldn’t go .500 against your biggest competition you have no one to blame but yourself.
Detroit's Quiet Offseason
The Tigers have not stayed quiet this offseason and aging owner Mike Illitch is clearly making another push for the World Series title that has eluded him.
The biggest free agent move for the Tigers was the signing of Torii Hunter to a 2 year, $26 million contract. The move meant the departure of Sox killer Delmon Young who had 3 homers and 14 RBI against the Sox last season in 18 games. However, his replacement in Hunter has also played the role of Sox killer over the years. In 159 career games (roughly one full MLB season) Hunter has 27 homers and 92 RBI to go along with 20 stolen bases and 95 runs scored. Not to mention the slew of tremendous defensive plays he has made to take runs off the board for the Sox. This move is an upgrade for the Tigers for if nothing else, Hunter will be a vast upgrade defensively in right field. He will likely slide into the #2 spot in the lineup giving the Tigers a dynamic top of the order.
One Scary Lineup
How about that Tigers lineup? Austin Jackson leading off with new addition Hunter hitting second ahead of the reigning MVP and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and then Prince Fielder hitting cleanup providing protection. Oh yeah, and Victor Martinez is set to return this season and will likely DH and hit 5th behind Cabrera and Fielder. Yikes.
An ACL injury kept V-Mart out all of last season and prompted the Tigers to sign Prince Fielder as protection for Cabrera. That move seemed to work and now with Martinez on track to return the Tigers will have one of the scariest lineups in baseball. In Martinez’s lone season with the Tigers he hit .330 with 103 RBI and a .394 with runners in scoring position.
Round out the lineup with Jhonny Peralta, Alex Avila, Andy Dirks and Omar Infante and the Tigers should be able to score some runs this year.
An Underappreciated Pitching Staff
The other major offseason move for the Tigers was to re-sign pitcher Anibal Sanchez, who was acquired at the trade deadline last year from the Miami Marlins. After a rocky start with the Tigers, Sanchez settled down and performed very well, including 1.77 ERA in three playoff starts. Overall he was 4-6 with a respectable 3.74 ERA in 12 starts for Detroit with a 3.80 K/BB ratio.
Sanchez will slide into the 4th spot in a very deep starting rotation anchored by Justin Verlander and Doug Fister. Max Scherzer made big strides last year and could be on the verge of a breakout season after striking out 231 batters in just 187.2 innings last year. Rick Porcello has been the talk of several trade scenarios in the off season but as of now will start the season as the Tigers 5th starter. Despite his struggles against the rest of the AL last year, the 24-year-old right-hander was 3-1 with a 1.98 ERA against the White Sox in 2012.
The final major off-season news for the Tigers is that they allowed Jose Valverde to leave in free agency and did not go out and sign a proven closer. It was an interesting move for the Tigers as no pitcher currently on their staff had more than 2 Major League saves last year.
The Tigers will enter Spring Training with an open competition for the closer role. There are a number of possible veteran candidates to land the closer role including Joaquin Benoit who was the primary set up man for Valverde, Phil Coke who took over the closers role in the ALCS and got a couple saves and Octavio Dotel who has 109 career saves.
Despite all the veteran pieces the leading candidate might be 22-year-old rookie Bruce Rondon who saved 29 games in the Tigers minor league system last season while posting an impressive 1.53 ERA. It will be interesting to see what happens with the Tigers closing spot, as Sox fans know closer by committee early in the season can lead to some games slipping away that can hurt you come September.
Despite the closer role being in flux the Tigers still have a very deep and solid bullpen. That combined with a stacked lineup, maybe the deepest starting rotation in the American League and an improved defense all equals out to the Tigers being the team to beat in the Central and maybe in the American League for 2013. Fear not Sox fans, all hope is not lost.
The Tigers were expected to run away with the division last year and did not. The biggest thing the Sox can do to help stay close to the Tigers is to beat them in head to head play. Even playing them .500 would be a three game improvement over last year and those three games would have meant a tie atop the division after 162 games. In the end however I think the Central is the Tigers to lose.