For the third year in a row, the Detroit Tigers qualified for the playoffs, only to stub their toe in the American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox when they were on the verge of taking a 2-0 lead in the series. Despite winning 93 games last year, Detroit has a roster that includes four new faces on the everyday lineup and a new starting pitcher, but the expectations are the same, to win the World Series.
Gone from last year are 1B Prince Fielder, SS/LF Jhonny Peralta and 2B Omar Infante, plus SS Jose Iglesias could miss the entire season with stress fractures in both legs. The team also traded away SP Doug Fister (14-9, 3.67 ERA), who had pitched quite well during his time with the Tigers.
Some of the new players, 2B Ian Kinsler and LF Rajai Davis, who stole a combined 60 bases last year, bring with them some speed. In fact, as a team, Detroit swiped just 35 bases in 2013, last in the majors. These new-look Tigers have much more speed, but sacrificed power to get here, losing 46 home runs with the departures of Fielder, Peralta and Infante.
The team also has a new manager in rookie Brad Ausmus. The former Tiger catcher, who previously worked in the front office with the San Diego Padres, replaces Jim Leyland, who retired after eight seasons and two American League titles.
Despite having some potent hitters, Detroit’s fate lies with its pitching staff. Led by Justin Verlander (13-12, 3.46 ERA), a former Cy Young winner who was also named the AL’s Most Valuable Player three years ago, the Tigers have one of the best starting rotations in the game. Reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer (21-3, 2.90 ERA), who turned down a six-year, $144 million extension less than two weeks ago, is as good as any No. 2 starter in the game, and Anibal Sanchez (14-8, 2.57 ERA) was first in the AL in ERA last year.
Rick Porcello (13-8, 4.32 ERA) had one of his best years in ’13 and Drew Smyly, the only left-hander in the rotation, pitched very well out of the bullpen last year. He was a starter two years ago, pitching 18 games while going 4-3 with a 3.99 ERA, so he is capable of filling in nicely. That said, trading Fister could wind up hurting the club.
Kinsler (.277 BA, 31 2B, 72 RBI) will hit leadoff and provide some speed at the top of the lineup. Though he only stole 15 bases last year, Kinsler missed 26 games. In the two prior years, where Kinsler played an average of 156 games, he averaged just under 26 stolen bases.
Despite being 38, RF Torii Hunter (.304 BA, 37 2B, 84 RBI) has hit over .300 in each of the last two seasons and is a formidable threat in the two-hole. First baseman Miguel Cabrera (.348 BA, 44 HR, 137 RBI) is the best hitter in the game and earned MVP honors for the second consecutive year. He recently signed an extension with the team that will keep him in Detroit thru 2023.
Designated hitter Victor Martinez (.301 BA, 36 2B, 83 RBI) bounced back last year after missing the previous season with a torn ACL, and former leadoff hitter CF Austin Jackson (.272 BA, 30 2B, 49 RBI) has been moved down in the lineup to take some pressure off him.
Catcher Alex Avila (.227 BA, 14 2B, 47 RBI) hit .281 over the season’s final three months in ’13 and should bounce back. Third baseman Nick Castellanos is a highly-touted rookie that will hit seventh, and Alex Gonzalez and Andrew Romine will platoon at shortstop. Davis (.260 BA, 16 2B, 45 SB) was expected to platoon with Andy Dirks in left field, but Dirks (.256 BA, 16 2B, 37 RBI) will be out until June after having back surgery. Davis will provide speed at the bottom of the order. The rest of the bench consists of backup catcher Bryan Holaday, utilityman Don Kelly and OF Tyler Collins.
The best closer on the market, Joe Nathan (6-2, 1.39 ERA, 43 SV), was signed by the Tigers to replace Joaquin Benoit. The team also signed Joba Chamberlain, who had some success with the Yankees in years past, and he joins left-handed specialist Phil Coke and Al Alburquerque as the veterans in the bullpen. The remaining four pitchers, Ian Krol, Luke Putkonen and Evan Reed, are pretty young and have only a combined 96.1 innings pitched in their careers.
Bruce Rondon, who the team had high hopes for, will miss the season after sustaining an injury to his elbow. Rondon, who went 1-2 with a 3.45 ERA and threw 30 strikeouts in 28.2 innings last season, had the ability to hit 100 mph on the radar gun and could be a big loss for the Tigers.