No Prince. No Problem. After signing Prince Fielder to the team’s largest contract, the Detroit Tigers traded away the slugger just two years into his 9-year, $214 million contract. With two-time MVP and triple-crown winner Miguel Cabrera leading the way, the Tigers still are the favorites to win the AL Central Division.
Justin Verlander was just announced as the opening day starter for a seventh consecutive season. The former MVP and Cy Young winner had an off year finishing 2013 at 13-12 with a 3.46 ERA. His WHIP was the highest it had been in four years but all that dissipated as Verlander was clutch when it mattered. For a second straight season, the beau of supermodel Kate Upton defeated the Oakland A’s on the road in a deciding Game 5 during the ALDS. Had Joaquin Benoit not served up the grand slam to David Ortiz in the following series, the Tigers likely would have been in the World Series. Verlander has been dominant since he entered the league and he will have another big year. Starter 1A had been floating under the radar for many years before he skyrocketed into orbit last season. Max Scherzer was nearly unhittable posting a 21-3 record along with a 2.90 ERA and 240 strikeouts in 214 innings. His 10.1 ratio of strikeouts per inning was amongst the best in the Majors and he consistently pitched deep into ballgames. This is Scherzer’s final season of arbitration and as the Scott Boras client seeks maximum contract extension, expect him to be highly motivated so he can get the big deal. Behind the two stars is Anibal Sanchez. While Verlander and Scherzer command all the attention, Sanchez has quietly become the team’s ace in the hole leading the league with a 2.57 ERA. He also posted a career-high strikeouts per inning ratio at 10.0. With all three pitchers in their prime, Drew Smyly and Rick Porcello each formidable backend starters, and the addition of prime closer Joe Nathan, the Tigers boast one of the toughest rotations.
Ian Kinsler takes over at second base for the departed Prince Fielder. A former 30-30 player, it is hard to image Kinsler returning to such form with the deep fence at Comerica but his doubles will increase. When healthy, Kinsler is one of the better offensive players. He had grown sour in Texas and a fresh start will certainly do him well in the Motor City. Torii Hunter continues his stellar play in the outfield. Even at 38, Hunter has earned respect from all as the consummate professional. He hit .304 with 90 runs and should have another solid season. Cabrera is the greatest player since Barry Bonds. He won the triple-crown in 2012 and barely missed it last season. With back-to-back MVPs, the pure talent is a thrill for even the opposing team to watch as no player has displayed such a combination of power and finesse. Cabrera on the other hand has continued to put up historic numbers even in the pitcher-friendly stadium. This year might be harder with Kinsler protecting Cabrera as pitchers will look to throw around slugger. He played the second half hurt so having him at 100% is exciting for Tigers fans. Until someone has a better year, Cabrera should be forerunner to win another MVP.
Alex Avila and the free-swinging Austin Jackson are a concern for the Tigers. After hitting 19 homers just two years ago, Avila’s batting average dipped to .227 last season. Jackson consistently is amongst the league leaders in strikeouts and his struggles were prominent during the playoffs. The speedy outfielder needs to put the ball in play, even if it is an out. If each get off to a sluggish start, expect Tigers brass to explore upgrades via trade.
With rookie manager Brad Ausmus leading the charge, the Tigers should run away with the division. Scherzer and Verlander could win 20 each. Can they advance in the playoffs resolves around the play of Kinsler and health of Cabrera. The Tigers have faltered last couples years in the postseason. However, Cabrera always makes them a legitimate contender.
All stats are courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/.