By: RICKY LINDSAY, STAFF COLUMNIST
Last week, while many people were celebrating Valentine’s Day, others were celebrating the return of baseball in the form of spring training. The Detroit Tigers took the field in Lakeland, Florida with high expectations and several story lines for the 2013 season.
The Tigers welcome a new outfielder in Torii Hunter with the departure of 2012 ALCS MVP Delmon Young to the Philadelphia Phillies, and welcome back designated hitter Victor Martinez.
Hunter, 37, who the Tigers signed just weeks after the World Series loss, will start in right field and is expected to hit second in the lineup. Hunter will not only affect the Tigers offensively, but will provide leadership to their younger players.
The return of Martinez is also monumental. With Martinez, the Tigers have a 2-3-4-5 that most teams would dream of, consisting of Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Martinez.
The open left field spot will be decided between candidates Andy Dirks and Avisail Garcia. Garcia, 21, is a much better athlete than Dirks, but has little experience in the Major Leagues, giving Dirks a slight advantage.
It’s also likely that the Tigers enter the 2013 regular season with a rookie closer. Bruce Rondon, the hard throwing right hander who routinely touches 103 miles per hour with his fastball, is the favorite to win the job. At 22, Rondon has never thrown a pitch at the Major League level, a risky move by the Tigers in their championship or bust season.
A competition for the fifth spot in the rotation will also occur. Drew Smyly and Rick Porcello will compete against each other for it during spring training. Smyly, a left hander, is vying to become the only lefty in the Tigers rotation, while Porcello will look to secure an all-righty rotation.
All of these internal story lines give the Tigers high expectations entering this season. Two straight division titles, two ALCS appearances, a World Series appearance, and two straight MVP’s also add impact to those expectations.
However, can the Tigers exceed expectations and win their first World Series championship since 1984?
Currently, there is no definite answer, but the Tigers are considered to be the favorite to win the American League once again, and rightfully so.
The team as a whole has improved vastly from last season, which definitely makes a statement being the defending American League champions. The experience and taste of defeat in an embarrassing form will also keep players hungry for success this season.
They were only four wins away from winning it all last season, and I expect this Tigers team to get their championship rings in 2013.