By JOHN MACDONELL, Staff Writer
Ah, you smell that people? That’s the smell of baseball in the fresh spring air. The temperature is back up in the 50s and the boys of summer are heading back to the diamond for another year of exciting action. Will this be the year that a championship heads back to the Motor City? Only time will tell. However, with such a stacked lineup and pitching rotation, the Tigers are primed for a successful regular season run. So what can we expect this season? Let me break it down for you.
The starting rotation is set. Justin Verlander, contract extension drama and all, is once again a Cy Young candidate and the anchor of the pitching staff. Strikeout machine Max Scherzer follows along with Doug Fister, 80 million dollar man Anibal Sanchez and potential trade bait in Rick Porcello. This is arguably the best starting rotation in baseball and with a solid one through four, double digit wins for each pitcher should be expected.
Miguel Cabrera. Prince Fielder. A devastating one-two punch. Throw into the mix a new table-setter in Torii Hunter and a healthy, returning Victor Martinez, this has the potential to be among the most feared lineups in all of baseball. Austin Jackson will be counted on to provide the spark at the top of the lineup and play his usual stellar defense. Rounding out the starting nine are Jhonny Peralta, Omar Infante, Alex Avila and Andy Dirks in the final corner outfield spot.
The bullpen comes into the season with a slight sense of discomfort. The closer spot is up for grabs after anointed rookie Bruce Rondon failed to take the reins of the position. Still, proven veterans peruse the bullpen. Phil Coke, loudmouth Octavio Dotel, shaky Joaquin Benoit and hard throwing Al Albuquerque I don’t think that the lack of a closer will hurt this team, but at the same time I’m not a fan of the “closer by committee” approach. The rest of the innings are up for grabs and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Tigers make a move for a veteran right-hander to come out of the bullpen.
I was a doubter last season. After such a slow start, I was convinced this team would miss the playoffs and go into the offseason under a cloud of uncertainty. But this team showed its resiliency and made it all the way to the final round. This year, I’m taking the same approach. This team is built to make it to the fall classic. The “win-now” mentality taken by aging owner Mike Illitch is resonating with fans and players alike. I predict that this team will make the playoffs after breezing through the 182 game regular season. But after that, it’s anyone’s guess.