During this week, guest writers from around the Internet will drop by to break down the 2011 season and how it looks for the teams in the American League Central. Today’s post comes from Jennifer Cosey as she takes a look at the Detroit Tigers.
Although the mound is still tarped over and the grass lies dormant, Tigers fans will soon gather at Comerica Park for the club’s annual TigerFest on January 22. It’s stealing a few hours from the dreary off-season. It’s warming the glacial Winter by rubbing elbows with fellow die-hards. It’s glimpsing Spring, and the day when the ballpark stands will be full and raucous again.
So what do Tigers fans have to look forward to in 2011? At the Winter Meetings, Jim Leyland said “You might as well make up your mind that this is going to be a true dogfight in the Central division.” If you’ve braced yourself for the skirmish, let’s see how are things looking in the Tigers’ armory.
Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer are a formidable front-end duo. Last year, when Scherzer was sent down to the Tigers’ AAA affiliate in Toledo, he immediately looked at game film and identified a flaw in his mechanics. He corrected the problem right away, and began destroying minor league batters. In his first game back in the majors, he struck out 14 batters. I like his ability to evaluate and adjust.
Although Rick Porcello had an uneven sophomore season, look for him to do well, as long as he can keep his ground ball to fly ball ratio healthy. The back end of the rotation…volatile. Armando Galarraga, outside of his imperfect game, was a man afraid to throw strikes much of the time. Phil Coke will attempt to make a successful transition from reliever to starter.
There may still be an addition to the starting rotation, as the Tigers have had reported interest in Brad Penny. If there are no acquisitions and someone falters, Andy Oliver and/or Jacob Turner could get the call. Jim Leyland said that Turner’s secondary pitches were better last year than Rick Porcello’s were at a similar point in his career. Great, now pundits everywhere will be salivating over his debut. Don’t rush the kid (please).
The Tigers took a bit of a risk adding Joaquin Benoit to the bullpen. Sure, he sparkled last year for the Rays, but before that he was injured and mediocre. However, if he pans out, and if Ryan Perry continues to progress, and if Joel Zumaya can stay healthy (all right, all right, you can stop laughing now), our pen will be strong. These are a lot of “ifs.” Closer Jose Valverde was mostly stellar last year, until Leyland hung him out to dry on July 31, in a 61-pitch outing that ended in a Tigers victory, but which I feel may have largely contributed to Valverde’s tendonitis.
Alex Avila has the catcher’s starting job all to himself this year, since Gerald Laird could not even occasionally bob over the Mendoza line. I like his defense. Good footwork. Takes initiative to “catch” up since he didn’t don the mask until four years ago. Unfortunately, he may have also been allowing Laird to mentor him at the plate. Victor Martinez will log time behind the dish against lefties. The Tigers will love his bat at DH, but I don’t want to see too much of him in a catcher’s mask, because of what we’d lose defensively.
Last season, when Brennan Boesch’s bat was riddled with holes, and Magglio Ordóñez went down with a broken ankle, Miguel Cabrera was left exposed. The result was a ridiculous number of intentional walks (32), more than double the number issued to the next highest players in the AL, Joe Mauer, Robinson Cano and David Ortiz (tied at 14). This year, with Ordóñez signed to a one-year deal, and Victor Martinez added as a free agent, Cabrera will see a lot more hittable pitches.
Infield defense will be solid at the corners (yes, Cabrera is turning into a good first baseman). Brandon Inge, while dismal at the plate, plays hustle defense with the best of them. If we can get around 20 home runs from Inge, we should be happy.
Up the middle? Well, Jhonny Peralta at short was giving me nightmares, until I saw him play there for most of his time in Detroit last year. He was not great, but surprised me with acceptable glove work. Second base looks to be a carousel featuring Carlos Guillen, Will Rhymes and Scott Sizemore. Last year, Guillen couldn’t stay healthy, Sizemore looked rancid (but was recovering from a severe ankle injury) and Rhymes may have overachieved, especially offensively.
Austin Jackson looks to follow up a rookie-of-the-year caliber season with a solid sophomore campaign. However, he featured an unsustainable BABIP of .396 last year. Look for him to be fine, if he can cut down on the Ks a little.
Right fielder Magglio Ordóñez signed a one-year, $10 million contract with the Tigers, despite Scott Boras’ best efforts to pimp him out elsewhere. Ordóñez worked out for the Tigers at the winter meetings, to show he is healthy after breaking his ankle last season. His always-average defense looked a bit better last year after an intensive off-season workout program spent with football players from the University of Miami.
Ryan Raburn looks to nab the starting job in left field, but he’ll face competition from Brennan Boesch, Casper Wells and a now healthy Clete Thomas. Raburn started last year like a man who forgot to bring his bat to the park, but turned it on around mid-season. He’ll have to better than that if he hopes to beat out the other hopefuls.
I must preface this by saying that I abhor making predictions. I love baseball because there is a game almost every day, and it’s nearly impossible to know what a 162 game schedule will bring. Don’t make me remember the 2008 Tigers team, which on paper looked like a behemoth, and wound up in the cellar.
Prior to last year’s season, after some arm-twisting, I looked at my tea leaves, and said that the Tigers would win 85 games. They fell short, and finished all square at 81-81. Failed to make the playoffs…again.
What will the Detroit Tigers do in 2011? Why don’t you tune in with me on March 31, and we’ll find out together.
Jennifer Cosey runs a blog from a Detroit Tigers fan’s view over at Old English D.