Ahh, Opening Day. Every team is in first place. Every fan has hopes for the post season. If at least for one day.
I remember the start of the ’07 season. Coming off a 2006 WS appearance (which looked inevitable mid-season, impossible in September, and then undeniable in October), I hoped the addition of Gary Sheffield and another year of experience for Robertson, Maroth and Verlander would put the team in prime position for a return trip. But I was nervous, very much so. The ’06 playoff run felt like a perfect storm, and honestly, I didn’t think we could repeat it.
I remember the start of last season. A recent ALCS appearance. The addition of Fielder. JV coming off of one of the greatest pitching seasons in recent history. A very weak AL Central. “Detroit Tigers” essentially etched into the AL Central Crown in March. But I was nervous, very much so. We all saw Valverde’s decline in the playoffs. We all knew that Avila and Peralta had to regress. And the regular season played out that way. Heck, the overall tone of the discussions on this site last season anxious and skeptical, at best.
It seems as if that kind of nervous anticipation has been the rule around the team for a while…but this spring has been different. It’s as if in the past the Tigers had to prove that they were a good club, but know they know it. The spotlight (or lack thereof) has been on the team. The Hunter and Sanchez signings seem like an eternity ago. For all of the expectations and accompanying pressures of a WS team, this has been a relatively quiet spring. And I think this evidences the maturation of a club into a good one. This is reflected not only in the manner in which the team carries itself, but also in how the beat writers and fans approach the team. There really hasn’t been any negativity. The Bruce Rondon demotion was warranted, and perhaps planned long ago. In other seasons, such a hole would have sunk the ship. In fact, I can’t remember a spring so devoid of position battles and controversy; but I also can’t remember a team so stacked.
So on to the 2013 season.
’35, ’45, ’68, ’84. I find myself repeating those years at night like Arya Stark repeats her enemies; only I dream for more joyous thoughts.
Let’s have an objective discussion (as objective as a discussion on a blog dedicated solely to the Detroit Tigers can be) about the club. I’m going to avoid the obvious – Cabrera, JV, Fielder, etc. (Before I get going – there as a great article on Fangraphs a few days ago discussing Verlander’s new contract in comparison to those of Felix & Kershaw (contract coming soon), and other dominant pitchers in recent history. Jeff Sullivan ends with “Verlander Porn” which is JV making Asdrubel Cabrera look like a little leaguer. The comments are great as well.)
1) The Tigers have the best rotation in all of MLB. Or at least in the AL. Bless You Boys backed this claim up last December with a mass of sabermetric support, and I don’t think I could do it any better. Smoking Loon laid out his comparisons against the Central here. There’s a decent chance that Max Scherzer could get some Cy Young consideration this year. And it’s not ludicrous to think that Porcello can develop into a top of the rotation pitcher. But the great thing is, that even if Scherzer and Porcello simply stay within their expected range, the Tigers starters would be enough to carry this team throughout the season.
2) The Bullpen is better by subtraction. Benoit has been worth every bit of his $16.5M, and I think we all have confidence that Dotel can close. It’s arguable that Phil Coke should be given a chance to close based on his October alone. And Al Al may have the sickest stuff in the pen. If Rondon gets his act together, even better. But I don’t think we need him just yet.
3) The lineup is going to be a blast to watch day in and day out. If AJax can keep improving upon his plate discipline, 2012 will be the norm and he’ll be a superstar. Hunter and Martinez will be significant upgrades over those lineup spots last year, and history tells us that Avila and Peralta have to bounce back. But even if they don’t, this lineup is so deep that we can deal with those holes (though it would be difficult to justify Peralta anymore).
4) The defense will be better. Fielder and Cabrera are improving, and full seasons from Omar Infante, Torii Hunter (barring injury) and Andy Dirks will significantly improve the team defense.
A WS team is now better in every facet of the game, not to mention that Lamont is now on the bench.
Make sure you check out frequent commentor and numbers guru Lee Panas’ 10 predictions for Tigers Batters and Tigers Pitchers. Lee’s predicting 95 wins. I’ll go one better. A weak Central and 7 games against the Astros gets us to 96 wins, good for 2nd best record in the AL. Playoffs?…I’m hoping for one for the thumb.