Sunday, March 9, 2008

30 Teams in 30 Days: Detroit Tigers

A look back: The Tigers came up short last year after winning the American League a season ago. So Detroit went out and grabbed two of Florida’s three remaining stars, Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera (the third is Hanley Ramirez). That’s given the Tigers as good a lineup as there is in baseball and another talented arm to add to an already strong rotation.

Positives on the field: Detroit’s lineup is scary. Seriously, go through it and attempt to find a guy you would be eager to face. If they’re all healthy, only Jacque Jones or Marcus Thames (maybe) fits the description. The Tigers will score runs, and lots of them.

In the rotation, Justin Verlander is outstanding, and has a lot of potential backing him up in Kenny Rogers, Nate Robertson, Jeremy Bonderman and Willis. There aren’t too many weaknesses in the Motor City.

Negatives on the field: The one weakness, though, could be a big flaw: the bullpen. Todd Jones frightens nobody as a closer, and Joel Zumaya won’t be back until about midway through the season. If Zumaya can throw gas when he returns, the Tigers’ bullpen will be strong enough to neutralize the weakness. But if he struggles, Detroit’s dreams could be derailed.

There’s also the question of how well Willis adjusts to American League hitters. His ERA wasn’t great in Florida, where the hitters aren’t quite as dominant and a pitcher is an out 9/10 times. He could easily flame out in Detroit, which would really hurt if Bonderman can’t bounce back.

Outlook: If Jones can simply get the job done at the end, Detroit has all the pieces in place to win the World Series. At a minimum, the Tigers will be in a fight for the playoffs. A slip can easily throw the division to Cleveland, who is about as talented as Detroit overall, but the Tigers are miles ahead of the other three teams in the AL Central, so anything worse than second would mean a disaster for Detroit.

Projected finish: 1st in AL Central, defeat Mariners in ALDS, defeat Indians in ALCS, defeat Phillies in World Series. Tigers opener is March 31 at Comerica Park against Kansas City.

Spring base: Joker Marchant Stadium, Lakeland, Fla. The team tends to play games on the west coast and in the central part of Florida.

Fan of the team?: Check out Bless You Boys, a Tigers fan community.

Come back tomorrow: The road trip heats up with a visit to the Metroplex to check out the Texas Rangers.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Fastball.

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