The Detroit Tigers won their 11th American League pennant in 2012, and even though they were swept aside in four games in the World Series, there were 28 other teams in baseball who would have liked to have gotten as far. Can they be an even better team in 2013? Most definitely.
Expectations will be high in Detroit this spring when the Tigers open the season. They have baseball’s most dominant pitcher, the first triple crown winner in 45 years, and a rotation filled with hard-throwing workhorses. Their lineup could be even better, and the experience of having played in the last two post-seasons will help. This is a team that knows they can win and knows how to get late into October. Manager Jim Leyland is a master at handling his club and GM Dave Dombrowski is one of the best in the game. Owner Mike Ilitch wants a World Series ring badly and will do just about anything to get one. The stars are lining up in Detroit for a winner, and 2013 could be the year. Here are five reasons the Tigers will be better in 2013.
1. VMart is back
Last year at this time we were getting the bad news that Victor Martinez had injured himself during his off-season training regimen. The injury prompted Ilitch to plunk down more than $200 million to get Prince Fielder in a Tiger uniform. That’s a good thing, and an even better thing is that VMart is back healthy and apparently 100% after a year away from the game. The DH/catcher will be a huge plus to the middle of the Detroit lineup. Expect him to put up a .300/25/100 line in 2013 with Miguel Cabrera and Fielder batting around him.
2. Verlander and Cabrera are in their primes
The Tigers have the last two Most Valuable Player Award winners on their roster. Justin Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball, period. He’ll turn 3o during spring training, is in excellent shape, and is still in the prime of his amazing career. Expect nothing less than another brilliant season from JV. Cabrera is actually two months younger than Verlander, though he’s been in the major leagues for a decade. The big slugger is freakishly gifted with baseball instincts and those things last a long time. Don’t count on him leading the league in every triple crown category, but he’ll probably win one of them – he has in four of his five years as a Tiger. VMart’s presence will allow Cabby to see even more great pitches in 2013. It’s scary how much better he could get. In Cabrera, Detroit fans are watching a first-ballot Hall of Famer in his prime.
3. Leyland is not afraid to use young players
If there’s one thing manager Jim Leyland isn’t afraid to do, it’s give young talent a chance to play. In 2006 he handed the ball to Verlander as a rookie and he leaned heavily on Joel Zumaya out of his bullpen. Why? Because they both had immense talent. Bruce Rondon is a 22-year old Venezuelan with a 100 MPH fastball. He’s never pitched in the big leagues, but if the right-hander can help the Tigers win in 2013, Leyland will use him. He has a chance to replace Jose Valverde as the team’s closer, if not right away, sat some point in ’13. For all the hoopla over Quintin Berry, it was Drew Smyly who was the best Tiger rookie in 2012. The slim lefty showed poise on the mound, out-pitching Rick Porcello and defying his own lack of experience at the big league level. Leyland will turn to Smyly in his rotation if he needs to (especially considering the rest of the rotation are right-handed). His willingness to rely on young players with talent (throw young outfielder Avisail Garcia in the mix too) is one of Leyland’s greatest strengths, and it will make the Tigers even better in the coming season.
4. Starting rotation is deeper and more mature
The Tigers decided to re-sign righty Anibal Sanchez, who was a free agent after coming over in a trade from the Marlins in mid-season last year. With him in tow, the Tigers have four strong starting pitchers for the full season: Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, and Sanchez. Fister will be healthy after battling nagging injuries for much of the ’12 campaign. Scherzer took a huge step forward last year, elevating his game and maturing into one of the best pitchers in the league. He gives the Tigers their strongest duo since Denny McLain and Mickey Lolich in the late 1960s. Having all four right-handers at the start of the season will allow the Tigers to get off to a better start than last year, when they limped along at a mediocre pace for several months. Don’t expect any long losing streaks with that quartet running out to the mound. Rick Porcello and Smyly give the Tigers a pair of choices at the #5 starter spot, as well.
5. Defense and bench depth are improved
The acquisition of free agent outfielder Torii Hunter is a big plus for the Tigers. Only by watching him play every day can you recognize how talented and valuable Hunter is to his team. Even at the age of 37, Hunter is one of the best defensive outfielders in the game. He keeps himself in excellent condition, can still hit the ball in the gaps, and is a team leader and great presence in the clubhouse. His arrival automatically makes the team deeper too: Berry, Garcia, Andy Dirks, and Brennan Boesch are no longer required to play every day (in fact one of them may be traded). One of the weaknesses of last year’s team was the bench – there was never a good left-hande dbat coming off the bench and few pinch-hitting options at all. Dirks and Boesch, and possibly Garcia, provide better options off the bench. Garcia is a better defender than either Dirks and Boesch, so if his playing time increases, that will improve the team defense. A full-season from Omar Infante at second base will also help boost the infield defense.
What are your thoughts on the 2013 Tigers? Let me know in the comments section below.