Pick to have a big year
I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Miguel Cabrera win his fourth straight batting crown, something only one other Tiger has done, and his name was Ty Cobb. The odds of Cabrera winning the triple crown are very long, because he plays 81 games in Comerica Park, where deep fly balls that would be taters elsewhere die on the warning track. Look out for Victor Martinez in 2014, too. If he can put together two good halves of a season, he could snatch the batting title away from Miggy.
Pick to disappoint us in 2014
Newcomer Ian Kinsler is in a difficult spot. He’s joining a talented, veteran team and he’s going to be hitting near the top of the order. The man he was traded for, Prince Fielder, was never quite accepted in Motown, with a fat salary that hung around his neck and a fat roll that hung around his waist. Kinsler can make fans forget that, or he can underperform and hear the boo birds who will quickly forget how much they disliked Prince, and turn on the new guy. Kinsler also has a reputation as a lightning rod for controversy, and he also has a tendency to make boneheaded plays from time to time. He’s average with the glove at second base, and he does things in a sort of awkward way that can make it look like he’s uncoordinated in the field. I think he could have a fine season, but there’s the potential for real disappointment here.
Honorable mention: Rick Porcello is 25 and entering his sixth major league season. Potential must transfer to production for Slick Rick in 2014. I’m not sure he’s got it in him to be a top-level starter, but there are some signs pointing that he’s getting better. His ERA has dropped for two straight seasons and his K rate has gone up. However, if he struggles, fans will be more than happy to let the Tigers know they shouldn’t have parted with Doug Fister.
First series to circle on the calendar
The Tigers visit Boston for a three-game series starting on May 15th against the team that bounced them from the playoffs last October. The Red Sox will be very good again, and Detroit’s biggest challenge for supremacy in the American League. Later in May, the Tigers visit the Oakland A’s, with whom they are developing a good rivalry. The Tigers have eliminated the A’s in five games in each of the last two playoffs, with Justin Verlander delivering the knockout blow.
Most likely to be better than you think
Castellanos is a good pick, but I write more about him below. I’ll go with Joba Chamberlain. The big reliever has a very good arm, and by all accounts he is healthy and in good shape. I’ve seen it before – a troubled pitcher leaves the only team he’s known for a new environment and flourishes. If it does happen that way, the Detroit bullpen would benefit, and if Al Alburquerque can stay healthy (and finally trust his fastball), with Joe Nathan closing things out, the Tigs could roll to a fourth straight division title.
Also note that Alex Gonzalez (he’ll be your starting shortstop most days while Jose Iglesias is out with his stress fractures), is a very good defensive shortstop. Other than Iglesias, the Tigers haven’t seen a shortstop with sure hands like Gonzalez since Alan Trammell’s prime. Gonzalez has lost a few steps, but he’s much, much better than Jhonny Peralta, for example. Anything he hits (he’ll probably run into 5-10 homers) is gravy.
You’ll be happy the Tigers paid Miggy when …
He hits a line drive home run to the opposite field on a fastball low and away and an opposing pitcher responds by crapping his pants.
You’ll be unhappy the Tigers spent all that money on Miggy when …
Never. Get over it, he is the best on the planet at what he does. “The no one is worth that much money” arguments are tiring and silly. Pro sports is a zillion dollar entertainment industry, and Miguel Cabrera is at the top right now. Oh, and by the way, for the second straight season, the Tigers froze ticket prices, so unless parking goes up, stop whining. Want to help support Miggy’s big contract? Watch the Tigers on TV, the ratings help make the franchise one of the most valuable in sports.
Most likely to be a former Tiger before the season is over
This one is pretty easy. I don’t see Phil Coke making it through the entire season with Detroit. And I don’t think he’ll pitch terribly, I just think he’ll be expendable in the bullpen and some other team (yes, really) will want his left arm for their pen. If you want a real shocker, how about Kinsler being flipped in mid-season for a left-handed power bat for the corner outfield? It’s not likely, but if Kinsler struggles and the offense needs a boost, and if the team is in contention as it should be, why not dump Kinsler’s salary and take a shot at the whole enchilada this season by adding a big bat from the left side? Detroit would probably have to include a prospect to get a good, veteran bat.
By the way, if you think the Tigers would trade Max Scherzer before he can leave as a free agent, don’t bet on it. I sincerely believe the Tigers want to resign Max, plus if he doesn’t come back they receive a valuable compensation draft pick for losing him. And, no team is going to give up much for a few months of Scherzer when he’s going to be free to sign anywhere this upcoming offseason.
Other games to look forward to in 2014
A week before the All-Star Game, on July 8-9, the Tigers host the Los Angeles Dodgers for a two-game set. How great would it be to have Verlander/Scherzer face off against Dodgers’ aces Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke? In the second week of August, Detroit and the Pirates will take part in an NHL-style “home and home” series, with the first two games in Pittsburgh and the next two in the Motor City. The Pirates are an exciting playoff team now and it should be an interesting clash between two of the more storied franchises in baseball.
Surprise Tiger pick for the All-Star team in 2014
I’ll go out on a limb with Drew Smyly. The story just seems perfect: starter turns reliever last season and has an excellent year out of the bullpen; returns to rotation in ’14 and pitches well, earns spot on All-Star team. The crafty lefty could get off to a hot start and if he keeps his ERA down, make a name for himself. It will be hard on this staff, but I’m going for a long shot here. Honorable mention: Austin Jackson, who I guess isn’t really a big surprise, he had a good spring and he’s going to be hitting down in the lineup where the pressure is off. I never thought Jackson was a good choice for the leadoff spot, especially considering his makeup. He’s a little too sensitive and puts too much pressure on himself, so hitting in the #1 spot was too much for him.
Most likely to make you want to throw something at the TV screen
Don Freaking Kelly. For the fifth straight season, Kelly will be on the roster because he knows how to wear 2-3 different gloves and play five (maybe even six) positions. But Kelly is a very marginal big league player. He ‘s had more than 1,000 at-bats in the major leagues now and he’s hit .229 with a .290 on-base percentage and hardly any power. He will hit you 5-9 homers, but all those at-bats he chews up really hurt the offense. He’s also just mediocre in the field, often taking bad routes to the ball in the outfield. We root for him because he makes us feel that if we got ourselves in decent shape and took some BP, we could be a big leaguer. But every time he starts and hits in the middle of the lineup and goes 0-4, I cringe. On a positive note, at least Ramon Santiago is gone. (He made the Cincinnati Reds opening day roster!)
Most likely to do something historic
Of course the obvious answer would be Miguel Cabrera, but I’ll go with Justin Verlander. Verlander already has two no-hitters on his résumé and has a few near-misses too. He can be so good, so locked in, that I expect him to toy with a no-hitter a few times each season. Honorable mention to Anibal Sanchez, who also has no-hit stuff, and who might be driven to pitch himself out of the shadow of his Cy Young teammates.
Most likely All-Stars: Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Joe Nathan, Anibal Sanchez. Long shots: Torii Hunter, Alex Avila, Austin Jackson.
Why you’ll love Brad Ausmus
Ausmus isn’t crotchety like the former manager we had here for eight seasons. He’s NOT a sabermetric guy, a manager who will make his decisions with a smart phone and a spreadsheet. He’ll probably make an occasional head-scratching move (like batting Don Kelly in the 5th spot), but Ausmus will make us proud. He’s a competitive, smart baseball man. I expect him to handle the pitching staff better than the manager he replaced, and I also expect fans will like the “faster” more “aggressive” baserunning the Tigers will display in 2014. Oh, and I don’t expect him to chew his food while he’s talking to the press after games, and we shouldn’t have to see the self-aggrandizement of “The Handshake” to let us all know the starting pitcher is done for the game.
Why you’ll hate Brad Ausmus
Because your wife/girlfriend/significant other will continually tell you how cute he is.
Rookie you’re going to hate even if he has a good season
I can see it already, Tiger Nation has no love for Nick Castellanos. It’s a case of heightened expectations and over-information. Today we hear so much about the minor league prospects, that by the time they arrive in Detroit, many fans think they are going to see greatness right away. It’s better to be a young player who flies under the radar (see Avisail Garcia and Quintin Berry) and surprise people than to be a blue chip prospect like young Mr. Castellanos.
Why you’ll like the way the season ends
Unlike last season when the schedule-makers had the Tigers playing non-divisional games in September, and finishing the season against a National League team, this year the Tigers square off against rivals down the stretch. They play 23 games against the Indians, Royals, Twins, and White Sox in the last month of the ’14 season. Almost as if MLB was trying to make it up to them, the Tigers are playing 16 of their 26 September games at home. If you think that doesn’t matter much, consider this: Detroit has won more games at home since 2009 than any other team in baseball and they’ve won at least 50 games at home in each of the last five seasons.
Player most likely to spend time on the disabled list
No fair counting all the guys already injured, so I’ll pick someone else. Anibal Sanchez has had a sore arm several times in his career, including last season when the Tigers had him skip a few starts, though he never ended up on the DL. We hope he doesn’t go there this season, but he seems most likely on the starting staff. Al Al usually gets hurt every season, so he’s a candidate, as is Alex Avila, who I’ve affectionately nicknamed “The Human Dart Board,” though that hasn’t caught on anywhere.
If things go bad …
A major injury fells one of the Tigers superstars, the backend of the rotation is ineffective, the offense struggles, Castellanos can’t hit big league pitching, and the holes in the bullpen leak all season long. If that happens, just run away and hide your head in a sandy Great Lakes beach, because it will be very depressing. It’s hard to see how the Tigers could become sellers late in the season, but if they did, the front office could shake things up by moving some players if the team isn’t in contention. This scenario is very unlikely, so put down your butter knives. Buuuut, the Tigers could miss the postseason if the offense struggles (as they did down the stretch in 2013). I don’t think the starting rotation will let this team down, and the bullpen is less important than most think. With the big three the Tigs have in the rotation, they only need a few solid arms in the pen. I expect Chamberlain and/or Al Al to step up, and Joe Nathan will be solid.
If everything goes right …
JV, Mad Max, and Anibal Sanchez pitch as well as they can, the bullpen is much improved, Alex Gonzalez does a fine job at shortstop, and the offense clicks with newcomers Ian Kinsler and Rajai Davis sparking it with speed. If the offense can learn to move more runners two bases at a time, and Miggy stays healthy and has another monster season, and VMart hits like he can, and if Austin Jackson relaxes in his new spot low in the lineup, the Tigers could run away with the division title and win 95-100 games.