Springtime Storylines: Is Dontrelle Willis going to make the Tigers rotation?

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Tigers logo old.gifBetween now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Tiger Time:

The
big question: Is Dontrelle Willis going to make the Tigers rotation?

I’m still kind of dubious, but the fact that it’s the end of March and we’re even asking that question is pretty astounding.  Before spring training started the rotation seemed kind of set: Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, Max Scherzer, Armando Galarraga, Jeremy Bonderman and, if Bonderman couldn’t cut it, Nate Robertson.

But then a funny thing happened: Galarraga got optioned to Toledo. Bonderman has struggled. Robertson has been pretty solid but Willis — the guy who told everyone at the beginning of spring training that he was terrible — has been nothing short of astounding. Well, maybe that’s putting it too strongly as spring training stats are beyond unreliable, but the ball is going over the plate, he isn’t walking too many people and guys are swinging and missing.  Today was a mixed bag — Willis was wild, but he recovered and his velocity was good — but the fact remains that Jim Leyland is going to have tough choice to make before the Tigers leave Lakeland.

And even if Willis doesn’t make it, at the very worst, a guy that everyone gave up for dead is going to walk off the mound this spring rather than be carted off, and that’s more than we ever could have imagined a mere month ago.

So what else is going on?

  • New young faces: Austin Jackson in center. Scott Sizemore at second. A lot of people thought that Johnny Damon (more on him below) would be the Tigers new leadoff man and that Jackson would start in Toledo, but a great spring from Jackson changed that.  I’m curious to see how he does. He obviously won’t be as good as his spring has indicated — he’s green and will get challenged once pitchers stop fooling around with him — but I also think that the Tigers sold high on Granderson, so even if he struggles it won’t be that big a falloff.  As for Sizemore, he’s had a rough spring. Lingering effects of the broken ankle? First real exposure to major league pitchers? Hard to say.  If he struggles early he could be in Toledo himself.
  • New old face: Johnny Damon. I’m not expecting good things here. Just because you read Damon’s home/road splits from 2009 a million times over the winter — .915 OPS and 17 HR at Yankee Stadium and seven
    homers and a .795 on the road — doesn’t mean the difference is being overstated. He’s losing the short porch in right. He’s gaining some hectareage he’ll have to cover in left.  Opposing third base coaches will be waving fat guys from second base on Damon’s noodly left appendage.  At least he’ll have the octopus to cheer him up. 
  • New thin face: Miguel Cabrera gave up the sauce, shed some pounds and came back to camp with his head seemingly screwed on right.  He hit .324/.396/.547 all puffy, hungover and, at least on one occasion, arguably drunk.  With his fresh and healthy new outlook, the guy may really hurt some baseballs this summer.

So how
are they gonna do?

Pretty good, I think. Their top three starters are better than the top three on the competition. I worry about the non-Jose Valverde portion of their bullpen, though, and between the youthful inexperience of Sizemore and Jackson and the aged fragility of guys like Brandon Inge, Carlos Guillen, and Magglio Ordonez there are a lot of things that could send the Tigers’ season sideways.  Still, I’m vibing optimistic for some reason, and I think they’ll contend on the arms and backs of Verlander, Scherzer, Porcello and Cabrera.  And if, as is sadly likely, Ernie Harwell departs the mortal coil sometime this season, I expect him to pull an Obi-Wan, become one with The Force and freakin’ will this team to the playoffs (alongside the shimmering spirits of Ty Cobb and Mark Fidrych) 

Prediction: Second place, AL Central, but I think they’ll be in it all year.

The Cubs will try to clinch the NL Central on Tuesday

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The Cubs soundly defeated the Cardinals on Monday night, 10-2, sending their magic number down to one. They will try to clinch the NL Central on Tuesday with another win against the Cardinals. Alternatively, if they lose, they can still clinch if the Brewers also lose on Tuesday.

The Cubs, of course, won the Central last year en route to winning their first World Series since 1908. It wasn’t nearly as easy this year as the club was below .500 entering June and was exactly at .500 entering July. A 16-8 July, 17-12 August, and 15-8 September have helped put the Cubs back in position to return to the postseason.

Not to be forgotten, the Cardinals were eliminated from NL Central contention with Monday’s loss. Now they have their sights set on the second NL Wild Card slot and currently trail the Rockies in that race.

The matchups for Tuesday’s action:

Carter Capps to undergo surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome

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Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union Tribune reports that Padres pitcher Carter Capps will undergo surgery this offseason to address thoracic outlet syndrome, which doctors believe caused the right-hander’s blood clots. The Padres hope to have him ready by spring training next year.

Capps, 27, underwent Tommy John surgery last year and didn’t debut this season until August 7. He made 11 relief appearances, yielding nine runs on 12 hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings. He went back on the DL on September 12 due to the blood clot issue.

The Padres acquired Capps from the Marlins last July in the Andrew Cashner trade which ended up having a lot of moving parts. Capps will enter his third and final year of arbitration eligibility this offseason. It’s quite possible the Padres choose to non-tender him.