leyland and dombrowski tigers

2013 Preview: Detroit Tigers


Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Today: the Detroit Tigers.

The Big Question: Are the Tigers the American League’s best team?

Last season the Tigers won 88 games, beat the A’s in the ALDS, swept the Yankees in the ALCS, and then lost to the Giants in the World Series. And on paper at least they got significantly better this offseason. Delmon Young and Jose Valverde are the only major departures from last year’s team and that qualifies mostly as addition by subtraction based on their 2012 performances.

Jim Leyland has yet to decide who’ll replace Valverde as closer, but the Tigers’ overall bullpen depth isn’t bad and playing things by ear in the late innings worked well in the playoffs. Torii Hunter essentially replaces Young, which is a big upgrade offensively and a massive upgrade defensively. Victor Martinez returns to the middle of the lineup after sitting out all of last season following knee surgery, which is basically like adding an elite free agent signing. And both Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante will be around for the entire season after arriving as midseason pickups last year.

If you take an 88-win, AL-champion team and subtract Young and Valverde while adding Hunter, Martinez, and full seasons from Sanchez and Infante it’s hard not to think the Tigers are improved. And even if there’s a little doubt about that there’s no doubt that Detroit has the easiest path to the playoffs among AL contenders, as the rest of the AL Central once again looks weak. Can the White Sox, Indians, or Royals (or Twins, in some alternate universe or something) provide a legitimate late-season challenge by winning 85-plus games?

If that were to happen–which seems unlikely to me, at least–there’s a strong chance that the Tigers will make it a moot point by beating up on the unbalanced schedule so much that they clear 90 wins with ease.  Of course, it’s worth noting that I thought the Tigers would run away with the AL Central last season as well and instead they ended up having to overtake the slumping White Sox in September. However, now the Tigers appear stronger, the White Sox appear weaker, and I’m not buying into the Indians or Royals being ready to take a big leap yet.

There’s plenty of room for debate about whether Detroit is the best team in the American League, but more so than any other team in the league– or in baseball, period–I’ll be shocked if the Tigers don’t win their division. They’re too good, the rest of the division is too mediocre, and the unbalanced schedule is too favorable for it not to happen.

What else is going on?

• I’m fairly convinced that the Tigers have the best rotation in baseball. Justin Verlander is obviously amazing, Max Scherzer led MLB in strikeout rate last season and went 15-4 with a 3.14 ERA after a rough April, Anibal Sanchez has averaged 196 innings with a 3.70 ERA in the past three seasons, and Doug Fister has largely flown under the radar despite a 3.48 career ERA. And while Rick Porcello has underwhelmed so far he’s still a helluva fifth starter. For all the focus on Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder putting up huge numbers in the middle of the lineup, starting pitching can carry the Tigers.

• This time last year the Tigers’ defense was a big worry and that proved accurate, as Detroit turned the league’s second-fewest balls in play into outs and ranked 27th in Ultimate Zone Rating. Defense cost the Tigers a bunch of runs, but the pitching staff racking up the league’s second-most strikeouts minimized that somewhat and the rest of the team was strong enough that it didn’t matter. This season the pitching staff again looks capable of missing a ton of bats and the defense should be improved with Hunter in the outfield and Infante full time at second base.

• Nick Castellanos will begin the season at Triple-A because he’s 21 years old and has spent all of two months above Single-A, but if Dirks struggles as the primary left fielder the Tigers could turn to their top prospect pretty quickly. Castellanos was a first-round pick in 2010 and shifted from third base to the outfield last year. MLB.com and Baseball America each rated him as a top-25 prospect and he’s hit .316 in 276 pro games (although he did struggle some at Double-A). And if the Tigers decide Castellanos needs a bit more time in the minors Avisail Garcia is another outfield option.

• Cabrera begins his 30s this season, so it’s a good time to look back at how amazing his 20s were. Because he debuted at age 20, was almost immediately an elite hitter, and has avoided injuries Cabrera has piled up some incredible totals. Among all hitters in MLB history through age 29 he ranks third in doubles, fourth in intentional walks, sixth in RBIs, seventh in extra-base hits, eighth in total bases, eighth in times on base, and is also in the top 20 for hits, homers, runs, and games. His defense leaves a lot to be desired, but purely in terms of hitting Cabrera is on track to truly become one of the all-time greats.

Prediction: First place, American League Central

UPDATE: Game 1 of Astros-Royals resumes play after 48-minute rain delay

Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas watches his two-run home run off Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Jose Quintana, also scoring Kendrys Morales, during the sixth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
Leave a comment

UPDATE: Play has resumed after a 48-minute rain delay. Chris Young has replaced Ventura for the Royals.

8:30 p.m. ET: And now we’re officially in a rain delay in Kansas City. It will be interesting to see how long this lasts and how it might impact Ventura and McHugh.

8:29 p.m. ET: The Royals are on the board in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Astros.

After the Astros tacked on another run against Yordano Ventura in the top of the second inning on an RBI single from Jose Altuve, Kendrys Morales connected for a solo homer against Collin McHugh to lead off the bottom of the inning. The ball traveled an estimated 369 feet near the right-field foul pole.

With rain falling at Kauffman Stadium, the Astros lead 3-1 as we move into the top of the third inning.

Sean Rodriguez has apologized to the cooler he beat up

sean rodriguez
Leave a comment

Pirates utility man Sean Rodriguez made headlines for all the wrong reasons after Wednesday’s Wild Card Game against the Cubs. After being ejected for his role in a benches-clearing scuffle, he took his frustrations out on the cooler in the Pirates’ dugout. If you haven’t seen it already, watch the video below…

That poor cooler never had a chance.

With the benefit of a few hours to decompress, Rodriguez issued the following apology on his Twitter account this afternoon:

It’s nice to see that Rodriguez has a sense of humor about the whole thing.

Adrian Beltre diagnosed with back strain after MRI

Texas Rangers' Adrian Beltre leaves the game, escorted by a trainer, after being injured in the third inning against the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 1 of the American League Division Series in Toronto on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
Leave a comment

Adrian Beltre was in serious pain when he exited Game 1 of the ALDS against the Blue Jays and Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that the veteran third baseman was diagnosed with a back strain following an MRI.

Beltre suffered the injury when he tried to break up a double play with a slide in the first inning. He stayed in the game initially and even received an anti-inflammatory injection, but his back locked up on him again after he hit an RBI single in the third. He was replaced by Hanser Alberto, who finished the game at third base.

The Rangers haven’t ruled out Beltre for Game 2 on Friday, but Joey Gallo and Ed Lucas are traveling to Toronto just in case a move needs to be made. They are obviously hoping that won’t be necessary.