2009 DETROIT TIGERS PREVIEW
The 2009 season was a cacophony of injuries and errors for the Detroit Tigers. After upgrading their roster though a number of major moves, most observers pegged the Tigers to make a return to postseason action. However, injuries devastated their pitching staff and the season fell apart quickly and Detroit never came close to even sniffing a winning year.
This season looks brighter in Detroit. Their injury concerns are largely behind them and they made a few upgrades during the offseason, the most notable of which was the recent signing of former Arizona closer Brandon Lyon, who is expected to fulfill the same role in Detroit. Though the Tigers still have holes, they have the talent to compete in 2009.
This year, the rotation should be better. Three spots will belong to Justin Verlander (11-17, 4.84 ERA, 201 IP in 33 starts last year), Armanda Gallarage (13-7, 3.73 ERA, 178 IP, 28 starts) and Edwin Jackson (14-11, 4.42 ERA, 182 IP, 31 starts). Verlander’s numbers in particular should see an improvement from last year as he is the most talented of the trio. The fourth rotation spot will belong to young star Jeremy Bonderman (3-4, 4.29 ERA, 12 starts) if he is sufficiently recovered from surgery to correct numbness in his pitching arm. However, should Bonderman begin the season on the Disabled List, there are a number of candidates to enter the rotation. Veteran Nate Robertson (7-11, 6.35 ERA, 28 starts) is the most experienced option, while Zach Minor (8-5, 4.27 ERA, 13 starts) impressed down the stretch last year after moving out of the bullpen. Willis is also expected to compete for a starting role as well. In short, the Tigers’ starting rotation has a lot of question marks going into the season but the talent is there.
Despite the rotation’s question marks, there shouldn’t be many concerned with the Tigers’ bullpen. Former Diamondback Brandon Lyon (4.70 ERA, 26 Saves) should step in as the closer and despite his relatively high ERA he should be effective in that role. Setting up will be flamethrower Joel Zumaya (3.47 ERA), who was yet another one of the Tigers’ injury casualties last season. Former closer Fernando Rodney (4.91 ERA, 13 saves) should also be an asset as he has historically been more effective in non-save situations. While no one is going to confuse the Tigers’ bullpen with the excellent groups in Cleveland and Minnesota, the Tigers should be more than adequate in the late innings and definitely are much better than last year’s group.
The Tigers gave their infield a facelift for the second consecutive offseason, acquiring catcher George Laird (.276, 6 HR, 41 RBI, .329 OBP with Texas) and shortstop Adam Everett and jettisoning former starter Edgar Renteria. Laird is expected to start and if Everett can finally shake the injury bug which has ailed him the past two seasons then he will likely replace Renteria. Everett is expected to compete with Ramon Santiago (.282, 4 HR, 18 RBI, .411 OBP in 56 games) at shortstop and the Tigers should get good production from the pair. The star of the infield is first baseman Miguel Cabrera (.292, 37 HR, 127 RBI, .349 OBP), who was the highlight of the 2009 season for Tiger fans. Expect him to remain a lethal weapon at the plate for years to come. Second baseman Placido Polanco (.307, 8 HR, 58 RBI, .350 OBP) is also a very solid contributor and should get on base a lot. At third, former catcher Brandon Inge (.205, 11 HR, 51 RBI, .303 OBP) is expected to start but the Tigers could find themselves looking for other options once July rolls around. Overall, there are few teams which can boast a player of Cabrera’s caliber in all of baseball but the left side of the infield is below average, at best
Detroit has a solid outfield unit, highlighted by superstar Magglio Ordonez (.317, 21 HR, 103 RBI, .376 OBP), who is one of baseball’s best in right field. Centerfielder Curtis Granderson (.280, 22 HR, 66 RBI, .365 OBP) has plenty of pop as well and is a threat on the basepaths. In left field, Carlos Guillen (.286, 10 HR, 54 RBI, .376 OBP) is also a very solid player. Marcus Thames (.241, 25 HR, 56 RBI, .292 OBP) will also see time at all three positions when he isn’t the Designated Hitter. 40 year old Gary Sheffield (.225, 19 HR, 57 RBI, .326 OBP) could see some time as well but he is primarily a DH at this stage in his career. The Tigers’ outfield is a very good unit both defensively and at the plate and are definitely the team’s biggest strength.
The Tigers have a lot of talent on hand but they also have a lot of questions. Much like last year, it appears that the Tigers will have the ability to score a ton of runs but their pitching staff could hold them back. While their bullpen is definitely improved, their rotation still features a number of young hurlers who don’t have large track records of sustained success at the Major League level. Furthermore, their most talented pitcher (Bonderman) might begin the year on the DL. While the Tigers’ offense will keep them in a lot of games, their rotation will have to step up if the Tigers are going to significantly improve upon their 74-88 record of a year ago. Overall, realistic expectations for the Tigers are a finish somewhere around .500 and it doesn’t seem likely that they’ll compete with Cleveland and Minnesota for the division. An 81-81 record and a third place finish in the American League Central sounds about right.
By Matt Baxendell
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