Thanks to the Kansas City Royals being reigning American League Champions and the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians making significant improvements in the offseason, the trendy pick is to not pick the Tigers to win their fifth consecutive AL Central crown. Another trendy pick, thanks to a vastly improved Central division, is to leave the Tigers out of the playoffs completely.
This may not be the most prudent of selections.
Everything comes to an end at some point, but do you really think the Tigers are going to let an unprecedented fifth straight division title slip away? Granted there have been some close calls in the past, but this year’s team has the mental advantage of having something to prove. Manager Brad Ausmus was still ticked that they got swept in January and says the team can be “successful and widely respected” and “still have that proverbial chip on its shoulder.”
So there’s the fact that they got swept in the first round as a rallying point after making three straight American League Championship Series. That run included a trip to the World Series and another October dream that came up just short thanks to other-worldly, clutch hitting from the Boston Red Sox. There’s also some of the whole “everyone says were through” business floating around as well.
The Tigers may be the best team not to win a World Series in the last decade. Since 2006, the Tigers have won at least 86 games every season with the exception of anomalies in 2008 and 2010. One of those seasons’ high draft pick that came as a result of a poor record netted the team Jacob Turner, who was used as the centerpiece of the Anibal Sanchez trade. Sanchez is one of the Tigers’ best pitchers and one of the most underrated hurlers in the league. He’s been one of the catalysts of Detroit’s recent success.
(RELATED: My ancient reaction “column” on the Sanchez/Omar Infante Trade).
Detroit’s baseball team wants a World Series title, leaving them out of playoff predictions is foolish. Obviously the predictions don’t really mean anything in the grand scheme of things, but the point is you shouldn’t be counting out the Tigers.
Detroit’s main competition for the division crown will come from Kansas City, Chicago and Cleveland. I’m sorry Minnesota, but even before being obliterated over the first two games of the season, you weren’t close to the pack.
The Royals essentially replaced James Shields, Nori Aoki and Billy Butler with Edinson Volquez, Alex Rios and Kendrys Morales. That’s secret code for a step down. Kansas City still has a good defense and bullpen, but they won’t be the same team. The fact that the Royals only managed six wins in 18 games against the Tigers doesn’t bode well for KC’s chances.
Chicago added some exciting pieces over the offseason in Melky Cabrera, Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson, Zach Duke and Adam LaRoche. Add those to a core that features Chris Sale and Jose Abreu and you have the makings of a playoff team—however the team was swept by Kansas City to start the year and lost the series by a cumulative score of 21-6.
It’s still extremely early, but the White Sox are going take time to mesh. Given how competitive the Central is, they may be too far behind once they mesh to make a run at the division title. It would surprise no one if the Sox made the playoffs, but right now they aren’t the well-oiled machine that Detroit, Kansas City or even Cleveland is.
Speaking of Cleveland, the Indians added Brandon Moss to fill a need offensively. Cleveland essentially swapped out Jason Giambi for Moss. This trade off will help the team, but the Indians have holes just like everyone else. Shortstop Jose Ramirez isn’t exactly a world-beater offensively while the Tribe’s outfield is hit and miss. Michael Brantly was an All Star last season, but outside of him there are definite question marks.
Michael Bourn arrived in Cleveland as a career .272 hitter who averaged 39 stolen bases a season. His best season came in 2011 when he hit .294 with 61 stolen bases for Houston and Atlanta. From 2009 to 2011 the speedster averaged 58 swipes a season. Last season Bourn led the league in triples with 10, but hit .257, drove in a measly 28 runs and posted a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 114/32. He only stole 10 bases.
Bourn isn’t alone in the outfield in terms of seeing his numbers dip upon arrival in Ohio. David Murphy was able to rebound from a down season in Texas during his first year with the Indians, but was unable to replicate the success he’d found earlier in his career when he hit .283 from 2008 to 2012. He averaged 14 home runs and 61 runs driven in per season over that span while swiping 10 bags a season. Murphy only managed 8 bombs, 58 RBI and a .262 average last season.
Like Bourn, Nick Swisher entered the Tribe as a quality hitter. He hit .272 in his last season in New York and made the All Star team in 2010 with a .288 batting average. In his first season in Cleveland (2013), Swisher hit .246. His RBI numbers went from 93 in his last season with the Yankees to 63 in his first season with the Indians. That’s right, his RBI total dropped by thirty. Swisher struggled mightily in 2014, posting a mere 8 home runs and 42 RBI. He was limited to only 97 games, but he only hit .208 and posted an ugly 111/36 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Cleveland’s other two outfielders, Ryan Raburn and Mike Aviles, hit .200 and .247 respectively last season.
The heart of the Indians’ order (Brantly, Yan Gomes, Moss and Carlos Santana) can holds its own against most teams, but the Tribe will need other positions to step up offensively if they’re going to seriously contend. Based on the outfield’s struggles last season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Cleveland fall short again.
Counting the Tigers out of playoffs probably isn’t a smart thing to do. Kansas City isn’t what they once were while the White Sox have yet to mesh and the Tribe have holes on offense. Expect another American League Central Title and another playoff berth for the Tigers this season. Did I mention they haven’t allowed an earned run yet this season?
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.