Opening day is finally here the Tigers begin their season tomorrow afternoon at Comerica Park against the Redsox on ESPN2 at 1 pm ET. To take my mind off the whole Trey Burke saga that is unfolding before us, I thought I would do a season preview/storylines to watch for as the season progresses for the Tigers.
Can Rick Porcello finally become the pitcher everyone thought he would be?
Porcello made his MLB debut way back in 2009, when he was 20 years old; he was the top prospect in the organization at the time. A lot of people thought he was way too young and being rushed, he had a decent rookie season and a memorable game 163 against the Twins to try and get the Tigers into the Playoffs. Even though the team came up short in that game it was a glimpse of what Rick was capable of. He is 23 now and two mediocre seasons later, he has shown so far this spring that he could finally be approaching the pitcher everyone thought he could be. His stats this spring: 2-0, 1.59 ERA, 17 IP, 16 hits, 5 R, 3 ER, 3BB, 9K's, 1.12 WHIP. He is never going to be a high strikeout guy but if he can start relying on his other pitches and not depend on his sinker as much he could have a breakout season.
Which Austin Jackson will show up?
The tale of two Jacksons, Austin is entering his third season as the Tigers Lead-off man and centerfielder. While there is no question in his ability as a defender, it’s what he will produce at the plate that has everyone wondering. Will he be the AJax of his rookie season who batted .293 or the sophomore AJax who hit .249 and was3rd! in all of baseball with 181 strikeouts. When you strikeout more than Adam Dunn you know there is something wrong. He has made an adjustment in his swing, decreasing his leg kick to try and time his swing better. He is still leading the team in strikeouts this spring but his OBP is up and he is leading the team in BB. I think we won't see either of the two previous Jacksons, he will be somewhere in between and with the guys he has hitting behind him he could and should lead the team in runs scored.
Will the 5th spot be a revolving door or will someone take the job and never look back?
The 5th spot in the rotation last season was a carousel of pitchers, between Phil Coke to Andy Oliver to a guy named Furbush no one ever really took charge and claimed the spot. This year Drew Smyly will get the first chance after beating out a crop of other lefties and current top prospect Jacob Turner. His spring wasn't phenomenal but he did enough to get the job, he is only 22 and last year was his first full year of professional ball, but what a year it was. I really like this kid and being the only lefty in the rotation helps his case, if he can just do enough to give the team a chance to win every 5th day he takes the mound, then he could lock down that spot for a while. But if he does struggle there will be guys waiting to take his place, and there is always the possibility the organization trades or signs a veteran to eat innings on their pursuit of the playoffs.
Will Cabrera be able to defend the hot corner throughout the season?
With the signing of Prince Fielder, Miguel moves back over to third base, the position he started his career at with the Marlins. Upon learning this news he dropped 20 pounds, he is still huge and his durability is going to be questioned through the whole season, and he didn’t help the chatter when he took a bullet off the bat of Hunter Pence to his face, cracking an orbital bone below his right eye.
It was gruesome looking but he is ready for opening day. Miguel’s defense has never been praised as an asset to his game, but he isn’t all that bad and being a third basemen originally should help in the transition back. I think he will be able to make the plays necessary to be reliable at third, just don’t expect him to make the “wow” plays like Inge use to.
Who will challenge the Tigers in the Central?
The easy answer is nobody, looking at the other teams in the Central division none of them look as solid as Detroit. The Twins get Mauer and Morneau back, but their pitching is weak. The Whitesox lose their manager and most reliable pitcher to the new Miami Marlins and they still have Adam Dunn on their team….so…yeah. The Indians, kind of made things interesting for two weeks last season until the Tigers decided to go on a 12 game win streak in September, they have potential this year…but they still play in Cleveland and as long as that is the case they will never win anything. Finally the Kansas City Royals, years of sucking and high draft picks is starting to show up on the field. They have a lot of young talent and I think they could finish second in the division. The Tigers will still probably win the division by 10+ games, and if they don’t then you know something terrible has happened.
Ryan Raburn and Delmon Young have been hot this spring, but they are both historically inconsistent hitters at times. Can they both continue to make contact this season? Brennan Boesch who had his season cut short last year is getting a lot of buzz around the league and many people believe he should have a HUGE season batting in front of Miggy and Prince. When Octavio Dotel takes the mound for the Tigers this season he will become the only player to pitch for 13! different teams in his career. Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants signed a 6-year 127.5 million dollar contract extension the other day, making him the richest right hander in the game. I mention that because Justin Verlander the reigning AL MVP and Cy Young signed a 5-year 80 Million dollar extension in 2010. Although he is 2 years older than Cain, I won’t be surprised if JV is given another extension making him the richest pitcher in the game, he certainly would deserve it.
Overall I think it is going to be a great season for the Tigers, I don’t want to jinx them or anything but I’m predicting a Detroit vs. Arizona World Series with our boys winning it all in 6 games. I’m interested to hear everyone else’s predictions as well, so leave a comment.