The Baseball Notebook

March 8, 2010 11:00 AM

Detroit Tigers Preview

Detroit endured heartbreak a year ago. They had a seven-game lead in the AL Central in September and lost it. It came down to a one-game playoff with Minnesota, where they let leads slip on a couple different occasions and finally lost in 12 innings, one of the great games in baseball history. In the offseason, they traded Curtis Granderson to New York and let Placido Polanco walk via free agency. It looked like a fire sale in the making, until they made the last splash in the free agent market and signed Johnny Damon to a one-year deal. Do they still have enough to contend?

Damon is one of several veterans who need to show they can still produce at a high level if the Tigers are to win. Magglio Ordonez has seen his power decline sharply in the two years since his monster year in 2007 when he might have been the MVP had Alex Rodriguez not gone off the charts. Carlos Guillen is another one who’s been falling off the pace, as his slugging percentage his slipped every year since the team’s 2006 pennant run.

This trio steps in as support for Miguel Cabrera at first base, who is one of the top players in baseball. Cabrera has hit 30-plus home runs three straight years. And he gets on base consistently too, getting near the .400 mark in OBP consistently. He’s also an underrated defender. Note that I did not say he’s good, just that he’s underrated, which tells you how bad his reputation with the glove is. Cabrera is capable of winning the MVP award and will need to have that kind of year again if the Tigers are to play deep into October.

Over on the other side of the infield, there’s some uncertainty. Brandon Inge is the incumbent and hit 27 home runs last year. But Inge’s home run output was somewhat of an aberration. It didn’t lead to a high-quality slugging percentage, indicating a lack of power to the alleys, something that produces runs much more consistently. Nor has he ever produced a good OBP. Lying in wait for the position is Ryan Raburn, who posted a .359 OBP and .533 slugging in part-time duty a year ago. Detroit’s got to get Raburn regular at-bats. He was slated for left field until the Damon signing. Now getting him time is a question mark.

Justin Verlander is to the pitching staff what Cabrera is to the offense, and he’s capable of winning the Cy Young Award. He won 19 games a year ago, with a nice 3.45 ERA. Just as importantly in this day and age, he logged 240 innings, something that’s important with any staff, but especially this one and its questionable bullpen. Beyond Verlander is problematic. Max Scherzer and Armando Galaragga need to pitch up to their potential and Rick Porcello needs to build off last year’s solid campaign. There are real possibilities here, but also question marks.

As alluded above, the bullpen is a problem, although the signing of Jose Valverde to close will help a little bit. They still at least one person to step up in setup, and Joel Zumaya regaining the form of 2006 wouldn’t hurt.

It could be the hidden intangibles that help this team the most over the long haul. They’re a good defensive team. Inge and shortstop Adam Everett give them a strong left side. Damon may have a noodle for an arm, but he covers ground in left field. Ordonez does the same in right and has a cannon. And overseeing it all is Jim Leyland, who can always be counted on to maximize any edge his team has. Detroit’s one of the more interesting teams in baseball this year and could break either way.

Up Next: Florida Marlins tomorrow
Final AL Central Picks & Preview: April 2

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