The Baseball Notebook

May 12, 2010 2:00 PM

The Tiger Roar

After its September collapse last season, expectations were reduced in Detroit this year and no one was quite sure what to expect. Thus far, the Tigers have played pretty well, holding a winning record and being close behind Minnesota in the AL Central. Austin Jackson, acquired from the Yankees in the deal for Curtis Granderson has been an unqualified success, with a .408 on-base percentage (never a Granderson strong suit) and slugging .493 in the vast environs of Comerica Park. He's one of several offensive successes, a list that includes old reliables like Miguel Cabreara and Magglio Ordonez and newly acquired veterans like Johnny Damon. But the ultimate success of the 2010 Detroit Tigers is going to come down to whether the pitching can hold up over the long haul. So let's dive in and look at their arms from top to bottom.

Justin Verlander is the ace of the staff and has yet to really find his form, sitting with a 4.50 ERA. Considering the predominance of games in a pitcher-friendly park, that's a little on the high side. Young starters Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello have been nothing short of a catastrophe to this point, with ERAs on 6.81 and 7.50 respectively. Scherzer was once one of the top prospects in the Arizona organization and Porcello enjoyed a nice year in 2009, so for them to be this bad is surely a big disappointment to Jim Leyland. Dontrelle Willis has been respectable. Hee was scratched from his scheduled start againt the Yankees on Monday night due to the flu, but is expected to take his turn against Boston this weekend. Jeremy Bonderman has been subpar, at 5.74.

The outlook in the bullpen is much shinier. Jose Valverde has been a wortwhile free agent investment at closer, finishing the job in 9 of 10 chances with a sparkling 0.61 ERA. This is an area that's always been a weakness for this team, even during their pennant year of 2006, as Todd Jones always made it interesting at the end. Valverde is giving some stability and breathing room for Tiger fans. Middle relief has been no less solid, with Joel Zumaya showcasing the dominance that made him such a fear setup man back in 2006 and Eddie Bonine posting a dazzling 1.02 ERA.

Prognosis: Detroit has enough pitching to make it interesting, but I'm not sure that it's enough to get over the top. A manager like Leyland can make a bullpen go a long way. Verlander is likely to pitch better, and if nothing else, Scherzer and Porcello have to get better just by the law of averages. But I think they need a little more than these natural improvements to win the Central. It can be internally, through a trade or by seeing Minnesota have players come up short or get hit by injuries. But right now, they're a little behind the Twins. Of course this gives away my prognosis for tomorrow's post, but we'll still take a look at Minnesota for Thursday.

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