When I reviewed NL second baseman (The Chasing of Chase in the Recent Posts section on the right), I stated that I reviewed defense much more heavily at this spot, along with shortstop and centerfield, then I would at the corners. If it was all about offense, there’d be no doubt. Cano is blowing the rest of the field away with an outstanding year at the plate. Pedroia isn’t even the principal challenger on offense, that honor going to Baltimore’s Ty Wiggington, who’s filled in admirably for the injured Brian Roberts—the latter being a player who’s gotten far too little mention in these discussions in previous years when he’s been healthy But both Cano and Wiggington are defensive liabilities. Cano’s zone rating, a stat at ESPN.com that measures range is back to its low levels, after a nice uptick last year. Pedroia is near the top of the American League, with his only competition being pure glove artists. Just like in the National League, where I felt Kelly Johnson was the most balanced package, I believe the same to be true with Pedroia in the AL.
When it comes to the charge of bias, I would only argue that I love Utley and the Phils and still opted for another contender. So while I am biased, I’m not applying a different standard to Cano just because he’s a Yankee. And as Yankee players go, Cano isn’t even on my dislike radar, that space being mostly occupied by Mark Texieria, A.J. Burnett and A-Rod.
With Roberts on the disabled list, the rest of the American League field doesn’t offer a lot of competition. Ian Kinsler’s defense is also a little shaky and has power has disappeared. Honorable mention goes to Orlando Hudson, now in Minnesota, for the way he’s getting on base. But for the most part, this is a two-man race, replete with completely different statistical profiles and all the emotional bias that comes with a Yankee-Red Sox debate.
Detroit is 30-27 coming into Wednesday night’s games and trails Minnesota by 3.5 games in the AL Central, a margin that’s been fairly stable for a couple weeks now. A closer look at Detroit suggests they will stay in contention all year and be right on the edge of pushing over the top, perhaps even as close as last year, when only an epic 12-inning loss in a one-game playoff cost them the division title to the Twins.
The Tigers are not making the most of their offensive opportunities, having managed to take #4 American League rankings in both on-base percentage and slugging and turn it into a #9 spot in runs scored. As long as the #4s hold, the runs will come, but there is legitimate question as to how long those can hold. Will Austin Jackson maintain a .361 OBP for the year, given he’s already sliding downward? Will Brennan Boesch slug .621? In the tough American League, can Jim Leyland continue to field a lineup with three obvious dead spots in Brandon Inge, Gerald Laird and whoever’s playing shortstop? Speaking of the latter, who is playing shortstop? Adam Everett was designated for assignment, and Daniel Worth has been called up.
Jim Leyland can turn to one of the best bullpens he’s had in his tenure at Detroit. Joel Zumaya is a deadly force again, and he’s joined by Phil Coke and Eddie Bonine in giving the skipper a lights-out setup team. Jose Valverde has been unhittable at closer. It’s getting to these guys that’s going to be important. Justin Verlander’s having a nice year. He is a possibility to kick it up a notch, but it’s not something to be counted on, nor is it necessary. Leyland needs Rick Porcello to return to the world of sub-5.00 ERAs and be the pitcher he was a year ago, for Max Scherzer to be the pitcher all the scouts said he could be in the minor leagues and Armando Galaragga to build off his should-have-been perfect game and be reliably consistent.
Overall, this is a very interesting team and it’s easy to see a scenario for it coming together. Get a Verlander-Galaragga-Porcello rotation in gear, a dominant bullpen and an offense led by veterans Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez and Johnny Damon, filled in with just enough supporting players to survive in a pitcher’s park. If everything falls into place, they could win the division and have a real shot at sneaking into the World Series again. But things generally don’t all click at once, and if anything comes up short, Detroit will be what they are now—a good team, a well-managed team, a tough team—but one that just misses the playoffs.
Tomorrow we'll take a look at the Florida Marlins and National League shortstops, as Hanley Ramirez comes center stage.