Monday, April 5, 2010
2010 Prediction – Tigers Win American League Central – Seriously
The Tigers Opening Day is upon us. Although the season officially kicked off last night with a great dual between the Yankees and the Red Sox.
Today the Tiger's open against Kansas City – in Kansas City.
I think anyone tossing out predictions of the outcome of 162 games played is tossing a dart at a distant board on a windy day. But for all those darts tossed so far, the Tigers have been picked to come in second or third.
But here is where I think our Tigers will come out in the end:
1. Detroit Tigers
2. Minnesota Twins
3. Chicago White Sox
4. Kansas City Royals
5. Cleveland Indians
The Tigers? In first? What are you … some hometown homer slappy? Looking through rose colored glasses? Haven't you taken anything that has transpired over the off season, or the end of 2009 seriously? What are you thinking?
I know what it sounds like, But there is some rationale behind my seemingly over-optimistic prediction.
The Tigers are still a contending team in baseball. While both Minnesota and Chicago have upgraded in the offseason, the White Sox are still a bunch of players on a roster – not a team – the only outcome possible when managed by Ozzie Guillen.
And Minnesota upgraded by adding Thome to the power duo of Mauer and Morneau, and playing under Ron Gardenhire. But they can no longer hide under their "dome from hell" home field advantage.
I hated that dome.
And they have lost Nathan as their closer. But the importance may be overstated by some.
Believe it or not, the Tigers are deeper than both the Twins and the White Sox. The problem is that we are so familiar with most of this team – we under estimate them – and we under value them.
So that re-levels the field to me.
Therefore – here are my three main reasons why the Tigers will win the ALCS in 2010:
Reason 3 – Defense and New Acquisitions
The Tigers no longer have Granderson and Polanco – now it's Austin Jackson in center field and Scott Sizemore at second. Johnny Damon will take over left – leaving Carlos Guillen in a spot he will not be happy with. See some platooning in left between Damon and Guillen with Damon winning the position before the forty game mark elapses.
We may see Carlos leave the Tigers in midseason and money spent on a designated hitter.
Austin Jackson has been the talk of the grapefruit league. Deservedly so showing both power and placement hitting skills and a good defensive ability in center. Look for numbers for Jackson at the .280 mark – a great start from a rookie. There are some picking Jackson to be the rookie of the year – but let's not go saying things like that just yet.
As Sizemore's ankle continues to get stronger – look for his range to increase at second. As well, look for his bat to level off at the .260 mark. A reasonable expectation I think.
Defensively the Tigers will surprise everyone to not be markedly weaker up the middle. Look for Adam Everett to get more comfortable at short to make up for his failings at the plate. I have a hunch that the Everett – Sizemore combo will be better than expected as the two grow together.
With Inge at third and Cabera at first – both battling challenges of different natures from the past seasons – look for strength at both corners. But don't expect Inge to finish better than .240 at the plate. He has shown us fool's gold in his hitting in the past – just hope he remains able to play with those knees and can get a bat on the ball in RISP situations. If he learns not to think long-ball, Brandon will have a good year.
Cabrera will have an amazing year this year. He is humbled by the outcome of last season – and the Tiger Woods like embarrassment it entailed – albeit his challenge is of a different nature. Cabrera will have a strong shot at the AL MVP and hit .335 for the season.
Also look for Maglio Ordonez to hit around .310 this year – with power and with placement. Mags will step it up this year at the plate. But he will not surprise anyone with his defensive play in right.
Gerald Laird is a very good defensive catcher – but look for Laird to be replaced by Avila in the mid season as his trade value forces the Tigers hand to make a move for either a starting pitcher or a designated hitter during he all star break or shortly after. This will force Avila's hand to change the way he receives pitches – he must present a better target for his pitchers and frame the results better for catchers – or he will never become a quality catcher in the Major Leagues.
The top half of the Tigers lineup is chalk full of hitting potential – Jackson, Damon, Ordonez, Cabrera, and Guillen. But the second half is weaker with Inge, Sizemore, Laird, and Everett. For this reason alone – see this team play a lot more small ball strategy with that bottom half of the order – creating means by which they can get men on. If the second half of the order can hold on in an inning to get back to the top of the order and into the meat – this team will score runs. But that is a big if.
Luckily – great pitching beats great hitting …
Reason 2 – Pitching
The Tigers main advantage over the rest of the ALC is their pitching. Lets take a look and see what we really have here.
Justin Verlander has established himself as an elite American League pitcher. He enters ballgames now – well entrenched in the heads of opposing batters. This is Verlander's year to break the twenty wins mark. As well, his ability and desire to go deep into a game only makes him better – and gives our bullpen a chance to rest – allowing Leyland more options for the next game.
Rick Porcello has established himself in his rookie season as a new Verlander. Perhaps not how Rick want's to be perceived. But the young man's control, poise and toolset of pitches appear to be those attributes of a seasoned veteran. Many expect Porcello to suffer from the dreaded sophomore slump – but I have a feeling he is too strong willed for that to happen. Look at Porcello to win 17 games this year.
Max Scherzer comes to Detroit from Arizona this year after finishing last year with a 9 wins 11 losses record – a .412 ERA, and a 1.32 WHIP. These are not inspiring numbers. And this will be his first year in the American League. To me, Matt Scherzer is an unknown still. But this will be his third year in the bigs – and we may see those numbers improve. Look for a 10 wins season from Scherzer. Anything better would be outstanding.
Jeremy Bonderman is back this year – after prolonged injuries have prevented him from truly pitching the way we all know he is capable of. The former Ace of the Tigers is anxious to show he still is a pitcher to deal with, and wants to reassert himself as a dominant force in the American League. The question is "can he stay healthy?" No past numbers from previous years have any bearing on predicting the 2010 season for Jeremy. But I am predicting a comeback year for the bulldog. Look for 14 wins for Jeremy this year.
Dontrelle Willis is the second biggest question mark in my mind after Max Scherzer. Nobody that I know of has ever recovered from the mental aspects of loss of confidence in themselves as what Dontrelle has battled these last two seasons. The outlook is not good that he will be the first. But if he should, then I would give Dontrelle 9 wins this year. But honestly, I don't see Dontrelle on this roster by Memorial Day weekend. But I wish him all the good fortune in the world.
The Bullpan – expect Phil Coke to move into the starting rotation shortly in the start of this year to replace the struggling Dontrelle Willis. That being said - Eddie Bonine, Ryan Perry, and Fu-Te Nu are quality middle relievers. Bobby Seay will hopefully recover from a torn rotator cup to help in this support role – but look for Seay to be less effective – if he should be able to recover.
Look for Joel Zumaya to finally grow up this year as well, extending his pitches to include a slider and changeup. If he can keep his mind off the speed gun – and throw pitches instead of heat – Zoom-by-ya holds a good shot at helping the Tigers get through the last two or three innings.
Closer Jose Valverde is an exciting addition to this roster – and to this date I think an underestimated reason I expect success from the Tigers in 2010. With a lead in the ninth, expect Valverde to get the job done convincingly. If not, then expect a battle between Valverde and Zumaya for that closing spot. It's hard to believe that Fernando Rodney blew only one save opportunity for the Tigers in 2009 – and I think that was a key reason for their success up until the end. Look at Valverde to continue that closing successs – but without the thrills we are used to from Rodney and Jones of days gone by.
Stong successes by Verlander and Porcello, along with a comeback year by Bonderman and a convincing closer in Valverde will make this the pitching staff to beat and keep the Tigers strongly in contention in the American League Central. Good pitching beats good hitting damned near every time. But the key is how the Tigers hit to support the good pitching.
Reason 1 – The end of the 2009 season.
Since 2006 – the Tigers have ended the season poorly. Droughts and doldrums coming since the first weeks of August, and lasting through the end of September.
In 2006, they let a ten game lead slip away in the final games by losing three in a row to basement dwelling Kansas City. The Twins snuck in as ALC division champs. But the ALC had the wildcard spot – as it was the strongest division in the American League. Of course the Tigers made it that year to the World Series after defeating the Yankees and Oakland A's in the playoffs – only to return to their slump during the World Series against St. Louis.
The slump repeated itself in 2007 – the Tigers this time some four games back behind the White Sox and Twins.
In 2008 – the boys slumped right out of the gate – losing their first seven games in a row – and they never recovered.
In 2009 – one of the hardest seasons to watch – a repeat of the 2006 slump verbatim – with no wild card spot safety net to catch them - the second half slump allowed the Tigers to be overtaken by the Twins after losing three of their last four games to the Twins and White Sox – only to lose in a one game playoff against the Twins in Minnesota's dome from hell.
Last year hurt more than 2006. More than 2007, Even more than finishing in the basement in 2008 after being picked by many to win the World Series that year.
2010 will be different. That memory of last year is fresh in these guys minds. Fresh in Manager Jim Leyland's mind – and a deep scar in Dave Dombrowski and Mike Ilitch's heart.
That's why this offseason saw star players Granderson and Polanco leave to the Yankees and Phillies.
Change was needed. And a message was sent to this squad that no one is safe.
Especially Willis, Guillen and Laird.
This year, I expect there to be no second-half-slump. Should one arise, I think we will all be saying goodbye to our beloved skip Leyland this August.
It just won't be tolerated.
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