Best and Worst Case Scenarios for the Detroit Tigers: Part I

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As mounds of snow begin to melt away, the Red Wings and Pistons battle for playoff spots, while the Lions prepare for another season of mediocrity. There is only one true team with hopes at a bringing home a championship to the Motor City. Or is there?

The Tigers were busy in the offseason molding a championship caliber team. Owner Mike Ilitch is hungry to see the Detroit Tigers win a World Series in his tenure and new General Manager Al Avila is determined to fix the mistakes former GM Dave Dombrowski made in his pursuit of a title. A team already loaded with $100 million contracts picked up two new ones with free agent commodities: starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann and outfielder/former top prospect Justin Upton– two players Tigers fans would be willing to buy $5  “Hot and Ready” pizzas for.

Even after years of buying expensive bats and trying to create the perfect bullpen, will Detroit fall short of winning a World Series in a year that seems like the last hope for the aging roster?

In this two-part series I will highlight the best and worst case scenarios for this upcoming baseball season. In this installment I’m here to give you the reasons why the Detroit Tigers will not win the World Series this year.

The starting pitching rotation falters

There is a lot riding on former MVP Justin Verlander and the once talented Anibal Sanchez. Mix that in with Jordan Zimmermann who has had Tommy John surgery, a veteran Mike Pelfrey, and some youngster in the fifth spot. Tigers fans are looking at a bottom to middle tier rotation.

Verlander has not been an ace-like pitcher since 2012 and now will pitch opening day for the Tigers on April 5 against the Miami Marlins. There does not seem to be any change to his approach on the mound either. His fastball no longer has the giddyup it used to with it losing a whole two miles per hour since 2011. Yet he still is throwing around the same amount he did in 2012 at 58.6 percent. His percentage of balls hitting softly has gone down and balls hitting hard has gone up. The days of blowing his fastball past hitters are not longer a reality. His batter contact percentage has also gone up about three percent. He will need to make adjustments if he still wants to be effective.

Anibal Sanchez is another wild card that the Tigers are putting a lot of faith in. Sanchez is solid pitcher no doubt, but a recent tricep injury and past sporadic injuries could raise some questions. Plus there is always the hard truth of father time. Sanchez, 32, is not old but is definitely in the falling action of his career, so natural regression is expected.

Jordan Zimmermann made history and not in the good way. He was the first player ever to sign a nine-figure deal after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Zimmermann underwent the procedure in August of 2009. You never know with Tommy John. Some go onto to pitch just fine and others never see the field again. Yes it has been a long time since the surgery but there are two things guaranteed in baseball: injuries and taxes. I don’t know if people say that, I just made it up. But seriously people will get hurt.

Mike Pelfrey is here to do two things, damage control and eat innings. He’s serviceable, a prototypical fourth starter.

It’s looking like Shane Greene will be the fifth starter this season. Let us flashback to last year when he was the fifth starter. Greene was dynamite to start only allowing one run over the course of 23 innings. All star numbers, a glimpse of hope for the future of the Tigers rotation. Then he was hit with the plague and allowed 20 runs over the course of 11 innings. A complete 180.

The top prospect and well known hippy, Daniel Norris, is already battling injuries (not to mention a recent jumping injury), which many Tigers fan hope will not be the case with the rest of the team. Because injuries are what led this team to a fifth place finish in the AL Central.

The bullpen… again

A running joke among baseball writers is the Tigers’ failure to form a solid relief core. GM Avila made it the top priority this winter and has done a good job. However, much to Tiger’s fans disdain, the bullpen may already be facing some early drama similar to what has prevented them from nabbing a ring in the past.

The two relievers that were bright spots for Detroit last year, Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy, are both hurt. Wilson posted a 2.19 ERA for the Tigers and was often used in the eighth inning role and Hardy struck out 55 batters in only 61.1 innings of work. Hardy was often the first arm out of the bullpen as well. Losing those two key middle relief for the start of the season already puts the Tigers on the wrong foot.

Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez needs to be questioned a little more than he is. This will be K-Rod’s 15th season. This is a guy that is at the end of his career. Actually acquiring K-Rod isn’t a problem, Detroit got him for a great deal, but is he going to be reliable? This guy was a star when the Angels still had Anaheim in front of their name. His velocity is down tremendously from when he was a top closer in baseball, and he relies heavily on his change up. Joe Nathan was also a veteran when the Tigers acquired him and we all know how that turned out. It’s a gamble throwing a guy like this in the ninth inning.

Super Martinez Bros.

Both J.D. (28) and Victor (37) Martinez will play crucial roles in the Tigers offense.

J.D. could be Dombrowski’s greatest find. He was cut by the Astros, (and not the good ones we saw last year, I’m talking about the Lastros) and picked up by Detroit. He really hasn’t shown any signs of regression and has hit 23 and 38 home runs respectively for the Tigers since coming to the motor city. Maybe I am a pessimist, but I’m always cautious with guys like this that come out of nowhere, they find their groove for a little and then fall off the face of the earth. Even if J.D. does not completely falter, the Tigers need a solid season out of him that can help the team mash it’s way to victory if the pitching is off.

Victor is not a healthy guy and has been battling injury through spring training. He is what many call a “pure hitter.”He has mastered the art of hitting and is always been able to hit for average, a skill that has had a hand in extending his career.  He was a huge part of Detroit’s playoff runs in 2013 and 2014 but last year was rendered useless as he battled injuries all year. Especially if this is going to be a guy batting clean up, having him in the lineup daily is going to be monumental in the success of this team. If he is out for a good portion of the season, forget any playoff run.

Egos can not exist in the least bit if the Tigers want to win. 

Chemistry

Chemistry was a big factor in the Royals World Series win last year. You can see the team’s bond team in how loose they play. I do not want to speculate about anything in the Tigers clubhouse because I’m not there everyday, but eliminating egos and all coming together with a common goal to win is going to be important. There’s a lot of large contracts floating around on the team and it can lead many players to feel better than others.

Egos can not exist in the least bit if the Tigers want to win.

There are some harsh realities this team is facing. It is odd to think that a team with fourth highest payroll in the league would be picked by many sports writers to finish at the bottom of the division. There really is nothing to be 100 percent confident about concerning this team. If everything goes right, the team plays at their peak level, and they stay healthy, the Tigers are a no doubter for the World Series.

You can say every team has uncertainties. Detroit might have some of the most and are taking a gamble that could take them right to the top or sink them back to the bottom. 

This was the first of a two-part series on the Detroit Tigers’ upcoming season. You can find part 2 on our site later this week.

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