The third in a series of looks at the competition for the crown in the mediocrity that is the 2010 AL Central
Dates we play them: 5/17-5/18 @ Detroit, 6/8-6/10 at home, 8/3-8/5 @ Detroit, 8/13-8/15 at home, 9/6-9/9 @ Detroit, 8/17-8/19 at home
Offense: A potential lineup: Austin Jackson-CF, Johnny Damon-LF, Magglio Ordoñez-RF, Miguel Cabrera-1B, Carlos Guillen-DH, Brandon Inge-3B, Gerald Laird-C, Scott Sizemore-2B, Adam Everett-SS. Bench: Ryan Raburn-OF, Alex Avila-C, Ramon Santiago-UTIL.
Don't have too much faith in that lineup though. Jim Leyland really likes changing his lineups. Austin Jackson has never played an inning or had an at-bat above AAA, yet Detroit's lack of a true center fielder (feels good saying that about other teams for a change) means the 23-year old will most likely be in the majors come April 5th. He has plus speed (7.4 Speed Score) and is a talented thief (24-28 in AAA last season). He's been called an above-average outfielder, which he'll need to be considering the old men that will flank him on both sides. He really needs to cut down on his strikeouts and should probably be spending at least part of 2010 in Toledo. Contrary to everything you heard this off-season, Johnny Damon always wanted to be a Tiger. Besides being a victim of fraud, Damon also really enjoys professional wrestling. New Yankee Stadium really helped boost his worth, as he posted his highest slugging percentage since the year 2000 (it was also the second highest of his career). He's still a good baserunner and thief, but don't expect more than 20 homeruns or steals this season. His fielding will be bad, but not Jermaine Dye awful. He'll be worth the $8 million. Don't expect Magglio to see many more than 500 plate appearances this summer. If he reaches 540, his 2011 option kicks in to the tune of $15 million. No way management is dumb enough to let that happen. Again. His power numbers will rebound some, but he completes the outfield that won't have anyone pass the 20 homer benchmark. He's also about ready to fall off the cliff defensively. Miguel Cabrera is far and away the best position player in the Motor City. The Santerian babalao gave up drinking after his domestic incident from last fall. Good news for him, bad news for us. Anything lifestyle changes he makes that will help keep him in shape help insure that he'll have another year above .300/.400/.530 with 30+ homers.
Carlos Guillen's legs have forced him to move from short to left to third to first and now to DH. The main problem is that his bat just isn't good enough to be a full-time DH. He used to be a doubles machine, but it remains unclear if he'll still be able to leg them out. The twilight of his career is nigh. Brandon Inge derives all of his value from his defensive prowess at the hot corner. He strikes out a ton (25.5% career SO/AB) and doesn't get on-base nearly enough to be a true threat on offense even with his 20+ homerun power. My favorite Inge moment is the 2009 Home Run Derby, where he became only the eighth player in history to not clear the fences. He's coming off knee surgery (both knees), so he's a bit of a wild card. Double knee surgery frightens me, so I'm not too worried about him anymore. Gerald Laird is even worse than Jason Kendall when there's a bat in his hands. That is terrifying. He's good behind the plate, but this won't be enough to hold off the hard-charging Alex Avila, he will probably take Gerald's job from him sometime around August. At least he has an awesome grandpa. Sizemore is the other true rookie that will be starting for the Tigers this season. He has gap power, with a chance at eventually developing 15 homer power. He has been lights out on the base paths the past two seasons (35 of 42 SB/A) and projects to be an average defender from what I've read. He could be good for some time, but won't have a chance to be the best second bagger in the division. Adam Everett is so good defensively that he has managed to be worth 11.3 WAR for his career despite having a career wOBA of .286. This will probably be his last year as a starting shortstop. Apparently he is the Astros' all-time leader in homeruns as a shortstop. With 34. Ick. And I'd be remiss to not mention my new favorite Tiger, Ryan Raburn. When I pulled up Detroit's depth chart, I noticed something impressive: he is listed as a back-up at every position except shortstop. Fantastic.
Pitching: A potential rotation and closer: Justin Verlander-RHP, Rick Porcello-RHP, Max Scherzer-RHP, Jeremy Bonderman-RHP, Dontrelle Willis-LHP, and Jose Valverde-(CL).
Justin Verlander is the best pitcher in the division not named Zack Greinke. He led the majors in strikeouts last year, and is a solid bet to do so again. He throws a power fastball that has topped 100 mph on more than one occasion, an impressive change-up, and a biting curveball. He will be dominating hitters for year to come. Rick Porcello fell to the end of the first round in the 2007 draft because of Scott Boras. This allowed the runner-up of the 2006 World Series to swoop in and grab one of the best talents of the draft. Rick Porcello is at high-risk for problems this year. He pitched 45.2 more innings than ever last season, making him a prime candidate for the Verducci Effect. Rick is an extreme groundballer, throwing his sinking fastball for more than three-quarters of his pitches (77.1%). The aging and injuries to the left side of the infield could also negatively impact him. Max Scherzer is another highly-talented injury risk. Scherzer also passed his innings total by over 40, but is at an even higher risk due to his questionable mechanics. He was the main gain for Detroit in the Curtis Granderson trade. He gives the Tigers a legitimate shot at having two pitchers pass 200 Ks in the same rotation. He throws a mid-90s fastball, mid-80s change, and a biting mid-80s slider and has room to improve as he's only 25. After the top three, the rotation looks a lot worse. Jeremy Bonderman is hard-throwing righty with arm problems that are derailing his career. His fastball no longer touches the mid-90s and he has to throw his slider less often to protect his arm. He's two bad years away from leaving the game. Dontrelle Willis has hopefully bounced back from his anxiety issues. I miss watching him pitch and hope he figures out the mental issues. Other than the DUI and public urination, he always seemed like a likeable guy. He throws an upper-80s fastball to go with his slider and change. His funky delivery doesn't seem to work for him anymore, though. Papa Grande is finally pitching in the Junior Circuit after spending the first seven year of his career in the NL. He throws a mid to upper-90s fastball and a mid-80s splitter almost exclusively. He's not an elite closer, but is definitely a solid second tier guy.
Outlook: It feels like a lot has to go right for Detroit to make the playoffs this year. I think they're somewhere between the top of the division (us and Tehh Twinn) and the bottom (CLE and KC). I guess this makes them the dark horse. The Sox have had a great deal of success since against Detroit since Ozzie took over, so I'm thinking 12-6 doesn't seem too ridiculous. And I've been meaning to give credit to the other teams' SBN sites when it's due, but have forgotten the past two times. So to make up for that, I strongly encourage that you check out Ian, Will, and Jesse's work (and all the contributing authors that exist in those three corners of the interwebs).