2013 Detroit Tigers Season Preview: Part Two


A powerhouse offense combined with a suspect defense will only get you so far if your pitching staff is sketchy. Luckily for your 2013 Detroit Tigers, in addition to having possibly the best lineup in the league on paper, their pitching staff looks deeper than it has in decades. The Tigers starting staff that registered a combined, video game-esque 2.22 ERA during last year’s postseason is 100% intact for 2013 and looks primed to go back and finish what they started last fall.

[caption id="attachment_405" align="alignright" width="199" caption="Must-see J-V will be a can't-miss spectacle in Motown once again this season. (Photo credit: Flickr)"][/caption]

Justin Verlander has grown up in front of our very eyes, transforming from a skinny kid with an upper-90's fastball to a dominant workhorse pitcher, and has become arguably the best starter in all of baseball. Verlander “struggled” a bit last year following his MVP campaign in 2011, as he saw his ERA rise from 2.40 to 2.64 and his win total fall from 24 to 17. But JV still led the league in strikeouts in 2012 and even had a slightly higher strikeout rate last year than he did during his MVP season. Put it this way; Verlander’s worst season, in any given year, will still be good for a top five overall statistical performance at his position. He's in his prime, and he's that good.

Following JV in the pecking order will be Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and either Rick Porcello or Drew Smyly. Scherzer enjoyed a bit of a breakout season last year and if he can come close to 16 wins and over 200 strikeouts, which is what he did in 2012, the number two hole in the rotation is in good hands. Mad Max should be extra motivated this year, being that a monster contract awaits him in the 2013 off-season if he can replicate, or even improve upon, his 2012 season stats.

Doug Fister flew under the radar last year after coming over from the Seattle Mariners and enjoying a superb second half to the 2011 season for Detroit. Much like that year, Fister shined after the All-Star break last season. A number of nagging injuries limited him to only 11 starts before the break, but after the ASG game Fister went 8-4 with a 2.67 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP. Anibal Sanchez, meanwhile, is a man that has the pressure of the world on his shoulders from the fourth spot in the rotation, if that makes any sense. After signing a gargantuan contract in the off-season, he’ll need to prove that his sparkling 1.77 ERA during last year's playoffs was not a fluke, but more of a shape of things to come. Sanchez has shown flashes of brilliance in the past and boasts a no-hitter to his resume, but will need to start putting it altogether rather quickly if he's going to justify that hefty new contract.

The fifth spot of the rotation is yet to be decided at this point, and although Rick Porcello has very publicly been placed on the trading block, he has looked awfully impressive in spring training thus far. In five starts, Porcello has gone 3-1 with a 2.50 ERA and has even struck out 18 hitters in his 18 innings of work. Porcello has teased us in the past, tapping into some of that potential that made him a first-round pick back in 2007, and despite a disappointing showing since his excellent rookie year, we must remember that he is still only 24-years-old. Drew Smyly, meanwhile, has been nothing to scoff at this spring. Smyly was a pleasant surprise during his two stints with the Tigers last year, striking out 94 batters in 99 innings. In Lakeland, Smyly is currently 3-0 with a 3.86 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP. Regardless of who the Tigers award the fifth spot in the rotation to, Detroiters should rest easy knowing that they could do a lot worse than either Porcello or Smyly. (Cough, cough, Scott Kazmir in Cleveland, cough, cough.)


Jose Valverde. Utter those five syllables to even the most fair-weather of Tiger fans and prepare to watch some fists ball up and some foreheads crinkle. “Papa Grande,” as he was fondly referred to before we all started hating his guts, actually had a very solid three-year stint as the closer in Detroit, racking up 110 saves in three seasons. But that’s nothing that a 30.38 postseason ERA couldn’t completely cloud and tarnish. Needless to say, Valverde is gone now, and the Tigers are left with a “Grande” hole to fill in the 9th inning (feel free to use that one with your friends).

Lefty specialist Phil Coke became the interim closer during the playoffs last year due to his domination of the New York Yankees lineup in the American League Championship Series. But I’m pretty sure Eddie Feigner could’ve dominated that lineup, blindfolded, and in his current state, which is deceased. For whatever reason, Jim Leyland and the Tigers managerial staff are continuing to overlook Al Alburquerque, who in his two major league seasons, is the owner of a career 1.59 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and an absolutely mind-boggling strikeout rate of  85 K’s in only 59 innings pitched. Alburquerque seems destined for the closer role because of his shallow yet effective two-pitch catalog, and his classical closer-like shenanigans. But if the old man refuses to thrust him into the closer role this season, at least we can all take solace in the fact that this kid is going to be a dynamic middle reliever for as long as he stays healthy.

Bruce Rondon, an undrafted, 22-year-old flamethrower from Venezuela seems to be the front-runner for the vacant closer position. After stumbling out of the gate in spring training, Rondon has allowed only one earned run in his last six appearances and has struck out 15 batters in only 9 innings of work. Leyland has already gone on record of saying that any decision regarding the closer spot will come “right down to the wire” in spring training, as the Tigers have a variety of options they can choose from. Joaquin Benoit and Brayan Villarreal have had stellar springs, and Octavio Dotel has been a very effective reliever during his well-traveled 14-year career. These six pitchers make up what projects to be a solid and versatile bullpen. And if no one steps up to the challenge of being the closer, well, that’s what the trade deadline is for. You can bet that General Manager Dave Dombrowski will have his finger on the trigger come August if Rondon, or whoever mans the closer role, falters during the first half of the season.


As cliché as it sounds, the time is now for the Tigers to pounce on the rest of the American League. The Texas Rangers lost the best hitter on their team of the past five years or so to free agency in Josh Hamilton and the Yankees are so beat up that it looks like they may be starting Brennan Boesch in the outfield on Opening Day (gasp). The Toronto Blue Jays have made major upgrades to their roster this off-season, but a little thing called chemistry is still a very real factor. Just ask that 2008 Detroit Tigers roster.

Meanwhile, in the AL Central, the Indians and Twins are in rebuilding mode and don't look to be factors in this upcoming season. One must question Royals GM Dayton Moore for shipping phenom outfield prospect Wil Myers to Tampa Bay in a package for veteran pitcher James Shields, since the move looks more like a plan designed to put butts in the seats than it is a strategy to compete for the AL Central crown. Kansas City’s bark may very well be bigger than their bite in 2013.

That leaves us with those pesky Chicago White Sox. The Sox had had the Tigers number for what seemed like an eternity, besting the Tigers by a record of 58-36 from 2005-2009. But since then, the Tigers have turned the tide, going 35-19 against them. The White Sox pretty much stood pact this off-season, as far as roster moves are concerned, but that roster gave the American League fits for much of last year. When it comes down to it though, neither their lineup nor their pitching staff is as deep or as effective as the Tigers, and all signs point to a 95+ win season for the Motor City Kitties, barring major injury. Just sit back and enjoy the ride, Detroit.

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