Nanoseconds after Carlos Gomez slid across home plate in the final regular-season game of 2009, sending his Twins team to the playoffs and dispatching the Tigers to an offseason of soul searching, the last thing a Tigers fan wanted to do was think of Opening Day 2010.
Maybe I’m just projecting my own coping skills on the legion of Tigers followers, but it’s safe to say that, considering how the 2009 season ended, we all needed a break. The good news is: break’s over.
Opening Day 2010 is here and with it comes the joy of seeing the Royals, White Sox, Indians and, yes, the Twins 18 times each over the next six months. Think of it. Savor it.
And, bathe, won’t you, in the Opening Day clichés that will flow over the next 24 hours – Hope springs eternal on Opening Day! Everyone’s tied for first place on Opening Day! Jeremy Bonderman discovered a third pitch in time for Opening Day!
But in the meantime, let’s take a look at what’s in store for Jim Leyland’s Tigers in 2010, at least from our view.
Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello are the only sure things in the starting rotation but the Tigers are pinning a lot of their hopes on Max Scherzer, whose performance could make or break the staff. If Scherzer falters or is beset by injuries again, now you’re looking at possibly Jeremy Bonderman as your number-three starter.
That leaves Dontrelle Willis, Armando Galarraga or maybe even the currently injured Zach Miner to round out the rotation. No pressure, Max. (You either, D-Train.)
In spring training, Verlander’s ERA was nearly 5.5 and he gave up 26 hits in just 21.1 innings. No one in Tigers camp is concerned. Hey, it’s spring training.
Porcello on the other hand was sensational in camp: 1-1, 1.21 ERA. He surrendered 13 hits in 22.1 innings and allowed only three runs in six starts. No one in Tigers camp is rejoicing. Hey, it’s spring training.
As for Willis, he had what was often termed as a “nice statistical spring.” And who could argue? Well, the people who point out his 12 walks and 21 hits in 22.1 innings pitched. But hey, it’s spring training; we focus on the positive. In eight starts Willis was 2-0 with a 3.22 ERA – thus the cautiously tempered and tentative feint praise.
This year’s Tigers are the most fascinating in recent memory with youthful additions Austin Jackson in center replacing Curtis Granderson, Scott Sizemore at second replacing Placido Polanco, and Alex Avila the backup to starting catcher Gerald Laird. All eyes will be on Jackson and Sizemore who’ve shown to be more than capable replacements for their popular predecessors.
Johnny Damon in left is another intriguing story line both for the way he should ignite the offense and for his arcing throws from the outfield to the cutoff man. With a plodding Magglio Ordonez in right and the cavernous left field at Comerica Park, Mr. Jackson will be covering a lot of ground this year whether he realizes it or not. Nevertheless, Ordonez should pick up right where he left off in 2009 and hit .300+. Here’s hoping some of his power numbers re-emerge.
If we believe what Miguel Cabrera has said in spring training, he’s ready for an MVP season and eager to show Tigers fans that last October’s lack of judgment was a difficult and poorly timed lesson. He’s learned from it and is ready to put it behind him. Works for me.
Two questions remain: Will Brandon Inge regain his first-half, All-Star-caliber form and power? And, can full-time DH Carlos Guillen stay healthy and get back to the .295/20 home run range?
The Tigers are not hurting from a lack of heat at the back end of their bullpen. Leyland can dial-up Joel Zumaya, Ryan Perry and new closer Jose Valverde to extinguish a rally from the sixth inning on. And, when Daniel Schlereth completes his Triple-A tune-up – by mid-May? – the Tigers will have a deep and enviable relief corps.
Of course, a lot depends on which Zumaya shows up. He was either lights-out or lighter fluid in the Grapefruit League – humming 100-m.p.h. heaters past hitters or watching those same offerings get volleyed back at the same velocity.
Fu-Te Ni is now the Tigers’ top situation lefty out of the pen, replacing injured incumbent Bobby Seay who’s partially torn rotator cuff could end his season before it begins, along with newcomer Brad Thomas.
Poor Scott Sizemore. Every ball hit his way this season will have some Tigers fans ready to exclaim: “Polanco woulda had that one!” But only for a while. Reports out of Lakeland this spring indicate that Sizemore will be more than adequate as Polanco’s successor in the field and more dangerous, perhaps, at the plate.
The rest of the infield should provide the same air-tight defense it displayed in ’09. Inge and shortstop Adam Everett are a pitcher’s best friend on the left side and Cabrera continues to get better and more refined at first. Last year Laird was a machine behind the plate defensively, cutting down 42 percent of would-be base stealers. In the outfield, Jackson should cover more ground in center than Granderson. No one expects a Gold Glove from Damon in left.
In the perennially winnable American League Central, the Tigers are again considered an also-ran of sorts. Reigning division champion Minnesota along with the White Sox seem to be the popular picks to win the Central.
And maybe they will.
But this Tigers team is better than many experts think. Expect the pitching to be better than okay – Scherzer and Bonderman will surprise their detractors. And the questionable offense? Watch for Guillen and Ordonez to rediscover their respective strokes and provide protection for Cabrera. Also, look for rookie Avila to deliver more offense from the catching spot than the Tigers could have hoped.
All in all, the outlook for the 2010 Detroit Tigers is solid.
The Bottom Line
The Tigers will win 87 games, enough for a division title, two games ahead of the White Sox