Why The Detroit Tigers Will Win The World Series
The Detroit Tigers won a 4th straight AL Central title in 2014 by holding off a pesky bunch of Kansas City Royals. They did it with an imperfect team that started hot, floundered for weeks and then brought it home with a solid month of September baseball.
They move into October having withstood long race with the Royals, indeed the Royals led the division at points from mid-August and into September. The Tigers have had some semblance of “playoff pressure” on their shoulders for weeks as they fought off their challengers.
As an experienced club overall, it should be a relatively smooth transition into the playoff crucible for the Tigers. Detroit shows up with a top flight starting rotation and a middle of the order that has been smoking hot through the stretch drive. Will those strengths be enough to cover up an ugly gaffe prone defense and a bullpen that inspires little confidence overall.
Will the Tigers make a run at a World Series and finish the job they were unable to when they lost the Series in 2006 and 2012? It’s possible. Here is what they need to look for:
The Tigers post-season chances are built around Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, David Price, and Rick Porcello. This quartet was built with the post-season in mind. The first three are all Cy Young winners and have faced post-season competition plenty of times. The Tigers hopes hinge on them keeping the Tigers in every game they toe the rubber. It’s a solid formula involving a massive base of raw talent.
Porcello meanwhile comes off his finest professional season and will be a part of a post-season for the first time. In other seasons he was mostly a spectator from the bullpen. Despite struggling in his final two starts of the season, now is Porcello’s time step into the October spotlight. He might be a wild card for the Tigers. He’s a playoff unknown. But if his sinker/curve combo comes alive to pair with his heavy fastball he can become the groundball machine needed to complement the rest of the Tigers rotation stalwarts.
Many believe the Tigers were sunk in the ALCS in 2013 against the Boston Red Sox by their bullpen failures. There is some truth to this…but an equal, if not larger, part of the Tigers inability to beat the BoSox was an offense that simply died. A major part of that was a completely putrid performance from Prince Fielder and a very quiet injury-induced showing from mega-star Miguel Cabrera. The Dynamic Duo went MIA for large swaths of that series as the Red Sox triumphed in 6-games.
Fielder is gone and replaced in the cleanup spot by the amazing Victor Martinez who has posted his career best season and roles into October promising to provide more than the tepid bat Fielder showed in crunch time last season.
Cabrera meanwhile didn’t have the monster year he had during his MVP seasons of late and indeed more injury issues hobbled him for much of the season. The nickname “Singuel” started to stick as his power went missing for a while and he was poking singles to stay relevant. But as the calendar flipped to September a light went on for Cabrera as well. He dominated at various points throughout the stretch drive posting a September slash-line of .379/.409/.709 over his last 110 plate appearances. A red-hot Cabrera changes everything from what the Tigers went into battle with last October.
The Tigers bullpen hasn’t been a team strength for a few years now and they were indeed rocky at several points during 2014. The Joe Nathan signing in free agency looked like a complete albatross for much of the season before showing some signs of life in September. A rotating cast of set up men did very little quell fears that fans had about late inning leads. Only Joba Chamberlain stood out for a few months as a reliable presence.
The Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski took a major step in late July to address the issue. He traded two of his best pitching prospects to acquire veteran reliever Joakim Soria from Texas to solve some of the club’s late inning woes. On paper it looked like a solid solution. In practice, things went awry. Soria struggled out of the gate in his first few appearances as a Tiger. Then, as he looked to be righting the ship with some good outings, he injured his oblique in Toronto and missed a solid month. Now that he has returned, he is pitching well again but rookie manager Brad Ausmus has had trouble finding high leverage work for Soria with his loyalty firmly placed in the hands of Chamberlain and Ausmus.
Anibal Sanchez is also in the Tigers bullpen these days. The American League ERA leader from 2013 was having a fairly solid year in the Detroit rotation. Then one night in Toronto (boy…that Toronto trip really sucked!) Sanchez winced badly after throwing a pitch. A rare pulled pec was diagnosed and suddenly Sanchez was out for six weeks. Sanchez slowly worked his back and did pitch an inning out of the Tigers bullpen last week. How ready is he for bullpen work in the post-season? We are about to find out. Plain and simple…the Tigers should roll the dice and trust Sanchez in just about any situation given his top flight stuff. Yes, its a gamble since he has pitched so little since returning. If the choice is Phil Coke or Sanchez, choose Sanchez. Al Alburquerque or Sanchez? Sanchez. Trust the talent.
As for Soria…it’s time to take the breaks off. He needs to be inserted into bigger situations. For instance Nathan has struggled in situations where he’s pitching on consecutive nights. Should the Tigers be in a Save Opportunity in back to back games, they need to strongly consider giving Soria the ball on the second night instead of waiting for a Nathan implosion.
If Ausmus has the ability to slot in Sanchez and Soria correctly and gets good work from Chamberlain and Nathan, it’s possible the Tigers bullpen won’t be the major problem many project. A team doesn’t need a deep seven-man bullpen in the playoffs. If they have four guys who are trustworthy, that can be enough given the off-days they’ll get as these series move along.
The Tigers face the Baltimore Orioles starting on Thursday at Oriole Park. The Tigers won the season series against the O’s, 5-1. They only allowed 3 homers in those six game. Given that the Orioles are ultra-reliant on homers to mount an offense, if the Tigers pitching staff can continue to keep the O’s in the park they can win that series in 3 or 4 games.
The Tigers had success against other playoff teams as well. All totaled they were 32-18 against the other clubs in the playoffs this season. There truly isn’t another club the Tigers need to fear in the post-season, they’ve more than held their own against the teams they’ll face.
That isn’t to say the Tigers can just show up and win. They have plenty of flaws. A porous defense, a sketchy bullpen, a weak bench, a banged up centerfielder, and a rookie manager. This isn’t a top to bottom juggernaut. But all clubs have flaws…that’s why only 3 teams in the AL and 6 in all of MLB won 90+ games.
The Tigers have the star talent to compete. If Detroit’s stars play up to the moment and don’t trend down like they have in some post-seasons recently, there is no team they can’t beat in a short series. Detroit will have the more accomplished starting pitcher on the hill most often in each series. They have a solid 1 through 5 in their batting order that can produce big innings (they had the most 5+ run outburst innings in MLB this year).
The Tigers haven’t won a World Series since 1984. But they are in the tournament for the 4th straight season. They’ve reached the Series twice since 2006. The more they hang around, the better their chances of experiencing that run where it all comes together. 2014 could be that year!