Most Baseball Odds Shops currently favor the Toronto Blue Jays to win it all in 2013. Just behind them are the two Los Angeles squads, leading to early talk about a Freeway Series between the Los Angeles Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers come October.
But all three of those teams will face much stiffer challenges in their respective divisions than the Detroit Tigers who should once again be prohibitive favorites to take home the AL Central flag.
Detroit is currently a 10/1 choice to win its first World Series title since 1984, and our estimations at SBR earlier this month pegged the Tigers at 6/1 to successfully defend their American League title. After entering the 2012 season as the biggest division favorites (-650), all signs point to them going off around that price again in 2013.
Those odds could be even higher despite a relatively quiet offseason for GM Dave Dombrowski and his staff. The only big addition to the roster is Torii Hunter, signed away from the Angels to take over in right field and likely hit in the 2-hole behind center fielder Austin Jackson.
Hunter, despite turning 38 midway through the season, could be poised to enjoy an even better year than 2012 when he batted .313 and drove in 92 runs for the Halos. Batting behind him will be Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez, who missed all of 2012 with a knee injury.
The addition of both Hunter and Martinez should boost an offense that scored 4.48 runs per game in 2012, 6th-most in the AL and just above the league average despite playing half the time in pitcher-friendly Comerica Park. We can't expect Cabrera to repeat the monster numbers he put up in '12, but we should expect Fielder to go yard more frequently along with Martinez's extra pop at the DH spot.
Bullpen Concerns Entering Spring Training
That extra offense will combine with a starting rotation that is headlined by Justin Verlander, the 2011 Cy Young winner and runner-up for the award in 2012. Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez slot in behind Verlander. The No. 5 spot is up for grabs this spring between Drew Smyly and Rick Porcello, with Smyly the lone lefty of the entire bunch.
Manager Jim Leyland and his pitching coach Jeff Jones also need to sort out the bullpen this spring. Jose Valverde imploded during the playoffs to lose the closer's role, and he remains without a team as his agent Scott Boras tries to find him work. Detroit turned to Phil Coke in the postseason after Valverde washed out, and the southpaw is definitely among the options to close heading into the campaign.
Rookie Bruce Rondon is another candidate to claim the job. The 22-year-old Venezuelan has five minor league seasons under his ample belt, and combined to save 29 games with a 1.53 ERA at three different levels in 2012.
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Early Showdown Between Tigers & Blue Jays
Detroit has a fairly tough April on the schedule with series against the Yankees, Athletics and Braves, three teams that found their way to the 2012 postseason, plus matchups against the Blue Jays and Angels. The battle with Toronto comes in the third series of the season, and could very well be an ALCS preview.
The Tigers will be looking to get out of the gate a little quicker than last season when they spent much of the schedule playing catch-up to the Chicago White Sox. Detroit was six games under .500 in early-June (26-32), but played .600+ ball in the final 81 games with a 49-32 mark.
There will also be a couple of 2-game sets vs. the Nationals -- May in Washington and July in Detroit -- which could serve as World Series previews. The Tigers will face NL East squads for 16 of their 20 interleague contests, the other four coming in 2-game home-&-home series against the Pirates. One strange quirk is they close the season with an interleague series at Miami.
The hefty odds that Detroit should carry to win the AL Central won't provide much return or value for most bettors with their MLB Picks, but at 10/1 to win the Series, Detroit looks to be a great wager as long as those concerns in the bullpen work themselves out in spring training.
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