In the past four years, Detroit has won four American League Central titles, averaged 91.5 victories in that stretch yet the buzz from many MLB baseball handicappers and others is who will unseat them in 2015.
Much of the second half of the season the Tigers appeared vulnerable, mostly due to a horrific bullpen that was hard to watch and caused those making MLB picks on Detroit or just fans of the team to reach for the TUMS throughout the season.
As expected, Max Sherzer went for the money to another World Series contender but the loss of Rick Porcello was more unsettling. Instead of seeking pitching help, the Detroit front office stood still and added offense in Yoenis Cespedes.
Second-year manager Brad Ausmus squad is still the second betting choice to win the American League according to most sportsbooks, but there are conflicting numbers elsewhere. Granted, winning the division and winning the pennant are two different wagers for MLB odds, yet Cleveland is forecasted to have the same number of wins (84) at the Tigers at most wagering outlets, which is tops in the AL Central.
Here is a breakdown of the 2015 Detroit Tigers.
The rotation remains the foundation of the Tigers. Left-hander David Price, the 2012 AL Cy Young winner, takes over as the ace of the staff with Scherzer’s departure and any drop off should minor if any. However, for the first time in five years, there are quite a few question marks.
Justin Verlander was only 15-12 with a 4.54 ERA and only struck-out 159 batters in 206 innings last season. Is the 32-year right-hander in permanent decline or does he bounce back? Verlander has added 30 pounds to his frame and is more muscular, but his strikeouts have declined year season since 2011 and so has his fastball in velocity. Definitely a wait and see story. Can Anibal Sanchez remain healthy after an injury-shortened 2014? Was Alfredo Simon’s breakthrough season as a starter with Cincinnati a fluke at 33 years old or is he able to sustain it? And what about Shane Greene, is he just another overrated Yankees farmhand or the real deal at the back of the rotation?
If this does not breed confidence for MLB picks coming into the season, what about a bullpen that was 13th in ERA in the AL at 4.29, 14th in OBP (.347) and dead last in OPS (.752) and decided to bring back the same cast of “characters”. Closer Joe Nathan (4.81 ERA) is 40 years old, Joba Chamberlain lacked confidence in big moments and collectively even a red fire truck seldom could put out the fires these pitchers started.
One could only surmise GM Dave Dombrowski could not find the right hurlers at the right price and hopes it just comes together as bullpens will do from year to year.
The shining element of this Detroit team is the offense. Miguel Cabrera surrounded by Cepedes, Ian Kinsler, Victor Martinez (when back from injury) and J.D. Martinez, Detroit again should be one of the most prolific offenses in baseball after finishing second only to the L.A. Angeles last year.
For those generating MLB picks, last year the bottom of the batting order was thoroughly unproductive, with too many 1-2-3 innings and leaving a lot of goose-eggs on the scoreboard. Ausmus will need more from 3B Nick Castellanos, catcher Alex Avila and his co-pilot, plus SS Jose Iglesias and CF Anthony Gose, to have a more balanced daily lineup card.
Best Bet Forecast
Other than Minnesota, the other four teams in the AL Central are separated by just four games according to preseason win total betting odds. While Kansas City is an obvious threat as American league champions, Cleveland is right there with the Tigers and the Chicago White Sox made several improvements in the off-season.
However, like in boxing, you are the champion until somebody beats you and with Detroit’s offense, a likely improved bullpen and better general health of the starting pitchers, somebody will have to prove they are better than the Tigers, who win the division for a fifth straight season and surpass 84 victories.