The year was 1984. The Detroit Tigers defeated the San Diego Padres 4 games to 1, to win their 3rd ever World Series, 1st since 1968. Only 6 members of the Tigers current 40 man roster were alive. 30 years later, the Tigers face the tough task of getting back there. Led by former MVPs Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander, and Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, the Tiger have come so close year after year, but have fallen short every time. To win the Fall Classic in 2014, here’s what the Tigers will need.
A number 5 starter
Drew Smyly? Jose Alvarez? who gets the job done? Whoever is the Tigers fifth starter will need to get the job done. Rick Porcello started 29 games for the Tigerss last season, finishing with a 13-8 record and a 4.32 ERA with 18 quality starts. Due to trading Doug Fister this off-season, Porcello will most likely be the Tigers number 4 starter in 2014.
Drew Smyly started 18 games for the Tigers in 2012, he went 4-4, posted a 3.99 ERA, striking 94 batters in 99 innings. Smyly served a reliever in 2013, and was very effective. In 66 games, Smyly had a 2.37 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 2.6 WAR (wins above replacement), and 86 Ks in 76 innings.
Jose Alvarez had a 2.80 ERA in 20 starts with the Toledo Mudhens, the Tigers triple-A affiliate. Before being called up to the MLB, Alvarez was leading the International League in strikeouts, WHIP, and baserunners per nine innings. Alvarez was called up to the majors for the first time on June 9, 2013, and made his debut starting in place of Aníbal Sánchez. He recorded a win and a quality start, pitching six innings while striking out seven against the Cleveland Indians. After that, Alvarez really struggled. He finished with a 5.82 ERA and a 1-6 record. If he can pitch well in Spring Training, I think he can challenge Smyly for the 5th starter role.
Consistency at catcher
Alex Avila has been mightily inconsistent the last two seasons. After hitting .295 with 19 homers and 82 RBIs in 2012, he’s averaging a .235 average, 10 homeruns and 48 RBIs the last two seasons. He may be a great defensive catcher, but his hitting needs to be more consistent on a day-to-day basis. Last season, Avila hit just .227 with 11 home runs and 47 RBIs, his 0.7 WAR was one of lowest among eligible catchers. With Bryan Pena now in Cincinnati, and Victor Martinez on his last legs, Avila will have to step up his game in 2014. The Tigers gave Avila another chance, avoiding arbitration by signing him to a 1-year deal worth $4.15 million.
Last season, the Tigers bullpen combined for a 4.01 ERA and a 17-25 record with16 blown saves. While major pieces like Joaquin Beniot and Jose Veras left, they signed Joe Nathan and Joba Chamberlin.
Last season, Joe Nathan was arguably the best closer in all of baseball. The 39 year old posted a 1.39 ERA in 64 innings last season with the Rangers. He closed out 43 games in 46 opportunities, a solid 93% save percentage.
Joba Chamberlin has pitched in just 60 innings the last two seasons due to numerous injuries. He has been inconsistent throughout his whole career, but has had some outstanding seasons. In 2008, Joba’s rookie year, he posted a 2.60 ERA while striking out 118 batters in 100 innings.
My #3 rated prospect in the Tigers organization, Bruce Rondon, will likely pitch in the Tigers bullpen next season; probably as a setup man. Rondon, whose fastball topped 100 MPH in spring training last year, has been a stud in the Tigers farm system for many years, and is due for a breakout season.
Andy Dirks producing again in 2014
In 2012, Andy Dirks hit .322 with 8 HR and 35 RBIs in just 219 ABs. After his successful sophomore season, the 27 year old was given the Tigers #6 spot in the batting order, hitting behind Victor Martinez. However, Dirks didn’t produce like the Tigers expected him to in 2013. The lefty hit .256 with 9 HR and RBIs in 438 ABs.
While his stats weren’t horrible, the Tigers expected a lot better. We all know what Andy is capable of after his 2012 season, and we want to see him play like that again. Dirks will likely split time with newcomer Rajai Davis in left field.
Brad Ausmus getting the job done
After Jim Leyland stepped down from after 8 seasons as Tigers manager, Ausmus is left with the tough task of replacing Leyland. Jim led the Tigers to 700 wins and 2 AL pennants with the Tigers. Leyland will serve as a special assistant for the club in 2014. Ausmus used to play ball back in the day, catching 1971 games for the Astros, Padres, Dodgers, and Tigers, yeah he played for the Tigers. He finished his 18 year career at the age of 41 with a career .251 average, 80 HRs, and 607 RBIs, he was also pretty speedy for a catcher, stealing 102 bases in his career.
However, successful playing careers don’t always lead to great coaching success. Look at Isiah Thomas for example, “Zeke” finished his NBA career as one of the best point guards of all time, but had a 187-223 record as a manager.
Ausmus comes to Detroit with no coaching experience at all, which worries me. He was a catcher, but catchers usually always turn out to be great managers. Look at St. Louis’ Mike Matheny for example. He had no managerial experience when the Cards hired him, but look at what he’s done with Cardinals. He’s made them one of the best baseball cities in America, if not the best.
Can the 44 year old Ausmus get the job done in 2014? If you ask me I think he can. I think he can take this team to next level, sort of like what Matheny did in St. Louis. With tons of returning pieces from the last few seasons, I believe the Tigers can go all the way in 2014.