The Detroit Tigers said goodbye to manager Jim Leyland, first baseman Prince Fielder, pitcher Doug Fister this off-season — and confidence is leaving with them.
Panic has injected Motown as people see the World Series as some out-of-reach dream now.
“The starting rotation is going to be worse!”
“How are you going to replace Fielder’s Production?!”
Really? How about replacing Fielder’s ghost-like zero home runs and RBI the previous postseason? The only noise Fielder made was the crowd’s boos as he appeared lethargic at the plate. His 23 million a year still laughs, knowing it wasn’t deserved and easily made.
As far as the rotation has gone, there’s no cause for concern. Fister is a solid starter and is a respectable second or third in a rotation, but isn’t the piece that’ll birth a World Series championship.
The young south paw Drew Smyly was decent as a starter his rookie season with a 3.99 ERA. He gained more experience last season and can be more effective as a starter now, replacing Fister. The Tigers still have aces Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer toeing the rubber.
The 2013 World Series champions, the Boston Red Sox, had an overall pitching ERA of 3.79 compared to Detroit’s 3.61. Boston doesn’t have two dominant starters like Scherzer and Verlander, yet they emerged as champions as the Tigers were home, watching it happen.
What Boston did have over Detroit, and it showed when they slugged it out in the American League Championship, was a better bullpen. Boston’s bullpen boasts a reasonable 3.70 ERA over Detroit’s 4.01.
When it came to getting the job done, the Red Sox summoned knockout relievers. Detroit did a wonderful deed by signing a premier closer in Joe Nathan. A closer cannot be undervalued; they are a solid pillar to the foundation of a championship caliber team. Boston and the San Francisco Giants, who beat the Tigers in the 2012 World Series, won because of stellar pitching from closers Sergio Romo and Koji Uehara.
Think about how different the Tigers’ fate could’ve been had Nathan trotted out of the bullpen to face David Ortiz instead of Joaquin Benoit, who gave up a series-changing grand slam. Nathan boasts a career 2.76 ERA and had a glossy 1.39 in 2013. Detroit has other relievers like Bruce Rondon, the fireballer, who’s going to get better. The Tigers equipped the bullpen with Joba Chamberlain and Ian Krol. They may not seem like much, but with a pitching coach like Jeff Jones and a friendly atmosphere, they can be great assets.
As far as Fielder’s removed bat production that people are griping over goes, guys like Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez will suffice this offense. Cabrera alone would be enough to take half the teams in the MLB to admirable heights. Over the past two seasons, he’s accumulated 276 RBI and 88 home runs. Martinez is a clutch hitter who would punish opposing managers for walking Cabrera–something fielder couldn’t do in crucial situations.
The Tigers are taking a better approach to their whole team. They don’t want power hitters that can only bash the ball into another dimension, but better defense and more speed to score timely runs that a revamped bullpen can hold. Big hitters like Cabrera and Martinez will do their parts, but players like Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter, and the newly signed Rajai Davis will be stealing bases for extra pressure on opposing pitchers, while manufacturing runs that are harder to earn.
The defense will look different for the Tigers with Cabrera back at first, the highly rated prospect Nick Castellanos at third, short stop Jose Iglesias patrolling the infield, the veteran second baseman acquired from the Fielder trade with Texas Ian Kinsler solidifying second, and Jackson, Hunter, and Davis zoning the outfield.
The Tigers have uncertainty, but there’s positives to it. Players like Castellanos, Rondon, and Krol have potential to be awesome players; they may just be gold waiting for discovery. There’s still offensive firepower with Cabrera and Martinez, but complimented with more speed. The pitching rotation will be fine as is, certainly with a better defense behind it. The bullpen has a closer to anchor it, allowing others to settle into their rolls. Brad Ausmus is new manager with a fresh mind. The 2014 season has World Series potential for Detroit; it’s just in the shadows, waiting to show its brightness everyone’s failing to see.