Alright, the 2011 Tigers are pretty much set. There may be a few tweaks along the way but the lineup is there, the rotation is pretty much set (at least the front four, I’ve heard some Brad Penny rumors) and the bullpen is in place. The question now is, what is it going to take for the Tigers to win the American League Central. While guys like Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander get the well deserved accolades, they are also the givens in the equation. Most teams can’t have a team full of All Stars so they need a few guys to rise to the occasion. Miguel Carbera should hit his 30 home runs (it’s what we’re paying him for) and Justin Verlander should win his 18 games (which is what we’re paying “him” for) but you need those veterans with one last season in the tank to step it up or have that defensive specialist finally put something together at the plate.
In 1984, the Tigers had plenty of those guys. Guys like Dave Bergman and Rupert Jones made major contributions as role players. Willie Hernandez got the accolades out of the pen but Aurelio Lopez was nearly as good and he served as a great number two for most of the season. Milt Wilcox was 34 and he had never won more then 13 games until he stepped it up and had a very solid season in 1984.
So these are the guys who I think are going to be the linchpins for the Tigers in 2011. Not all of them have to step up big, but if two or even three do, it’s going to be a nice season in Detroit this summer.
Carlos Guillen – When the Tigers went to the World Series in 2006, Carlos Guillen was their best hitter. Since then he’s played in more then 150 games only once and he’s bounced around the field as the Tigers have made an effort to make room for him. Now with rumors of him being ready for spring training, Guillen should be penciled in as the everyday second baseman. Whether he sticks there will go a long way towards the Tigers having a successful season. He can take a walk and if he reinvents himself as a table setter, he’d make a nice option in the second spot in the lineup. Of course to draw those walks, he has to pose a threat at the plate. Out of the four, this is the least likely guy to step up but out of the four, if he does, I think it’ll be where the Tigers get the most bang for their underrated (if overpaid) buck.
Brandon Inge – This is more of a hunch, but I think Brandon Inge is poised for a breakout season. We saw him succeed in the first half of 2009 and since then, injuries have slowed him down. Still, even though he only hit 13 home runs in 2010, he hit for almost .250 (last time he did that was 2006), he drew 54 walks (the same amount in 2009 despite 57 fewer plate appearances) and he cut down his strikeout rate. If that’s a trend, it’s a trend I like and he made up for the lack of home runs with 28 doubles. I’m going to go out on a limb by saying Brandon Inge will keep this trend going and for the time in his career, finish with an OPS over .800.
Joel Zumaya – Another cornerstone of the 2006 season, Zumaya hasn’t been healthy since. He’s also supposed to be ready for spring training and if he can pitch like he did last year for an entire season, the Tigers should have one of the more formidable bullpens in baseball. At this point though, 40 innings is a stretch so we’ll see.
Rick Porcello – As the defense went, so did Rick Porcello in 2011. Still, if you’re looking for positives, his walk and home run rates went down in 2011 with only a minor blip in his strikeout rate. If Porcello is going to take the next step, he’s going to have to start striking guys out. Being economical is great, but the infield defense just isn’t there anymore and it showed by Porcello having a .288 batting average against. In order to get that down, he’s going to have to start punching guys out and pitching less to the contact.
If all four guys fall flat, the Tigers could be in trouble. Probably the least important is Joel Zumaya just because there’s guys to fill in. Still, the Tigers have made some nice moves and while I wouldn’t say I’m totally excited over the Tigers prospects this year, I’m definitely intrigued.