AL MVP Miguel Cabrera will try to lead Detroit to its fourth straight AL Central crown. (Jim Rogash/AP)
2013 Record and Finish: 93-69, first place in AL Central (sixth overall); lost in ALCS to Boston
2014 Projected Record: 92-70, first place in AL Central
The Case For
Prince Fielder, Jhonny Peralta, Omar Infante, Doug Fister and Joaquin Benoit are all gone, but there’s an argument to be made that the 2014 Tigers are better—more dynamic and more versatile—as they go after a fourth straight division crown. The defense, a longtime vulnerability in Detroit, will improve with Miguel Cabrera moving to first, Nick Castellanos at third, and Ian Kinsler manning second. The Tigers will be more potent on the bases—after stealing a major league-low 35 bases in 2013, the Tigers will be running more with the greenlight from new manager Brad Ausmus and guys like Kinsler and Rajai Davis now on the roster. The team that has reached the ALCS the last two years still has the mightiest rotation in the league. The Tigers have an opportunity to open up a Secretariat-like lead early: just 14 of their first 36 games are against teams who were above .500 last year. But if the Tigers look like they're in trouble come July, you can count on Dave Dombrowski to make a deal.
The Case Against
The mighty Tigers offense won't be as good without Fielder, and if Castellanos flops in his first full season, and Kinsler's power continues to evaporate, Detroit could suddenly struggle to score runs. The pitching is also not without its own questions. Was last year the start of a decline for Justin Verlander? Will injury-prone Anibal Sanchez stay healthy? There are still questions about Rick Porcello (was his excellent second half a mirage?), and Drew Smyly may not be as good as Doug Fister. New closer Joe Nathan is a six-time All-Star, but he’s also 39 years old. With the rise of the Indians and Royals in a suddenly competitive AL Central, the Tigers, unlike past years, can't afford to stumble through the early weeks and months of the season.
X-Factor: Brad Ausmus
Another manager with no managerial experience takes over for a legend. The longtime catcher wants this year's Tigers to be more aggressive on the basepaths and wants a team that can win in different ways. He'll have more lineup flexibility than Jim Leyland, but he also won’t have Fielder.
Number To Know: 20-26
That was Detroit's record in one-run games last year. The Tigers hope that this more dynamic and versatile lineup will be better at manufacturing runs and winning the close games.
Most overrated: Nick Castellanos
"Nick Castellanos' bat is ahead of his glove because he hasn't played third base in a year and a half. The speed of the ball coming off the bat is different than in the minors."
Most underrated: Drew Smyly
"He was too good to be a reliever, really an underused guy for them the last few years. I think he'll thrive in the rotation. He’s gained some weight and looks stronger and his fastball's got a little more to it. I like his upside—I think he'll be better than Porcello this year."
[si_video id="video_33CFB331-4EA4-F685-09EE-E63A025EE9B3" height="470"]