The pitching is here and so is the hitting, with the defense sound in most spots. Frank Lary, Jim Bunning, Paul Foytack and Billy Hoeft could be a strong starting foursome. Don Mossi and Ray Narleski, the lefty-righty relief stars of Cleveland's pennant drive in 1954, form a powerful bullpen combination. Lary, with the league's best earned run average for right-handers, humiliated the World Champion Yankees a record-breaking seven times last year while losing to them only once. Bunning didn't win 20 as he did two seasons ago but he did throw a no-hitter, and he ranked second in the league in strikeouts. Foytack has averaged 15 wins a year over the last three seasons, and Hoeft, who looked very sharp this spring, furnishes left-handed strength on the staff. Only Al Kaline keeps Al Kaline from living up to all the potential he showed as a 20-year-old batting champ four years ago. A marvelous player who can do just about everything, Kaline should be at his prime. Former All-Star Shortstop Harvey Kuenn moved to center field last season and became an All-Star outfielder. More at ease out there, Kuenn hit .319, six points ahead of Kaline. Left Fielder Charley Maxwell lost some of his effectiveness in 1958 but is still a fairly dangerous hitter. At second, Frank Boiling is an awfully good fielder who makes all the plays and also hits with some power. Gail Harris, who could never make it with the Giants, became the regular first baseman in mid-June and proceeded to lead the team in home runs with 20. Red Wilson is not the best fielding catcher in the league but he did bat .299, and few other catchers can boast of an average that high. The veteran Johnny Groth has always been a fine outfielder, and as a reserve last season hit .281. Big Gus Zernial, who is a detriment with a glove on his hand but a terror with a bat, led all American League pinch hitters with a .395 average.
Despite the fine team batting average (.266), there is a woeful lack of power. Tiger batters hit only 109 home runs, which didn't come close to making up for the 133 given up by Tiger pitchers. Of the team's 77 defeats, 45 were by the margin of one or two runs. Plenty of men were getting on base, but the big hit was lacking when it was most needed. Kuenn, Wilson, Boiling and newcomers Bridges and Yost are mainly singles hitters, and last year so were Kaline and Maxwell. The infield reserves are good fielders but poor hitters. And beyond the big six of the pitching staff you find too many names like George Susce, Henry Aguirre and Herman Wehmeier—all of whom show skill but none of whom can be counted on.
ROOKIES AND NEW FACES
Last year the Tigers were short on relief and miserable on the left side of the infield. That should all be changed now that some major league players have been obtained to fill in the gaps. From Cleveland came Ray Narleski and Don Mossi, once the best relief tandem in the world. Both had their fling at starting, but now will be strictly relievers, once again, in Detroit. Eddie Yost, the longtime Washington third baseman, was for years the best lead-off man in the league, unparalleled at drawing walks. A smart baseball man who inspires in a quiet way, he could be the leader the Tigers thought they had last season in Billy Martin. Tobacco-chewing Rocky Bridges became a regular, at long last, in Washington and ended up on the All-Star team. He knows how to play shortstop, and he is as good a hitter as anyone who played short last year for the Tigers. Lou Berberet, with Boston in 1958, could give Wilson a tussle for the first-string job. Southpaw Pete Burnside, who always has a world of stuff in the minors but never seems to be able to show it in the majors, looked impressive this spring, and at 28 may have matured into a dependable starting pitcher. Aging Larry Doby, traded from the Indians, adds a power hitter to the bench who can play in the outfield.
THE BIG IFS
Kaline and Maxwell have to start hitting home runs again, and Gail Harris has to show he is really a good hitter. If Eddie Yost has slowed down too much after all those frustrating years of service for the Senators, and Rocky Bridges doesn't solve the annual shortstop problem, it's back again to such as Coot Veal and Ozzie Virgil. If Lary could beat somebody besides the Yankees for a change and Hoeft could show the form that brought him 20 wins three years ago, the Tigers will be able to match their staff with any other in the league.
With a minimum of the old hoopla this spring, the Tigers have tried to eliminate glaring inadequacies. There has always been a plenitude of talent on this club, but most of it has been pulling in different directions. It will be up to Manager Bill Norman to blend everyone into a team that thinks more about winning than individual performance. If he succeeds, the Tigers, fifth last year, will finish well up in the first division.
PAST PERFORMANCE CHART
RUNS BATTED IN