1 Detriot Tigers

"THIS IS GOING TO BE ONE OF THE MOST DOMINANT OFFENSES THAT ANY TEAM HAS FIELDED IN 10 YEARS."
March 30, 2008

LATE ONE nightthis spring Jim Leyland sat at the desk in his windowless office at Tigertown,ashtray by his side, and did the math on whether third baseman Miguel Cabrera,acquired in a trade with the Marlins in December, should bat third or fifth inthe lineup. The way Leyland figured it, if Cabrera were installed in the fivehole, he would have four players (Curtis Granderson, Placido Polanco, GarySheffield and Magglio Ordoñez) who batted a combined .320 in 2007 hitting infront of him. It all added up: Cabrera, who averaged 115 runs batted in overthe last four years with the thin-hitting Marlins, would have the opportunityto surpass his career high of 119 RBIs. "I was a horses--- mathstudent," says the 63-year-old skipper, "but I didn't go to school justto eat my lunch."

You don't need acalculator to determine that Detroit will score plenty of runs again thisseason. The Tigers' offense will feature seven of the top 40 active leaders incareer batting average--and that doesn't include Granderson, the leadoff hitterwho last year became only the third player to have 20 stolen bases, 20 homers,20 triples and 20 doubles in a season. (Eventual NL MVP Jimmy Rollins becamethe fourth shortly thereafter.) The lineup is so deep that newly acquiredshortstop Edgar Renteria, who hit .332 with an .860 on-base plus sluggingpercentage last year in Atlanta (better numbers than any AL shortstop's), willbat seventh. "They're going to be one of the most dominant offenses, otherthan maybe the Yankees', that any team has fielded in the last 10 years,"says a rival AL general manager.

That Detroit'spitching staff will keep pace with its offense is more a matter of faith thanmathematical certainty. Tigers starters had a 4.68 ERA last season andsputtered badly after the All-Star break, when Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertsonand Kenny Rogers combined to go 6-19 with a 5.76 ERA. The Tigers had themajors' best record (58-37) on July 21, but they lost 37 of their final 67games to miss the playoffs, and for that the Detroit staff must shoulder muchof the blame. Also worrisome is that the Tigers' big off-season pitchingacquisition, two-time All-Star Dontrelle Willis, is coming off his worstprofessional season. The 26-year-old lefthander (whom the Tigers picked up,along with Cabrera, from the Marlins for a six-player package that included topprospects Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin) had a 5.17 ERA last year,which ranked 59th of the 62 pitchers who threw at least 180 innings. Inone miserable stretch from June 3 to Aug. 8, he went winless in 13starts. "I just played bad," Willis says. "That's pretty muchit."

Despite lastyear's struggles, the outlook for the Tigers' rotation is far from bleak. Therighthanded Bonderman, 25, was off to a 10-1 start in '07 before his secondhalf was ruined by pinched cartilage in his pitching elbow; he's healthy now,as is the lefthanded Rogers, 43, who never completely recovered last seasonfrom the circulation problem and elbow inflammation that limited him to 11starts. And while pitchers don't normally improve when they move from the NL tothe AL--a New York Times analysis last winter found that the move precipitatesan average ERA spike of 0.70--Willis is poised to buck the trend. "Pitchershave down years," says Tigers G.M. Dave Dombrowski, "but he threw theball extremely well in September, when we scouted him, and we find no reasonwhy he won't bounce back."

And Detroit stillhas Justin Verlander, who at 25 is developing into the Josh Beckett-type of acewho can carry a team. His strikeout rate, which jumped from 6.0 batters pernine innings to 8.2 last year, should continue to climb.

Therefore, theequation that defines Detroit's upcoming season will most likely prove to be asimple one: One of the most productive offenses in the history of the game + arejuvenated rotation = the Tigers' first world championship since 1984.

CONSIDER THIS amodest proposal ...

The Tigers aredesperately seeking a trading partner who will take Brandon Inge--but theymight be better off making him their everyday third baseman and takingadvantage of his spectacular defense. Over the last three years, according toBaseball Prospectus's defensive metrics, Inge has prevented 57 more runsthan the average third baseman. It won't take Detroit long to become nostalgicfor Inge's glove once it experiences Miguel Cabrera's indifferent fielding.Stationing Cabrera (left) in leftfield and restoring Inge at third will helpthe Tigers' pitchers, and it would come at little offensive cost. Inge wouldtake the lineup spot of current leftfielder Jacque Jones, who hits for betteraverage but with less power than Inge.

THE NUMBERS

DON'T LIE.341

Career-highbatting average of second baseman Placido Polanco, who was among baseball'stoughest hitters to put away deep in the count last season. The 32-year-oldstruck out only 30 times in 641 plate appearances, and in the 103 in which hefell behind 0 and 2, Polanco led the majors with a .402 average. The next-besthitter after falling behind that far in the count: the Angels' Chone Figgins,at .316.

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

THE LINEUP

PROJECTED ROSTERWITH 2007 STATISTICS

MANAGER JIMLEYLAND THIRD SEASON WITH DETROIT

CURTIS GRANDERSON CF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 18 .302 23 74 26
PLACIDO POLANCO 2B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 155 .341 9 67 7
GARY SHEFFIELD DH
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 87 .265 25 75 22
MAGGLIO ORDOÑEZ RF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 16 .363 28 139 4
MIGUEL CABRERA (New Acquisition) 3B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 12 .320 34 119 2
CARLOS GUILLEN 1B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 67 .296 21 102 13
EDGAR RENTERIA (New Acquisition) SS
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 108 .332 12 57 11
IVAN RODRIGUEZ C
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 127 .281 11 63 2
JACQUE JONES (New Acquisition)   LF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 195 .285 5 66 6
BENCH
MARCUS THAMES OF-1B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 280 .242 18 54 2
BRANDON INGE   3B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 226 .236 14 71 9
ROTATION PITCHER PVR W L K/9 WHIP ERA
RH Justin Verlander 4 18 6 8.2 1.23 3.66
LH Kenny Rogers 45 3 4 5.1 1.43 4.43
RH Jeremy Bonderman 61 11 9 7.5 1.38 5.01
LH Nate Robertson 100 9 13 6.0 1.47 4.76
LH Dontrelle Willis (New Acquisition) 65 10 15 6.4 1.60 5.17
BULLPEN PITCHER PVR W SV K/9 WHIP ERA
RH Todd Jones 68 1 38 4.8 1.42 4.26
RH Fernando Rodney 197 2 1 9.6 1.32 4.26
LH Bobby Seay 281 3 1 7.4 1.14 2.33


New acquisition B-T: Bats-throws

WHIP: Walks plushits per inning pitched

PVR: Player ValueRanking (explanation on page 62)

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SI VAULT

EXCERPTED FROM SI

MAY 11, 1964

BY THE TIME Al Kaline was signed to a $30,000bonus-salary arrangement with the Tigers at 18, he had played as much baseballas the average major leaguer plays in five or six seasons, a fact that goes along way toward explaining why he was able to win the batting championship at20 and has not won it since: He was at his peak at 20, and the pitchers,looking at the raw kid of 150 pounds, simply could not bring themselves toadmit that he was as good as he was. --Jack Olsen

SI.com/vault

Free access to all Tigers stories and photographs fromthe SI archive, plus video clips.

PHOTOMARK CUNNINGHAM/MLB PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGESSAFE TO SAY With a lineup that has Pudge Rodriguez, a lifetime .303 hitter, in the eight spot, the Tigers could touch home 1,000 times. TWO PHOTOSCHUCK SOLOMON (CABRERA); WALTER IOOSS JR. (COVER)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)