Are the Detroit Tigers jinxed this year? With Jose Iglesias and Bruce Rondon out for the season, Andy Dirks sidelined for at least a few months, and Max Scherzer spurning a mult-iyear contract, how does the 2014 season look now?
Could the following scenario play out? Let me look into my crystal ball and imagine a worst-case scenario:
The Tigers try Hernan Perez at short. Then even try Danny Worth. They bring Alex Gonzalez off the shelf. None of these guys can hit a lick, so they sign Stephen Drew, but having sat out all winter, he’s not able to hit much either.
Having a below-average performance at any position hurts your chances of winning, even if you have big stars elsewhere. The Tigers are not only way below average at shortstop. They are also below replacement level in left field. Forced to play almost full time, Rajai Davis can’t get on base against right-handed pitchers, so his base-stealing ability hardly comes into play. Andy Dirks takes weeks longer than expected to recover from his injury, and when he does get back in the lineup, he’s rusty and hits .220. In desperation, Brad Ausmus turns to starting Don Kelly in left field against right-handed pitchers — and he hits .190!
Nick Castellanos starts out in a huge slump and never catches fire. He’s only a slight improvement over Miguel Cabrera defensively. Kelly has to play some at third base, too.
Right field becomes a black hole, as Torii Hunter really starts showing his age. As began to happen in 2013, his paths to fly balls become more convoluted, his throws to the infield more erratic, and this season his power at the plate disappears too.
Ian Kinsler, whose career record shows mediocre hitting against right-handed pitchers and away from Texas, proves that the top of the lineup is weaker with him than it was with Austin Jackson. Despite occasional power, he is not adept at getting on base and his barely adequate defense is made worse by having multiple double play dance partners.
Alex Avila suffers two more concussions, and Bryan Holaday proves he’s just a backup catcher forced to play too often — and hits under .200 with no power. If you’re counting, that’s five lineup spots that are below average.
Justin Verlander’s core surgery hasn’t entirely returned him to pre-2013 form. Max Scherzer is so caught up in thinking about his future as a free agent that he begins to lose his concentration and control. Anibal Sanchez regresses, Rick Porcello fails again to blossom, and Drew Smyly breaks down in mid-season after he reaches 100 innings.
The bullpen is a shambles from start to finish. Joba Chamberlain is the same-old Joba Chamberlain. Ian Krol and Phil Coke and Al Albuquerque are putrid. Joe Nathan rarely gets to pitch in save situations and looks his age when he does.
The Tigers start out well behind Kansas City, then fall behind Cleveland, and battle for third place with the White Sox. Even though Cabrera hits .320 with forty homers, the Tigers don’t make the playoffs.
That’s the pessimist’s 2014. Now here’s the optimist’s:
The starting rotation is even stronger than in 2013, as Verlander returns to form and Porcello finally fulfills his promise. Smyly is an outstanding addition. Scherzer leads the league in strikeouts again, and Sanchez is No. 1 in the AL in ERA.
The starters routinely get the Tigers through seven innings or more, and the bullpen is rested and solid. Ausmus pushes the late-inning buttons expertly, not managing by rote, so that he gets the most out of his lefties and Joba and Al Al. Nathan’s almost perfect in his save chances.
Away from the management he despised in Texas, Kinsler returns to his 2011 form and provides a lift in the leadoff spot, stealing 30 bases. Rajai Davis excels in left field and swipes 50, reminding people of Ron LeFlore on the basepaths. Dirks returns and puts up good numbers.
Austin Jackson, moved down to the fifth or sixth spot in the order, has a breakout season, with 30 homers and 100 RBIs. Miggy is again the best hitter on the planet. Hunter has a fine year, hitting over .300 with power, making the All-Star team again, and regaining his defensive footing.
Victor Martinez hits .325 and drives in 120. After a slow start, Castellanos gets comfortable with big-league pitching and provides a bat so potent he ends up moving ahead of Avila in the batting order. Avila has a bounce-back season, handling the staff excellently and hitting in the clutch. The Human Dart Board even gets hit by fewer pitches than usual behind the plate.
With all this offense, it’s fine that Gonzalez doesn’t hit .200, because his defense is still decent and Drew provides occasional punch.
The Tigers sweep Kansas City in the opening series and never look back, winning the Central by 10 games, sweeping the ALDS against Tampa Bay, defeating Texas for the pennant in six games, and prevailing over the Dodgers in an exciting World Series.
Which 2014 do you foresee?