Playing Pepper 2015: Detroit Tigers

It’s one of the annual traditions here at C70 At The Bat, our trip around the majors in blog form.  Since 2009, I’ve been asking bloggers from other teams about what’s going to happen with their squad in the coming season.  It’s always fun to see what the opposition is thinking and how optimistic some of their most devoted and intelligent fans are.  This year, the Pepper series is brought to you by Out of the Park Baseball 16, coming soon for PC.  Preorder this outstanding baseball simulation today!

Detroit Tigers
90-72, first in the AL Central, lost in the ALDS

Those terrible days of 2003 are just a distant memory.  It’s been a long time since the Tigers have been the laughingstock of the league.  With a star-studded roster and a large number of postseason appearances under their belt, the Tigers should be considered one of the great franchises out there.

That said, they’ve never been able to completely break through.  They made the World Series in 2012, only to run into that even-year San Francisco Giants buzzsaw (which the Cardinals can completely empathize with).  They’ve done the Phillies down-step of World Series to LCS to LDS loss.  There are definitely a few troubling signs.

To tell us which way this club will head in 2015, I’ve got a couple of folks you’ll be familiar with if you’ve read these Tiger entries over the past few years.  Shane has shuttered his old Pepper Baseball blog (which eliminates a little confusion with this series) and now is blogging at Sons of ’84, referencing the last World Series title for the Detroit nine.  Find him on Twitter @Sonsof84Tigers.  Jennifer is still keeping the flame going at Old English D, though you’ll find her a little more often on Twitter @VivaTigres.

C70: What are your thoughts on the team’s offseason? Did they do what they needed to do?

S84: I’d rate the Tigers offseason as B/B-. We addressed the need for some additional power in the trade for Yoenis Cespedes, as well as gave the team something to fall back on incase J.D. Martinez regresses significantly as you have Rajai Davis and prospects Steven Moya and Tyler Collins to add the outfield depth. The infield got a nice lift with just the return of Jose Iglesias and the Tigers did what they needed to in signing Victor Martinez to a new contract.

What went wrong was of course losing Max, but no one can fault the team for not giving that kind of money, but they really didn’t address the bullpen as much as one would think. Sure you have a healthy Joakim Soria for the year, Bruce Rondon should give the pen a push, but nothing else was really done outside of signing Tom Gorzelanny to help the pen.

Furthermore, the team loses Scherzer and trade Porcello and address those needs with Shane Green, who I think will surprise people, and Alfredo Simon who I think will disappoint considerably.

OED: The offseason was kind of a hand-wringing time, to be honest. The Tigers needed an outfield bat. They got one, Cespedes, at the expense of Rick Porcello. Many thought the Tigers were the most likely landing spot for Max Scherzer, but alas, he is now a Washington National. Newbies to the rotation include Shane Green and Alfredo Simon, and both of which come with some question marks. Victor Martinez hurt his knee again, but it ended up being the best-case scenario rather than the worst, for the type of injury he sustained (meniscus tear). Miguel Cabrera had surgery, but will be ready early in the season, if not Opening Day. Many of these things transpired quite lately, so the waiting game was quite stressful for Tiger faithful.

C70: Was Justin Verlander’s season an aberration or a sign of things to come?

S84: Tough question, as I would say we will never see the JV of 2011/2012, however I think Verlander will be better than he was in 2014. From what reports say, he’s put on 20lbs of muscle and be throwing for some time, compared to this time last year when he was recovering from core surgery. I’m hoping for an ERA in the mid-3’s and a strike out rate back around 8 per 9.

OED: Verlander has lost some velocity, and that’s not coming back, but I believe his overall performance will bounce back from last season. Core muscle surgery caused some residual issues that are now resolved. Verlander’s competitive nature will push him to adjust to reduced velocity and come up with creative pitching strategies, much like many other veterans have over the years. His curveball already reportedly shows vast improvement over last season so far in Spring Training.

C70: What’s going to be the strength of this team in the coming season?

S84: Pitching is still going to be a strength, just not as much as it has been. David Price was a great late season trade last year, although his numbers won’t show it. Anibal Sanchez is back being healthy and Verlander should bounce back somewhat. I also think Shane Green can will hold down his spot nicely with the wild card being Alfredo Simon.

OED: The Tigers clearly lost some of its dominance in the starting pitching department. I think overall, the team will be more balanced. They will improve defensively with the return of Jose Iglesias. The bullpen remains the biggest question mark. I am hopeful that Rondon will be able to remain healthy and Joakim Soria will return to form. Joe Nathan is a roll of the dice at the craps table.

C70: What player do you expect to make the greatest strides this year?

S84: Nick Castellanos. I think people are unfairly down on Nick C after his rookie season, but the kid is just entering his age 23 season after hitting .259 with 46 extra base hits. The power will develop as will the plate discipline without a doubt.

OED: I expect that Nick Castellanos will really come into his own this year. He will never be a Gold Glove defender at third, but he can be serviceable. His offense has always been his strong suit, and I believe his sophomore year will be a good one at the plate.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and where will they finish in the division?

S84: I believe they still finish first in a very tight race at 89-73.

OED: I think I’ve expressed this before, but I really dislike making predictions. The AL Central is more up in the air than the past couple years, when the Tigers were a pretty clear favorite. The White Sox had quite an off-season. I will predict that the Tigers will take the division with 91 wins. I may or may not be desperate for a World Series victory.

C70: What do you like best about being a Tigers fan?

S84: Everything from the history of the team to the enthusiastic fan base. Outside of St. Louis, I believe we have one of the best opening days in the league.

OED: I love going to games—watching live baseball, sitting in the sun, seeing the contrast of the green grass and the home whites. There is nothing like a day at the ballpark. I love that Detroit is known as a great baseball city. I love that owner Mike Ilitch wants to win as much as the fans do. I love the Old English D. I am besotted with this team.

My thanks and appreciation to Shane and Jennifer for their responses.  Trivia fact: the first MLB game I ever went to was in old Tiger Stadium, so I’ve always been interested in what the Tigers are doing.  We’ll see if they can reverse their trend this year!

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