Playing Pepper 2018: Detroit Tigers

In 2009, before my second full season of blogging the Cardinals, I reached out to other bloggers to other teams to get insights on their clubs.  This year, instead of going through the teams alphabetically, we’ll approach it a little differently, spending a week with each division.  For the tenth straight season, get ready for the upcoming MLB season by playing a little pepper.  

Detroit Tigers
64-98, fifth in AL Central
Website | Twitter

Last year’s Pepper

Well, that was a bit unexpected.  After finishing second in 2016, the Tigers freefalled (freefell?) to the bottom of the division, barely escaping 100 losses.  Brad Ausmus took the heat but it really was a team effort.  Now the Tigers have to do what they’ve done a number of times before, pull themselves out of the cellar on the way to contention.  Can they do it?  Let’s ask our expert panel!

Writer Site Twitter
Neil Weinberg New English D NeilWeinberg44
Ashley MacLennan Bless You Boys 90feetfromhome
Jennifer Cosey Old English D VivaTigres

C70: What are your thoughts on the offseason? Did the club improve over the winter?

Neil: The Tigers did basically what they were expected to do given the degree to which they sold last season. With basically no chance of contending in 2018, they dealt Kinsler and then signed a couple of cheap MLB free agents and a bunch of minor league free agents. They didn’t get better, but they were definitely not trying to get better.

Ashley: Hahaha, no. I think the Tigers have been pretty open about the position they find themselves in this offseason. The team hitting the field on Opening Day won’t be one that’s there to make the playoffs. That said I think they’ve got a good group of young prospects, and some exciting players who will be getting their first real shot at the big leagues this year. It might not be a 90-win club, but there will still be some quality games played. 

Jennifer: The Detroit Tigers are in the beginning of a full rebuild. The selloff began at the trade deadline and continued through the off season. This season will involve watching the kids develop and seeing whether prospects that were acquired through trades are likely to pan out. The club did not improve for the short term, and only time will tell whether the deals made were successful. The upside is that there is finally some good young talent in what has long been a very low-ranking farm system.

C70: How strange is it going to be not seeing Justin Verlander out there Opening Day? Who will get the nod there?

Neil: Verlander defined the Tigers for more than a decade and seeing him suit up with the Astros down the stretch last year and in the postseason was a very surreal experience. Michael Fulmer is the obvious choice for Opening Day, although he’s recovering from an injury and the Tigers aren’t going to take any chances if there are any setbacks.

Ashley: Michael Fulmer, without a doubt, is going to pitch on Opening Day. It’s at home in Comerica, he’s become the de facto ace following Verlander’s exit. I don’t see anyone else in that role. 

Jennifer: It will be a very strange thing not to have Justin Verlander on the hill for Opening Day, but no stranger than watching him pop champagne bottles in an Astros uniform. Very happy for him, but not gonna lie, it stung a little. Michael Fulmer will almost certainly get the Opening Day nod, and he’s earned it. The 2016 AL Rookie of the Year didn’t suffer a sophomore slump, although his 2017 season ended early in September with ulnar nerve transposition surgery. BREAKING NEWS: Jordan Zimmerman has been given the Opening Day assignment. Even he said he was shocked. I think that about sums it up.

C70: What’s one thing people may overlook (either positively or negatively) about this team?

Neil: I’m actually pretty bullish on the starting pitching. The Tigers aren’t going to be great this year, but Fulmer-Norris-Boyd is a pretty fun young group. Zimmermann hasn’t been good as a Tiger but he’s had success in his career. Liriano has been lights out at different points and Fiers has a no-hitter on his ledger. This is not the 2011-2014 rotation, but we might look back in September and be pretty pleased with the pitching.

Ashley: I think the team is going to get a lot of flack this season for performance, because fans want to see a winning club, and what they’re going to get is a lot of experimentation with roles and players, not all of which will be enjoyable to watch. The big thing for people to remember going into this season is that the team is building a foundation for future wins, and that’s going to be pretty ugly sometimes. 

Jennifer: This winter, I attended TigerFest for the first time in a number of years. I am not an autograph hound, so I just attended the interview sessions. Daniel Norris posed the question “Why do we have to lose?” To paraphrase some other comments, he indicated that the players are young, hungry, and lace up their spikes every day to compete. Now, don’t get it twisted: I don’t think the club is going to contend, but it’s nice to see that players are not just conceding mediocrity.

C70: Who is the one key player, the guy that must have a good year for the Tigers to do well?

Neil: Miguel Cabrera, no question. He had the worst season of his career in 2017, but if he is healthy he remains one of the most gifted hitters in the game. A classic Cabrera year could be the different between irrelevance and interesting.

Ashley: Miguel Cabrera is going to be a big factor. Both he and Victor Martinez are aging and coming off unhealthy seasons, but both have looked really good in spring training. Miggy looks like he’s slimmed down a lot, he appears fast on the bases and really healthy, which is great. He hasn’t hit any home runs yet, but he’s hitting the ball hard. Martinez also looks good, so hopefully the 3 and 4 hitters are going to make some magic this year and give the young guys something to live up to. 

Jennifer: For every team, starting pitching must perform. The Tigers need all of their starters to overachieve to have any hope of staying out of the cellar. Jordan Zimmerman has struggled in a Tigers uniform. He will need a good year to help anchor the rotation.

C70: What’s your projection for 2018? Where does the team wind up overall?

Neil: I think they’re built to win around 75 games. They would need a lot to go right into order to jump into the wild card discussion, but I think they will be a step above the true bottom-feeders in the league.

Ashley: I think the team ends up bottom of the AL, unfortunately, and under .500. I’d love to see them get 75 wins. Last year was pretty abysmal for them with only 64, and I think 75 might be a bit of a stretch, so let’s say 69 wins. That would be nice.

Jennifer: As always, I am loath to make predictions. A 162-game season is a marathon that can torch the best of paper lineups. On the other side of the same coin, players can rise from injury or obscurity to shock analysts and casual fans alike. I fully expect the Tigers to finish near the bottom of the standings this season, but I’ll still be watching. I’ll still be in the stands.

C70: What’s one question I should have asked and what’s the answer to it?

Neil: I think the biggest question for the Tigers is where they see themselves going into next season. There is a huge free agent class coming following 2018 and the Tigers ownership has deep pockets. If the Tigers want to be contenders again soon, 2018 is going to be about figuring out which of their young players are going to be part of the next good team and which are fillers. Is Candelario an MLB starter? Is Castellanos worth keeping? Are Norris and Boyd a 2-3 punch or a 4-5?

Ashley: “How do you think the addition of Chris Bosio will help the Tigers pitching staff?” and the answer is that Bosio appears to have a bit more of an open mind about shifting roles for pitchers. He’s not afraid to put Daniel Norris in during the 8th inning to get his confidence up. He seems willing to let relief guys wear a lot of hats. The best I can tell is that Bosio will be something of a counterpoint to Ron Gardenhire‘s old-school mentality, and between the two of them we could see some really interesting things out of guys like Fulmer, Norris, and Boyd.  

Jennifer: “Did the hire of Ron Gardenhire, an old school manager, make sense for the Tigers in rebuild mode?” I was puzzled by the move. GM Al Avila had indicated the Tigers were going to be more analytics oriented. This hire flies in the face of that assertion. However, claims were made that the Tigers were impressed by how open Gardenhire is to advanced metrics. Overall, it’s a mixed bag for me. On one hand, Gardy will probably be good for a crop of young players. However, I was looking forward to seeing what an analytics minded manager would do.

Thanks to Neil, Ashley, and Jennifer for their thoughts on this team.  It will be interesting to see how quickly the club can get back into a pennant race in the AL Central!

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NL Central Standings

TeamWLPct.GB
Brewers9667.589 -
Cubs9568.5831.0
Cardinals8874.5437.5
Pirates8279.50913.0
Reds6795.41428.5

Last updated: 10/01/2018

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