The stock-piling of talent goes on for the big-spending Los Angeles Angels and the scrappy Baltimore Orioles and Oakland’s will try to hustle their buns into the playoffs again. And it sure looks as if the Toronto Blue Jays could be No. 1 with a bullet on the hit parade. But do not overlook the Detroit Tigers.
Manager Jim Leyland wants one more glow-in-the-dark line for his resume before retirement and the 2013 Tigers could give it to him. The word out of Detroit indicating that Victor Martinez will be at full strength for spring training (and after a year of rehab he should be), serves as a reminder that Detroit is as good as anyone in the American League and might be the best.
The Tigers reached the World Series in 2012 as the AL representative and than watched helplessly as the San Francisco Giants ran all over them, just as the San Francisco 49ers did to the Green Bay Packers Saturday night. So the Tigers emerged from the quicksand of their league, only to get flattened by a speeding train. That means the goal is to take one more step this year.
Detroit has made a couple of upgrades in the off-season. The return of Martinez, a lifetime .300 hitter, after missing the entire 2012 season with a knee injury, is one of them. Adding Torii Hunter to the outfield mix is another. The Tigers already had an excellent starting rotation led by all-world hurler Justin Verlander.
The real question, as it is for so many teams so often, is what’s the story in the bullpen. Detroit has several good arms. They even have the occasional ancient arm like Octavio Dotel. The rangy right-hander has more frequent flyer miles on his account than Hillary Clinton with the Tigers being his record 13th team, but so far he has made it through the winter without changing addresses. He is a reliable situational reliever, as well as a conversation piece, but not the closer.
Ah, the closer. That used to be Joaquin Benoit, but he fell out of favor in the Series and at least temporarily the closer became Phil Coke, who had been the untouchable set-up man. So what happens now? Does Coke become the permanent closer with Benoit the set-up man? Do they go back to their old roles? Does some other arm get a shot at closing? Or do the Tigers still make a late addition to the roster?
With swingers like triple-crown and MVP winner Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Martinez in the lineup, the big blasting is accounted for. The Tigers are not a team with many holes. Yes, they were steam rolled in the World Series, but they got to the World Series. That puts them one step up on all of those other American League contenders (though they probably should be watching the Angels out of the corner of their eye all season).
In sports, you don’t get better by standing still, but sometimes just a little bit of tweaking is enough. The Tigers just need to figure out who Mr. Ninth Inning is in their bullpen.