The Detroit Tigers were pretty much awarded the American League Central Division crown by acclamation in the pre-season and events such as those that took place Saturday show why. The Tigers pounded the living daylights out of the Astros, clubbing Houston 17-2 on 21 hits.
Granted it was the Astros, a Little League team in disguise, but this is the type of fence-busting, muscle-flexing power Detroit possesses and can call upon on any given day. The Tigers are the defending AL champs and there is no reason to believe they can’t take another run at the World Series this year.
Saturday presented vintage Miguel Cabrera for viewing. The third baseman who won the Triple Crown in 2012 had a better day than Orb did in the Kentucky Derby and probably has a better chance to win another Triple Crown this year than Orb does this spring.
Cabrera went four-for-four, including two home runs, scored three runs and drove in six. That lifted his batting average to .390 and left his on-base percentage at .467. This is one tough guy to get out.
Detroit was a formidable team last year, what with Prince Fielder following Cabrera in the batting order, but it is a better hitting team this year overall because Torii Hunter was added to the outfield and Victor Martinez is coming back from his injury-lost 2012. Also on Saturday Hunter stroked four hits, scored three runs and knocked in two, raising his average to .361. Martinez, who has been gradually working his way back into top form after a wicked knee injury, accumulated four RBIs on two hits himself.
Although he had rehabbed his way back by spring training, and has been an everyday player since the beginning of the season, Martinez started very slowly. Only in the last couple of weeks has he been belting the ball around with his old authority. If he maintains that type of form that Detroit lineup is going to be bursting with threats because Austin Jackson, Jhonny Peralta, and Omar Infante are also hitting well.
The Murderers Row look is going to petrify some opposing pitchers, but the flip side is that Detroit’s starting pitchers have been as reliable as any around. These are the numbers on the Tigers’ top four starters going into Sunday’s game: Anibal Sanchez, 3-2, 1.82 earned run average (plus a 17-strikeout game), Justin Verlander, 3-2, 1.83 ERA, Doug Fister, 4-0, 2.43, and Max Scherzer, 4-0, 3.43.
Detroit was pretty much undone by bullpen failings in the World Series against the San Francisco Giants last October, but the relievers have been solid. That includes Jose Valderde, who imploded in the playoffs, was let go by the team, re-signed to a minor-league contract, and then brought back to the big club again. When used as the closer since, he has performed.
So have Drew Smly, Al Alburquerque, and Joaquin Benoit. Not so Phil Coke, however. Coke was outstanding last fall, but has been shakier than an earthquake this spring. The Tigers need him to come around.
Not reclaiming the Central Division title would be a huge surprise for the Tigers. How they fare after that in the playoffs will in great part depend on the bullpen. The Tigers have the ingredients to blow away any team on a given day with their hitting prowess, but they won’t be playing the Astros in the post-season. The starting pitching seems primed to take care of business, too.
It just may well be that the only thing standing between the Tigers and their first World Series championship since 1984 is the wild-card question of how good the bullpen can be in the clutch when both the bright lines and the pressure are on.