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THE SPORTS GUY - Tigers '09 Tune-up

In spring, hope is supposed to spring eternal.  Maybe it's the economy, or maybe it's because it hasn't exactly been springlike here in Michigan, but nothing has occurred in the off-season, or so far in Spring training to give me much hope for the '09 Tigers.

Let's see - early reports had both Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman throwing well, and before you could barely turn the newspaper page to see how low your stocks have gone, Willis is getting bombed in his brief first outing, and Bonderman was returning to Detroit to have his arm re-examined.   Hardly encouraging.

The Tigers need at least two pitchers from the group that includes Willis, Bonderman, and Nate Robertson to give them at least 30 wins this season if they are to have any chance to compete, and I would hate to think that the pitcher most likely to supply the bulk of those is Nate Robertson.  It would be welcome, certainly, if Robertson could pitch well, but he really hasn't established himself as a dependable starter, which means the Tigers are probably trying to figure out what kind of staff they can put together to win 90+ games.  It's no surprise that Rick Porcello is going to get a long look at the major-league level in training camp this year.

In the field, the Tigers have improved themselves defensively.  It was a major flaw last season, and one they had to correct.  But in doing so, they did nothing to strengthen their offense.  Laird is no improvement over Pudge Rodriguez on offense.  Brandon Inge back in as the everyday third-baseman is a career "I hope I can hit my weight" hitter who strikes out way too much.  Adam Everett is a return to the "good field, no hit" shortstop that went out of style years ago.  Among returning players, Carlos Guillen has always been a favorite, but seems to be slowing down, as his declining stats for the past two seasons will attest.  Magglio Ordonez and Placido Polanco will have difficulty matching the output of their recent seasons.

Is there an upside?  Yes.  Miguel Cabrera could very well improve over 2008, when he got off to a slow start.  Curtis Granderson should improve.  Jeff Larish looks like a big leaguer, and he'll get lots of at-bats, but it would be a big surprise to seem him hit well consistently.  Gary Sheffield could not do worse than he did in '08, could he?  On the mound, Justin Verlander is due to improve, but that could be offset by the difficulty Armando Gallarga will have in matching his '08 performance.

In sum, the Tigers look like a team that will have to find outstanding performances and career seasons from some unexpected players in their line-up to compete with the White Sox, always competitive Twins, and improved Indians.

Can they do it?  The Sports Guy says no.  They'll finish third in the AL Central, and by mid-August, we'll (gulp) be looking forward to seeing the new and improved Lions.

More important, what do you think?

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Community Poll:
IF the Red Wings do not reclaim the Stanley Cup, what will be the cause?
Injury to an important player
Defense, Goaltending
Lack of Scoring
A Better Team
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