The Sports Guy
Last year at this time, the question was not whether the Tigers would have a winning record, it was whether or not they would go all the way to a World Series win. For good reason, that sort of optimism is hard to find this year. The Tigers enter the year with lots of question marks, most surrounding the pitching staff. I won't continue to raise them - this is what I think will happen.
Pitching - The season starts without Bonderman, Willis or Robertson in the rotation. The first two start the season on the DL, and Robertson has been assigned, not without whining, to the bullpen. The Tigers won't say it, but here's the deal - none will ever be effective starting pitchers in the bigs again. When they did pitch in spring training this year, all of them were awful. Worse, all claimed to be feeling good, before they well...weren't.
This is not the end of the world. The starting staff of Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson, Armando Gallaraga, Rick Porcello, and Zach Minor could be OK. Could. I think they'll get more wins from this group, or the pitchers that replace any of them, than they did from starters last year. Porcello is probably in the majors a year to soon, Minor is not going to dazzle, and Gallaraga is not likely to achieve the kind of success he had last year, when he was new to most hitters, so it is difficult to see a high upside to the starting pitching group.
The bullpen will improve. Zumaya is another pitcher who may not ever be effective in the majors again, and Fernando Rodney may join him as part of that club, but the startling fact remains that the bullpen couldn't do worse than in 2008. Not a hearty endorsement, but it is again difficult to see a huge upside - the Tigers are pinning their bullpen hopes on a closer that lost his closers role on another team that disappointed in 2008.
Offense. Here's where I have some concerns. As bad as the Tigers were in '08, they did score a lot of runs. Not always consistently, and not always when they needed them, but they did produce runs. Gary Sheffield being gone is a good thing, as I find it hard to believe he was a positive clubhouse presence, but the Tigers have not added any offensive firepower. Brandon Inge is back as an everyday player, and has difficulty batting his weight. Adam Everett can hit his weight, but only because he doesn't weigh much. They will be lucky to get .260 out of the catcher's position. That leaves the Tigers dependent on continued strong performance from the group of Granderson, Polanco, Ordonez, Cabrera, and Guillen. I think two - Guillen because he is declining, and Ordonez because he'll have difficulty matching two previous years of very strong performance - will not produce as much as last year. My point here is that from this core group, the Tigers can't afford a decline in production, and I think it might be too much too ask. When you consider that the Tigers are horrid at manufacturing runs through hit and run, stolen bases, and well placed bunts, and also strike out way too much, it's probable the Tigers won't score as many runs in 2009. Let's hope they make better use of the runs they do score.
Prognosis. The Tigers will have difficulty getting much above .500. In their division, the Indians and Royals have improved. I see them in the middle of the pack, at best. And, if the Tigers begin the season with another slow start, Jim Leyland will get the ax, or he will resign. Next up? Does anyone have Kirk Gibson's phone number? You can be that the Tigers do.