I keep having to remind myself that it doesn’t really matter. However excited I get, the fact that the Tigers are on such a tear this March does not mean they will also go through the first three weeks of the regular season with only three losses. Not long ago, the Lions went 4-0 preseason and 0-16 in the regular season.
But the numbers are impossible to ignore.
The Detroit Tigers have used their time in Lakeland extremely effectively, compiling a 13-3-4 record in the first three weeks of spring training (games end in a tie after the tenth inning during the preseason). Only Toronto and Oakland have more wins, and every other team has more losses.
Several Tigers have posted staggering numbers. Left Fielder Delmon Young has put together an extremely impressive spring, leading the Tigers active roster and all of baseball with a .472 batting average and 19 RBIs. Outfielder Ryan Raburn is 2nd in baseball with 18 RBIs. Raburn and Young continue to switch places atop the Home Runs list; Raburn leads the league at 6 and Young has 5.
Miguel Cabrera, Andy Dirks and Don Kelly also have batting averages at .400 or above. While Cabrera is done until Opening Day after taking a baseball to the eye, Dirks and Kelly both came into Spring Training with their roster spots in question. It looks like they’ve both earned it.
It appears that all of the roster battles left are pitching duels. The other positions seem fairly set in stone: Gerald Laird and Alex Avila at catcher; Cabrera, Fielder, Brandon Inge, Ramon Santiago and Jhonny Peralta in the infield; Young, Dirks, Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch in the outfield.
Kelly and Raburn can play almost anywhere manager Jim Leyland needs them. For Kelly, that usually means the outfield. While Raburn has usually played outfield, I see him taking time at second from Inge and time at third from Cabrera. The question of an everyday lineup is one that probably won’t be answered until close to the playoffs, as the Tigers have so many players that can play multiple positions.
With that combination of players, Leyland has a lot of freedom to move guys around the field and up and down the lineup. I predict a situation where Cabrera and Young split the DH, with Kelly and Raburn filling in their spots on the field (and Brandon Inge sometimes getting the call at third). Second base will likely be platooned all season, played by some mixture of Inge, Raburn, Kelly and Santiago.
The biggest question left for Tigers fans is who will be the fifth starter. Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello are all guaranteed places in the rotation. Andy Oliver, Drew Smyly and Jacob Turner have spent spring fighting for the fifth spot. Jason Beck, with MLB.com, has reported the Tigers may be looking to trade for a fifth starter. If that doesn’t happen, I think that Smyly’s 1.13 spring ERA gets sent to Toledo in favor of Oliver’s 2.13 and extra year of minor league experience.
While spring training success doesn’t always translate into regular season victories, this year’s Detroit Tigers should be considered the favorite in the AL Central. Hopefully they follow up last year’s American League Championship Series berth with a trip to the World Series.