Today marks the start of the 30th season since the Detroit Tigers last won the World Series.
1984. That’s the year it was when a team led by the great Sparky Anderson paraded through the streets of Detroit, having two days earlier defeated the San Diego Padres in the fifth game of the series by a score of eight to four to secure their first championship since 1968.
The 1984 team started the season by winning 35 of their first 40 games, which remains a record for the best 40 game start in Major League Baseball history. Led on the field by stars such as Jack Morris, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammel, Kirk Gibson and Willie Hernandez, that team was poised from the very start to do great things.
Off the field, Anderson, who had managed the Cincinnati Reds to two championships in the 1970s, handled the Tigers masterfully. He had been fired by the Reds without reason before he was named the Tigers’ manager in 1979. He got his vengeance when he led the team to win 104 games (a franchise record), and the the ’84 World Series, which also made him the first manager to ever win a championship while coaching teams in both the American and National leagues.
It is now 2014. The Tigers have made only two trips to the World Series in the time since they last won one. Both of those teams, 2006 and 2012, were under the direction of Jim Leyland.
This year’s team will be managed by Brad Ausmus, a man with absolutely no managerial experience at any level, but who came with high recommendation from many baseball executives. Is he the person that will finally bring a championship to owner Mike Ilitch and the city of Detroit? It’s hard to say.
Ausmus will have a new-look Tigers team to manage this year thanks to many moves that were made in the offseason, the biggest being the trades of Prince Fielder and Doug Fister to the Texas Rangers and Washington Nationals, respectively. Yes, they acquired a decent second baseman in Ian Kinsler for Fielder, and added three players in the Fister trade, but the holes created in the lineup and the pitching rotation because of those trades will not be easy to fill.
The team is still expected to contend, though.
Newcomer Rajai Davis brings outstanding speed to a team that has lacked just that in recent years. Kinsler’s addition will allow Ausmus to move Austin Jackson down from his old leadoff spot in the lineup. New closing pitcher Joe Nathan will anchor a bullpen that was a big concern after last year’s playoffs.
Spring Training allowed for these new faces to acquaint themselves with a new team, which is key when it comes to chemistry in the clubhouse. However, it also had its share of disappointments, mainly in the form of injuries.
Starting shortstop Jose Iglesias is expected to miss most—if not all—of the season with shin problems. Relief pitcher Bruce Rondon will miss the entire season, due to elbow reconstruction surgery (commonly known as Tommy John surgery). Left fielder Andy Dirks will miss most of the season’s first half recovering from back surgery.
These injuries left Ausmus and General Manager Dave Dombrowski with some decisions to make ahead of today’s game against the Kansas City Royals. Dombrowski acquired shortstops Alex Gonzales and Andrew Romine from the Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Angels, respectively, to help make up for the loss of Iglesias. Rookie Tyler Collins will look to stay on the team as an extra outfielder in Dirks’ absence.
There are a lot of unknowns heading into the season, such as how rookie starting third baseman Nick Castellanos will perform and whether the bullpen will be able to keep leads late in games. We will only know the answers to these concerns as the season progresses, but reporters are looking past them, many of them picking the Tigers to win their first championship in 30 years.
Despite the challenges and concerns that face the Tigers, they will still have a good season. Miguel Cabrera will look to win his third straight MVP award, after signing an extension last week that will make him the highest-paid athlete in any sport ever. Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez will once again dominate the best hitters in the league, while leading the best rotation in baseball.
They will not win 35 of their first 40 games, but this team will be good. So grab a seat, whether it be on your couch or at the ballpark, and relax while the Detroit Tigers play what promises to be an outstanding 2014 season.
Photo via Detroit Tigers