Drive for five

Detroit Tigers eye fifth consecutive division title
By Bryan Zazaian
Staff Writer

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It’s been a long and tedious offseason for the Detroit Tigers, but with Spring Training now underway, it’s never too early to project how Detroit’s roster will stack up against the rest of the major leagues.
Manager Brad Ausmus returns for his second season and will be skippering one of baseball’s most talented teams. Detroit will enter the 2015 campaign seeking its fifth-consecutive division title in which starting pitching played a major role. The face of the pitching staff no longer features Max Scherzer or Rick Porcello, but the current Tiger rotation is still a force to be reckoned with.
Acquired during last year’s trade deadline was all-star left-hander David Price. After some early adjustments, Price was able to show Detroit fans how dominating he can be whenever he takes the mound.
“It was a transition period,” Price told ESPN in January. “I just wasn’t comfortable yet. Comfort comes with time, and I’ve had time here, and I got to spend time with [the team] last year on the field and away from the field, and it’s a lot more comfortable now.”
Along with Price, others who will need to step up in Scherzer’s absence include pitching aces Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez. Both will be looking to bounce back after sub-par seasons in 2014. Former Cincinnati Reds starter Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene from the New York Yankees were signed in the offseason to fill the void left by Scherzer and Porcello. Greene, only 26, possesses an electric fastball, and is out to prove that his success in 2014 with New York was no fluke.
The Tigers look to remain an offensive force in the American League after re-signing designated hitter Victor Martinez to a four-year, 68-million dollar contract.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do starting next spring,” Martinez said during his end of the year press conference in November. “I’m really excited about it, and I’m happy to finish my career in Detroit.”
Eyebrows were raised after the team announced that the 36-year-old Martinez would need surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. To the relief of Tigers fans, Dr. James Andrews reported that the damage was minimal and that Martinez’ recovery period should last no longer than six weeks. Martinez expects to be ready for Opening Day.
Martinez certainly won’t be the only power source in Motown this year. Two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera will look to regain some of his swagger after a down year. Despite hitting better than .310 with more than 20 homers and 100 RBIs, fans have grown to see nothing short of mammoth numbers from the slugging first baseman. There’s reason to believe Cabrera should be able to regain some of his old form, as he too is expected to be fully recovered from last season’s injuries.
Outfielder J.D. Martinez also looks to continue building upon his breakout season with the Tigers in 2014. The 27-year-old Martinez set career highs in batting average, homers and RBIs last season.
Acquired in the aforementioned trade of Porcello from the Red Sox was Cuban slugger Yoenis Cespedes. The former Oakland Athletic outfielder provides tremendous power, speed, and an outstanding arm defensively.
Despite not making a major move, the Tigers were able to trigger a few cost-effective deals in hopes of improving the Detroit bullpen. One of these moves included acquiring relief pitcher Alex Wilson in the Porcello-to-Boston trade. Wilson pitched brilliantly out of the Red Sox ‘pen in 2014, with a 1.91 ERA in 18 innings.
Homegrown Venezuelan flame-thrower Bruce Rondon is set to return from Tommy-John surgery this season. Both a 100+ M.P.H. fastball and a devastating curveball are the key pitches to Rondon’s success. As long he can stay healthy, Rondon can certainly provide some much-needed punch in the Tigers’ pen.
Joakim Soria was acquired during last year’s trade deadline, and despite a shaky season with Detroit, his career numbers suggest he is more than ready to bounce back. Soria also provides insurance for the closer’s role, as he will be the prime candidate to fulfill the position should current closer, Joe Nathan, fail to improve from his struggles a year ago.
Detroit’s defense will also be vastly improved. The Tigers will feature a solid defensive outfield featuring Anthony Gose—a gold-glove caliber center fielder acquired from Toronto— and Cespedes. The Tigers remain strong up the middle with sure-handed second baseman Ian Kinsler and the return of shortstop Jose Iglesias, who missed all of 2014 with shin splints.
With Opening Day less than two months away, the Tigers will be looking to build upon the success of their previous four seasons. With thicker competition and a vastly-improved Central Division, Detroit seems to be up for the challenge.
As third baseman Nick Castellanos boldly suggested on MLB Network’s Inside Pitch, “You still have to come through the Tigers if you want to win this division.”