Tom Gage today wrote in the Detroit News the five keys to the Tigers finding success this season: Carlos Guillen, Scherzer, Brandon Inge, Joel Zumaya and Jose Valverde.
Three of them are returning from injuries that either derailed either a large chunk of their 2009 season or would have if somebody hadn't decided to play through the pain, anyway. The other two are newcomers from the National League. Both have a decent background, but will have to step up their games in the AL. For the Tigers to win the division this year, in short they'll need the comeback stories and the fresh faces. And, of course, they'll still need the studs to be the studs. But you don't worry about them much because, well, they're the studs.
My list is a bit different.
- Austin Jackson -- No, you don't want to put too much pressure on the kid. But if the Tigers hope to continue playing in October, they'll need to get both strong defense and average production at the plate from Jackson. High expectations for a rookie, even a hyped one. But the Tigers chose to bat him leadoff, so they'll need for him to get on base and maybe shake things up a bit with his speed. They have enough black holes at the bottom of the lineup, they can't afford to have one at the top.
Carlos Guillen -- Few batters in the organization have the potential to make the impact Guillen can when healthy and hitting. That, and he can bat from either side of the plate, which is a big necessity when your lineup is so right-handed and your left-handed batters on the bench are nothing to write home about. So, Guillen will have to live up to it.
Jeremy Bonderman or Dontrelle Willis -- Is that cheating to name two? Here's the thing: The Tigers can probably absorb one of the pitchers at the bottom of the rotation playing poorly. They can't absorb two. So either Bonderman or Willis is going to have to be a nice surprise. I don't care who. I just don't have enough faith in the starting pitching candidates in Toledo to carry water in the long haul in Detroit.
- The shortstop -- Yes, I'm cheating again. But it's five keys, not five specific players. The Tigers have to find a way to get defense that does not hurt their ground-ball pitchers, meanwhile getting offense at a level higher than a replacement player. If the game of baseball were played in a vacuum, you'd go with Brent Dlugach to get both those things and call it good. But the Tigers prefer Adam Everett's leadership and fear two rookies up the middle. So Everett is going to have to produce, as well Ramon Santiago, who will probably be playing all over the infield.
- Jim Leyland -- I'll be the first to tell you managers don't make that big a difference. They can't take bums and make them stars. But in what promises to be a tight division, Leyland has a lot of pressure on him. Not only does he have to make better in-game strategic decisions -- and stop batting players third hours before they are sent to the minor leagues -- but he also has to decide how much rope to give a struggling veteran, how much rest both his rookies and his older players need, and how to keep the team from giving away the division title in September for the third time in five years, should they find themselves leading at that point. Leyland is going to have to be at the top of his game this year.