This week we will explore five keys for the Tigers as they make a run at the Central Division title. Those keys are staying healthy, playing better on the road, finding success against right-handed pitching, finding a starting pitcher to step up and join Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer as front line starters, and playing better defense than expected.
Saying that health is the key to winning the division is about as insightful as saying hitting the ball is key to scoring runs and keeping the other team off the bases is key to preventing them. It's just so patently obvious that it almost seems pointless to write it. In a division so closely bunched at the top, injuries very well could decide who wins it. Yet when you get right down to it, staying healthy might be even more important for the Tigers than for any other Central Division contender.
Why's that? Some teams are balanced all over the diamond and show small dropoffs from the major leagues to the minor leagues. The Tigers are not one of those clubs. The team's ability to compete for the division is contingent on Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez and Victor Martinez staying healthy. One of those guys is a pitcher with less-than-smooth mechanics. One of those guys broke his ankle last year and was fighting with his hamstring this year. And one of those guys spent a lot of time as a catcher. None of those reasons means you should expect injuries. But you can't completely disqualify the possibility either, and there is not a player in the minors who can step in to fill their levels of production.
Finally, and to a lesser extent obviously, you've got to wonder about the back-end of the rotation where one pitcher missed most of last season and the other pitcher hasn't thrown more than 100 innings since 2008.