In the past, I've been accused of being a cynic. I've been told I'm too negative. I've been told why I was wrong and the Tigers would be a lock to win the division. Again and again, I repeat the mantra: I wish I was wrong. I hope you are right. I want to see the Tigers win, win, win, too, but I'm not going to give you analysis I don't believe for the sake of making you happier. So why does that matter? Why do I start a story about the Tigers chances of winning the division by talking about myself?
Because this year the Tigers have a great chance to finally earn another division title pennant -- their first Central Division title in history and the first division flag since Detroit won the AL East in 1987. The division is wide-open for the taking, and this club has the tools to grab it.
Since the teams of the Central Division more-or-less finalized their winters over the summer, a few things have been apparent. First, the Tigers had one heck of an offseason. Did they address every need? No. Did they cover up several problems they had in 2010 and even 2009? Yep. A second theme? The White Sox appear to be a pretty solid team themselves. Their rotation is quite solid. The addition of Adam Dunn, especially for a team who plays its home games in a left-handed hitter's band shell, gives them a nice improvement in their lineup. And finally, the Twins really lost a lot. Here, there, everywhere, the team that won 95 games last season looks like it's come back to the pack. Put it together and you've got a three-team toss-up for the division title.
The computer simulations will tell you the same. Baseball Prospectus simulations have the Tigers either a one-win favorite above both the Sox and Twins. The postseason odds breakdown is split nearly evenly among the three teams: Twins, 37.5%, Tigers 37.2%, White Sox 34.8%.
Who's going to win? Nobody can really say for certain. Anyone who does is fooling themselves. With the teams so close, the division might just come down to two things: Dumb luck, and health. Luck can't be predicted. A short hop here, a schedule fluke there and maybe it's enough to put a team over the edge. And health? Well in Minnesota Justin Morneau is coming back from a head injury, and Joe Mauer's knees have continued to plague him. Jake Peavy won't be ready to start the year in Chicago. And the Tigers have a history of players falling to injuries at the worst possible times. No one is safe here. No one.
So why Detroit? Why not?
The Tigers have the top one-two rotational punch in the division in Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. Verlande must be included in the preseason discussion of Cy Young candidates, and Scherzer himself pitched Cy Young quality for four consecutive months in 2010. Add to that an expected improvement for Rick Porcello, now age 22 and entering his third season in the big leagues, and you've got a good start. The bottom of everyone's rotation can be seen as a bit iffy, but if Brad Penny can stay healthy he could be a difference maker in Detroit.
The lineup? About the worst you can say about it is that there are too many right-handed hitters. Otherwise, the Tigers project their best offensive production since 2008. Scoring 800 runs is not out of the question. (Lee Panas pegs the team at 790.) Detroit's 3-4-5 of Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez should be enough to scare any pitcher with the game on the line. And now, batters who might otherwise have hit sixth or seventh are found in the bottom third of Detroit's lineup. Top to bottom, this team can score.
So me, I'm taking the Tigers to win the division. If things go right, their rotational strength means they even have a puncher's chance once they make the playoffs.
Get ready, Tigers fans. This should be the most fun we've had in years.
A series on the keys to making my prediction come true