LAKELAND, Fla. — Ian Kinsler doesn't know why the Tigers don't get more respect. Brad Ausmus doesn't care. It would be a mistake to say Detroit's 15-2 victory over the Orioles in the Grapefruit League opener — and quasi-ALDS rematch — was a statement. It's just spring training. But it would be accurate to say the Tigers feel like they've got something to prove.
"Absolutely, we're a really, really good team," said Kinsler, whose three-run home run in the second gave Detroit a 7-0 lead. "There's a lot of criticism, a lot of expectations around this club and it is what it is. We're a really good team, regardless how you put it or how we lost or how many games. We're a really solid team."
Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system projects the Tigers to finish with a 83-79 record, just two wins more than the Cleveland Indians but enough of them to win a fifth consecutive AL Central title. But for a club that feels like it's improved in multiple areas since finishing 90-72 a season ago, that number would sound more like a bad joke than an accurate outlook.
The difference in opinion comes in all the question marks the team has. To fans and the media, they are question marks.
Can the rotation withstand the loss of Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello? What happened to the Justin Verlander we know? Is starting pitcher Alfredo Simon as good as his first half of 2014 or as bad as his second? Will any of the arms in the bullpen turn out? Can Detroit really survive with Joe Nathan as closer? Can Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Jose Iglesias all stay healthy? Can Nick Castellanos play third base better than he has?
There's probably more where those came from. They are valid questions. If answered in the affirmative, this could be a very good club. If answered in the negative, it's could be a long season.
"We can do everything really well from top to bottom and that's what it takes to win a championship," Kinsler said. "To win a championship you have to be able to run the bases, pitch, hit, do everything. I feel like this team is a lot closer and a lot more well-rounded club."
Like Kinsler, Ausmus likes his team's balance. He even goes as far as to say the Tigers have a better lineup now than last season. He believes a healthy Cabrera will be a big part of that. He is happy with Yoenis Cespedes, who hit a grand slam on Tuesday. Another addition to the outfield, Anthony Gose, only adds to the baserunning depth that Kinsler, Rajai Davis, Iglesias and Andrew Romine provide.
So does this lack of respect, if you will, motivate the team? Well, it's not really what the media or fans think so much as the team's own expectations, Kinsler said.
"I think the way the season ended wasn't great, and that had something to do with it," Kinsler said. "You use anything you can to have motivation. I don't know if anyone else — I don't particularly think that. ... Some guys can use that as motivation and you're always trying to find some way to motivate yourself. I think this team is highly motivated regardless of what's going on in the national and local media."