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MLB Opening Day: 5 bold predictions for the Tigers 2017 season

These are probably going to look really dumb in six months.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

A lot can happen over the course of a 162-game MLB season. From injuries to unexpected performances, things can look much different in September than we think they will in March. The American League playoff picture seems particularly muddled as we head into the 2017 season, and the Detroit Tigers are one of several talented-yet-flawed teams predicted to battle for a Wild Card spot.

While the Tigers won’t offer too many shockers come Opening Day, they are volatile enough that we could see some real surprises during the course of the upcoming season. Here are a few of our boldest predictions of what is to come.

Matt Boyd will be the Tigers’ second-best starter

Predicting anyone to outperform Justin Verlander in the Tigers’ rotation is sheer lunacy, but the No. 2 spot is up for grabs. Michael Fulmer grabbed that title by the horns in 2016 — truthfully, he was Verlander’s 1b for most of the year — while Daniel Norris looked brilliant over the final two months. Jordan Zimmermann was excellent in April, but fell apart as his neck injury progressed over the next couple months. He has not looked good in spring training, but his old fastball velocity seems to have returned. Some fans aren’t expecting much, but predicting that Zimmermann will return to form isn’t the boldest of proclamations.

That leaves Matt Boyd, who helped steady the rotation during the dog days of summer last season. He was reliable, if not particularly efficient, and managed a 4.16 ERA in 97 13 innings before he was rocked in his final regular season start. We have seen a different pitcher this spring, though. He limited opponents to a 2.10 ERA in 25 23 innings, and managed a phenomenal 23 strikeouts to one walk. Spring stats should be taken with a large grain of salt, but that type of dominance turned some heads.

Underneath, however, you can see a pitcher on the verge of becoming a steady No. 2 or 3. Every young pitcher has it drilled into his head that it’s absolutely important to keep the count in your favor. Boyd already mastered the count part. Now he needs to take advantage of hitters in swing mode. Maybe the slider will be the key.

If Boyd can do as Jeff Sullivan suggests — namely, turn more two-strike counts into strikeouts — he could take a major step forward in 2017.

Andrew Romine will be the Tigers’ most valuable center fielder

While the Tigers’ starting rotation is young and full of promise, the center field rotation... isn’t. JaCoby Jones had a nice spring, but has had some swing and miss issues in the minors. He struck out in over 40 percent of his limited at-bats at the major league level last season, and might be starting the season in the minors if not for J.D. Martinez’s injury.

Of the remaining options, Andrew Romine seems the least likely to succeed. He has the longest track record of mediocre offensive performance, and unlike Tyler Collins and Mikie Mahtook, isn’t a natural outfielder. However, Romine is probably the fastest of the three in a straight line, and has looked competent in limited outfield appearances thus far. If he has a good year at the plate, he could steal the job away until Jones is ready for full-time duty.

Shane Greene will be the closer by season’s end

Bruce Rondon has been the heir apparent to the Tigers’ closer throne for the past few seasons. He has been dominant during stretches, and was arguably the Tigers’ best reliever last year. However, Shane Greene was just as lights out in the early part of 2016. He managed a 2.78 ERA with 24 strikeouts to five walks through 22 23 innings in June and July, and featured the kind of wipeout stuff managers love in the ninth inning. If Rondon happens to struggle when the closer role opens — Francisco Rodriguez was shaky at times last season, remember — Greene would likely be the next in line to ascend to the role.

Anibal Sanchez will become the Tigers’ relief ace

I’m not sure if this prediction is the most likely or the craziest of the bunch — perhaps it’s both! — but Anibal Sanchez’s late-spring mechanical adjustment got some people talking. He no-hit the Pittsburgh Pirates’ everyday lineup for six innings, and his fastball looked as explosive as we’ve seen in years. The Tigers were correct to trust Matt Boyd’s longer track record of performance, and there’s a good chance Sanchez falls back into mediocrity once the regular season begins.

However, a weaponized Sanchez pitching multi-inning spurts could make the Tigers’ bullpen a true strength. We saw baseball go nuts over multi-inning firemen like Andrew Miller last fall, but using a reliever like that over the course of the regular season seems like a recipe for disaster. Sanchez is no Andrew Miller, but he is used to a much larger workload, and could potentially handle the rigors of 80 to 100 innings out of the ‘pen. Shane Greene proved himself too valuable in the bullpen to move back to the rotation in 2016, and there’s a chance Sanchez could do the same this year.

The Tigers will advance further in the postseason than the Indians

It’s hard to argue against the Cleveland Indians as a heavy favorite to win their second consecutive AL Central title. The Tribe have the deepest and most talented pitching staff in the division, and they supplement an above-average offense with excellent defense and baserunning. They are arguably the most complete team in the entire American League, and are a fair bet to return to the World Series.

The Tigers have a talented roster of their own. While many would pick the Indians as the better team over a 162-game season, the compressed postseason schedule mitigates a lot of the Tigers’ weaknesses. They lack the depth that Cleveland has, but so long as they are healthy, that doesn’t matter in a seven-game series. The Tigers aren’t as good of a baserunning team, but research shows that teams reliant on the home run actually fare a bit better in postseason play. Most of all, the postseason is a crapshoot. If the Tigers can find a way into the playoff mix this season, anything can happen.

What are your bold predictions for 2017?

Opening Day 2017 Preview!

Posted by Bless You Boys: For Detroit Tigers Fans on Wednesday, March 29, 2017