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March 8, 2011 - Steve Schulwitz
I don't work for the sports department at the paper, but that doesn't mean I don't have opinions and predictions on events in the world of sports. Today I want to share with you why I think the Detroit Tigers will win the American League Central but lose in the opening round of the playoffs.
Let's begin by saying that I don't consider the 2010 season a disappointment. Injuries and the need to play inexperienced players doomed the team after the All-Star break. Remember, the team was near the top of the standings before the floor fell out. Being forced to play the organization's young players in 2010, should help the Tigers have a deeper bench and a more interchangeable roster. That in turn will offer more off days for veterans to help them stay fresh for the stretch run.
The 2011 season starts out with a bang, with a season opening three-game series against the New York Yankees. After that the schedule eases for the remainder of April, so the team very well could get off to a hot start.
The Tigers pitching staff will be the key factor in getting off to a fast start. Detroit's starting five could be among the toughest in baseball with Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer leading the charge. The effectiveness of Phil Coke and Rick Porcello will be key to how the Tigers' season plays out. Number five starter Brad Penny is the wildcard, in my opinion. I believe if he manages to win more games than Chicago White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy, I think the Detroit squad is in good shape.
The bullpen appears to be solid, at least on paper. It will be important for closer Jose Valverde to rebound from a poor second half of 2010, after being an all-star at the season's midway point. If Valverde falters, look for free agent acquisition Joaquin Benoit to move into the role. Benoit was one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball last year, and his spring numbers indicate his success may carry over to the new season. For those of you who wonder why I don't mention Joel Zumaya, it's because I'm convinced his contributions will be minimal, and anything the Tigers do get from him will be a bonus. I hope I'm wrong, but he throws too hard with the mechanics he uses to last an entire season.
The key to the offense begins and ends with Austin Jackson. He is going to be the one to set the table for the big guns on the middle of the order, but if he regresses, even slightly, it could affect the RBI numbers of Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Magglio Ordonez. If Jackson continues to build on his rookie year, however, the offense will be one of the best in baseball. There are questions at second base, but I think Carlos Guillen will secure the position when the season opens, and Scott Sizemore will spot for him every few days.
The central will be an all-out war between the Tigers, Sox and Twins. The White Sox will be tough and will present the biggest challenge to the team from Detroit. In the end, though, I think the starting rotation will give the Tigers enough wins to earn the division crown, but they don't have enough pop in the order yet to knock off New York or Red Sox.
My 2011 picks:
AL East - Boston
AL Central- Detroit
AL West Champ- Texas
AL Pennant- Yankees NL East - Phillies
NL Central- Milwaukee
NL West- Colorado
NL Pennant- Phillies
World Series winner- Phillies
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