Say what you will about the Detroit Tigers off-season, but don’t call it boring. It’s a matter of opinion whether the team improved or declined, but not for long. Soon the proof will be in the playing, Spring Training is in the air, literal tons of equipment have arrived ahead of the players at the Tigers’ second home in Lakeland and the Tigers fanbase anxiously waits to see what the players Dave Dombrowski has put together will look like as a team.
So many questions have loomed over the winter months, as they always do; but this time it feels different. It’s a new era for the Tigers, and with this era comes a new culture. An emphasis on speed and defense over sloth and power. An attempt at returning to sleek and saavy that comes with more questions than answers, at this point. And it’s these questions that make me, and countless other fans, love baseball.
When thinking on this Tigers team and what is to come this season, I can’t help but liken it to a well built, but still unsettled, house of cards. Of late, every time I’ve made a positive or optimistic prediction, there always seems to be a big “IF” that follows. And while some may see that big IF as a negative, I see it as everything beautiful about baseball. Baseball has been called a game of inches, and perhaps a game of millimeters would be more accurate. At any given moment between the first and ninth innings, anything can happen. And anything usually does.
So what does that mean for the Tigers? The same thing it’s meant all winter. Austin Jackson will succeed IF he can make the most of his (predicted) new, lower slot in the batting order. Alex Avila will rebound IF he can stay out of his head and keep relaxed at the plate. Ian Kinsler will put some speed on the bases IF he can keep base running mistakes to a minimum. The Tigers starting rotation will dominate IF all the starters return to form and Smyly and Porcello perform. The bullpen can succeed IF Al Alburquerque, Bruce Rondon, and Joba Chamberlain pitch the way they’re capable of pitching and throw strikes. IF. IF. IF. The IFs are endless, but not for long. Soon these unknown IFs will become statistics. Cold, hard, undeniable facts to analyze and fret over. And all this will lead to even more IFs to plague the fans over the course of the season. That’s baseball, a game of inches and IFs. And I, for one, cannot wait.