Today, the Detroit Tigers open their season at home against the Kansas City Royals at 1:08. Here are 5 storylines to watch this Opening Day and through the 2014 season. If you don’t want to watch these storylines, you can always look at how the grass got replaced in the outfield so we don’t have to look at the Brennan Boesch square in right field anymore.
1. How will this lineup look with more speed?
One of the biggest issues that people found with the Detroit Tigers in the past was their lack of speed. Since I can remember, the Tigers have been a station to station team who would need 3 hits and walks to get a runner home (barring an extra base hit of course, but you get my point). This offseason, the Tigers added Ian Kinsler who averages more than 20 steals per season and Rajai Davis who has stolen at least 34 bases every year since 2009.
Last season, the Tigers stole 35 bases as a team. Kinsler and Davis stole 60 combined last year. This Spring Training, the Tigers stole 33 bases in 29 games which was more than any other team in all of baseball. Steals are just a part of the speed game. Extra bases will be taken out of the box an on the base paths. Enjoy the speed, I know I will.
2. How will Brad Ausmus manage?
If the Tigers lose on Opening Day and someone calls for Brad Ausmus to be fired, I will give up on fandom. This is a storyline that will hang around the entire season. We are going to have to see how Ausmus handles the bullpen and the lineup on a day to day basis. One game is not going to tell the entire story.
Will Ausmus shuffle the lineup around? There are many possibilities for him to do so. You will probably see Rajai Davis at the top of the order against LHP which will shuffle the lineup up. What it doesn’t look like we will see is Austin Jackson as the leadoff batter. He did not hit there in any games in Spring Training and will hit 5th on Opening Day. The Opening Day roster is as follows:
- Ian Kinsler – 2B
- Torii Hunter – RF
- Miguel Cabrera – 1B
- Victor Martinez – DH
- Austin Jackson – CF
- Alex Avila – C
- Nick Castellanos – 3B
- Alex Gonzalez – SS
- Rajai Davis – LF
I expect this to be the everyday lineup against right-handed pitching with Andrew Romine at shortstop instead of Gonzalez. Gonzalez is playing instead of Romine mostly because James Shield is starting for the Kansas City Royals and his splits are better against lefties than righties. Against left handed pitching, I’d expect the lineup to look something like Davis, Hunter, Cabrera, Martinez, Jackson, Castellanos, Kinsler, Avila/Holaday, and Gonzalez with Kinsler’s spot in the order subject to change.
3. How will the bullpen perform?
Joe Nathan is the only pitcher with a defined role entering Opening Day. I am assuming Ian Krol will take the late inning lefty role over. The injury to Bruce Rondon leaves the set-up position open to Joba Chamberlain or Al Aburquerque which is a scary thought. Phil Coke, Evan Reed, and Luke Putkonen round out the bullpen. Lu-Pu will serve mostly as a long man. Coke will be used as a one inning man or a lefty in the middle of the game. Evan Reed will be a one inning man in the 6th or 7th. This is the hand that Ausmus was dealt. If the bullpen falls apart on him, remember that he can only run out the pitchers that are on his roster.
4. How will the injuries affect the Tigers?
The injuries this spring have been well documented. Andy Dirks is gone until the end of June after back surgery. Jose Iglesias and Bruce Rondon are gone for the season. In left field, Davis and Tyler Collins will split time with Collins getting time against RHP because Davis’s career splits are .255/.297/.353 against RHP and .294/.354/.425 against LHP. No offense to Collins, but I don’t think he is on the same level as Dirks. The Philadelphia Phillies cut Bobby Abreu and the Tigers may have some interest there. If Davis and Collins get off to miserable starts, look for the Tigers to make a move for Abreu or they may call up Ezequiel Carrera.
To replace Rondon in the bullpen, I wish I had the answer. The Tigers hope the answer is somewhere in the previous question, but I do not see it. The bullpen was the bane of the Tigers existence last season, and it may be again this season.
Overall, the biggest injury is to Rondon because the Tigers do not have a replacement close to his level. He was going to be the number two man in the bullpen and now there is Nathan and no one else. Dirks was going to platoon in LF with Davis anyways and now the platoon gets weaker. At short, the Tigers get much weaker defensively and on the basepaths, but mostly unknown at the plate because there had to be a regression in Iglesias’s BABIP from last season
5. How will Nick Castellanos perform at the big league level?
Of all of the unknowns entering the 2014 season, one of the biggest is the rookie Nick Castellanos. Castellanos has been the gem of the Detroit Tigers farm system for the past few years. He is going to be the third baseman for this team for better or for worse. Castellanos has many expectations in front of him, but they do not have to be met in his rookie season. He is one of the early candidates for rookie of the year, but we shouldn’t make the expectations too high. Castellanos’s ZiPS projection is .277/.320/.429 with 18 HR and 64 RBI. If he gets close to that, we should all be ecstatic.
I have a tradition every Opening Day that I will share with you. Every year on Opening Day, I listen to the late Ernie Harwell. Enjoy.