The Detroit Tigers have clinched a berth in the postseason for the fourth consecutive year. Getting back to the postseason was definitely not an easy task. The Tigers have faced many challenges during the 2014 season, but they overcame injuries, inconsistent play, and a sketchy bullpen to make the playoffs. There is still work to do as the AL Central remains up for grabs. The Tigers will look to clinch their fourth straight AL Central title this weekend vs. the Minnesota Twins.
At the beginning of the 2014 season, the Tigers knew they could count on star players like Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez to perform at a high level. In order for the team to take their season to the next level, they would need some players to step up and have breakout years. The star players on the team, with the exception of Justin Verlander, were able to produce at a high level for most of the year. Luckily for the Tigers, there were also several players who emerged and played critical roles in getting the Tigers back to October baseball once again.
Let’s take a look at four breakout players who have been instrumental in the success of the 2014 Detroit Tigers.
Sep 14, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers left fielder J.D. Martinez (28) celebrates his home run in the fourth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
When the 2014 season got underway, most Tiger fans had never heard of J.D. Martinez. In fact, most baseball fans in general had no idea who he was. His major league career began in 2011 with the Houston Astros, but he was released by them prior to the start of this season. He was then signed by the Tigers to a minor league contract and the rest is history. J.D. Martinez is Detroit’s breakout player of the year and has been instrumental to the team’s success.
J.D. Martinez is one of the best clutch hitters on the Tigers. He has belted 23 home runs this season, with 13 of them coming in the seventh inning or later. He has single-handedly won games for the team with his late inning heroics. J.D. has also been a consistent offensive force this year, hitting .346 before the all-star break and .300 after the break. Most importantly, he has provided protection for Victor Martinez, who is also having a career year. Thanks in large part to his fantastic season, J.D will have his first taste of postseason baseball this year.
Sep 5, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Rick Porcello (21) pitches in the first inning against the San Francisco Giants at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
When the Tigers traded Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals in the offseason, there was a glaring void in the starting rotation. Rather than look for another starting arm on the free agent market, the Tigers pinned their hopes on Rick Porcello to fill that void. Many baseball experts questioned whether Porcello could become a big-time MLB pitcher, but he proved those doubters wrong this year.
Porcello has had a stellar 2014 season. As we head into the last series of the regular season, Porcello has 15 wins and sports a 3.31 ERA, both career bests. He was actually able to lower his ERA a full run from last season. Porcello has also been a workhorse for Detroit this year. He has gone over the 200 inning mark for the first time in his career and has thrown three complete game shutouts. Being able to pitch well on the road has been a key factor in Porcello’s 2014 season. He has a 2.66 ERA and a .254 BAA away from home this year. Porcello has been able to silence his critics with a fantastic breakout season.
Sep 23, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers center fielder Rajai Davis (20) dives back to first after reaching on a fielders choice in the seventh inning against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Over the past few seasons, the Tigers have lacked game-changing speed. After a 2013 season where Detroit stole only 35 bases as a team, Dave Dombrowski set out to add a speed element to the team in 2014. Enter Rajai Davis, who was signed in the offseason as a free agent. He was originally signed to platoon in the outfield, but he has made a much larger impact on this team.
Rajai Davis has put together his best statistical year since he was a member of the Oakland Athletics in 2010. His 36 steals give him more than the entire Tigers team in 2013. Not only has he changed games with his top flight speed, but he has also been a guy the team has counted on to get big hits. Most Tiger fans will never forget the walk-off grand slam he hit against Oakland in June. Rajai has become even more of a contributor in the past couple months. After Austin Jackson went to Seattle in the David Price deal, Rajai took over as the everyday center fielder. His clutch hitting and exceptional speed have been key factors in Detroit’s march to another division title.
Aug 24, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Detroit Tigers pitcher Joba Chamberlain (44) in the dugout before the game against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
The Tigers were able to sign Joba Chamberlain as a free agent this past offseason. Most fans didn’t know what to make of the move since Joba had major struggles with the New York Yankees in 2012 and 2013. The man with the beard has really turned his career around since joining the Tigers. He has become the eighth inning guy for the team, holding the bullpen together most of year amid their struggles. Sure, he has not been himself in the past couple months, but his contributions to the Tigers especially in the first half of the season cannot be overlooked.
Prior to the all-star game break, Joba was lights out with a 2.63 ERA in 41 appearances. He was the one guy you could pretty much count on to pitch a clean inning out of the bullpen. He has struggled somewhat in the second-half of the season, raising his overall ERA to 3.67. Joba will most likley be counted on to pitch the eighth inning in the playoffs. Hopefully he can regain the form he showed earlier in the season and continue his comeback story.
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Great teams in baseball not only have players with star power, but also unheralded guys who perform beyond expectations. The 2014 Tigers have been no exception. Yes, they have two of the best hitters in baseball and a star-studded pitching rotation, but they would not be on the verge of another AL Central title without the breakout seasons of J.D. Martinez, Rick Porcello, Rajai Davis, and Joba Chamberlain.
As we move to the postseason, these players will look to continue their breakout seasons. If they do, the Tigers might be the last team standing at the end of October.