The Detroit Tigers have reigned supreme in the AL Central for four consecutive years, which represents one of the most successful periods in the long history of the franchise.
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But, after the Tigers were treated to a rude awakening at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles in the 2014 playoffs, there is widespread unrest in Motown. The 2015 offseason has been dominated by a plea for bullpen help and an ongoing conversation in regards to how long this team’s window for a championship remains open. However, despite several high-profile moves by the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox, the Tigers should still be considered the cream of the crop in the AL Central.
In the wake of a busy night on the South Side of Chicago, which netted the White Sox both Jeff Samardzija and David Robertson, the tension in Detroit began to reach an apex. Many in baseball have already crowned the White Sox as the successor to the AL Central throne, and even more around the league acknowledge that the Indians, including newly acquired Tiger killer Brandon Moss, will pose a threat as well. But the time for panic isn’t now. Next year is shrouded in intrigue, with the impending free agency of not only David Price, but Yoenis Cespedes, and Alfredo Simon as well. At the end of 2015-16, however, the path to the AL Central crown will still run through Comerica Park.
Granted, the White Sox have had a very impressive offseason. General Manager Rick Hahn has paired the signings of Robertson, Adam Laroche, and Zach Duke with trades for Samardzija and former Marlins’ reliever Dan Jennings. As impressive as those acquisitions are on paper, however, it speaks volumes of Detroit’s talent that it will take much more for Chicago to dethrone Dave Dombrowski’s bunch.
Laroche is a good bat in a young lineup, but he is joining a team that, according to ESPN, only hit .253 collectively, and had an OBP of .310, which was good for 20th in the league. And while Robertson is the flavor of the month on the bullpen market, he had five blown saves last year. That is just two less than Joe Nathan, for perspective. Beyond that, before a stellar year with Milwaukee, Duke had a 6.03 ERA in 2013. The White Sox will need consistency in their bullpen in order to improve, and questions in the bullpen are dangerous. Just ask Tigers fans.
At the positions where the Tigers will start Cespedes, Nick Castellanos, Ian Kinsler, and Alex Avila, the White Sox are currently slated to trot out Dayan Viciedo, Connor Gillaspie, Leury Garcia, and Tyler Flowers. Even barring the addition of another established bat, such as Melky Cabrera, or a second baseman that can manage to exceed Leury Garcia’s .166 average, the lineup that Chicago is currently set to feature needs work.
If the White Sox can retain Samardzija, they certainly have a chance to build something around a good core of young talent, but 2015-16 will still belong to the Tigers. Sure, the Tigers are flawed. Their flaws may even keep them from ever attaining the ring that Mike Ilitch so desperately wants. But when you factor in the Royals’ payroll woes, the Indians’ awful 2014 season, Minnesota’s rebuild and Chicago’s inexperience, it will be hard to beat Detroit at their own game. After all, the Royals may have won the American League pennant, but they couldn’t win the AL Central.