Over their four-year dominance of the A.L. Central the Detroit Tigers haven’t always jumped out to the early lead but they’ve done an excellent job keeping themselves either in, or within sight of, the division lead over the season’s first month-and-a-half. Starting the 2015 season though, the degree of difficulty to accomplish a similar start jumps into the stratosphere.
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The Tigers begin this season with a stretch where they’ll face division rivals in 28 of their first 35 games. Three of the other seven contests take them to Pittsburgh to face a Pirates team that is projected to contend with the St. Louis Cardinals for the championship of the N.L. Central.
The bright spot in this scenario for the Tigers is every other team in the division is also playing a rival heavy early schedule. The contenders should be well separated from the division bottom-feeders by the end of this opening stretch.
The trouble for the Tigers is this team opening the 2015 season may have picked the wrong time to quit smoking, drinking, sniffing glue, etc. This team starts with more questions needing answers than any other in the division (outside of the Minnesota Twins of course).
To begin with, no starting staff can lose their ace without reverberations being felt. Even though Justin Verlander established himself in Detroit first, Max Scherzer has been the team’s ace over the past three seasons. Without him there is no stopper on this team to prevent a losing streak from damaging the Tigers’ chances to contend.
Verlander is only 32-years old and can still be one of the anchors of the Tigers’ staff but nobody knows when his sore right triceps will allow him to pitch again.
David Price is solid but not as a No. 1 starter. The remainder of the staff is riddled with too many ifs to be relied upon. If Anibal Sanchez can stay healthy, if Alfredo Simon can repeat his one season of major league success, and if Shane Greene can fulfill his potential can’t offset the impact of Scherzer’s loss.
The Tigers have been able to count on their offense to paper over any minor pitching staff problems during their four-year first-place run but there are doubts about whether it will still be up to the task in 2015?
Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, two of the key reasons why the Tigers are annually among the league leaders in On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage, are questionable to be in the lineup against the Twins on opening day.
Cabrera has put up strong numbers in his limited playing time this spring but Martinez hasn’t shown any indication that he’s prepared to return to the starting lineup. In the meantime the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox will continue sticking pins in their Martinez voodoo dolls.
In his first three seasons Yoenis Cespedes has shown more potential than production. His ability to erupt into the hitter fans have been expecting to see will determine whether the Tigers can generate the early run production to successfully navigate the early season challenge.
One break for the Tigers is they face the Twins nine times in their 35-game opening stretch. Not having to face Ervin Santana, suspended for 80-games for a PED violation, makes that scenario a lot sweeter.
If the Tigers can keep themselves afloat through this 35 game opening stretch neither Cleveland, Chicago or Kansas City will be able to breathe easy all season. If not they’ll enter the September looking up at their division rivals with no opportunity to make a successful stretch run.