Mar 31, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; General view before the game between the Detroit Tigers and the Kansas City Royals on opening day at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Opening Day is one of the best days of the year. Even those who are not baseball fans pretend to care about America’s National Pastime.
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It’s a time when all the optimists are out saying this is the year for their team! “The Detroit Tigers will finally break through this season and bring home that first World Series trophy since 1984!” (Not really, but I’ve heard it every year since 2007.)
Entering the 2015 season, the Tigers have a lot of question marks and stories that will be analyzed every which way. Here are five of what will be over 100 stories through the 2015 season. Happy Opening Day everyone!
- Is the bullpen really any better than last season?
Honestly, the bullpen is not much better (if at all) than it was last season. Bruce Rondon has gone to the DL to start the season a year after he underwent Tommy John Surgery, which should terrify most fans. Anything the Tigers were going to get from Rondon was going to be a bonus this year before his injury. Now, if he is productive at all, Tigers’ fans should rejoice.
Joe Nathan and Joba Chamberlain should not be on the roster to start the season. Neither are good enough to pitch at the caliber the Tigers need them to be. Nathan has lost it and will not be on the team 40 games into the season. Joba lost it last year in the second half, and the Tigers brought him back on a flyer. They were hoping that if they threw enough pitchers against the wall, someone would stick, but Joba is not that guy.
Al Alburquerque, Tom Gorzelanny, and Joakim Soria will be the steady forces in the back end of the bullpen, if used correctly. Soria will start in the eighth, but will probably be used in the ninth sooner rather than later.
That leaves Ian Krol (also known as the left-handed pitcher whose spot will be a revolving door among Krol, Blaine Hardy, and Kyle Ryan) and Angel Nesbitt. Nesbitt was the man to watch when Spring Training started. He started 2014 in A-ball with the Lakeland Tigers and made his way to Erie. In camp, most thought he would go to Toledo, but after a spring with a 2.77 ERA and showing really nice stuff, Nesbitt pitched his way onto the Big League roster.
The guy to watch who is not in the bullpen (yet) is Alfredo Simon. His ERA is 3.61 as a reliever and 4.05 as a starter. He didn’t have a great spring, and the Tigers may decide to move him back to the bullpen if he continues to be unimpressive and the bullpen struggles. A Simon move would also mean Kyle Lobstein will be a mainstay in Detroit through 2015.
- Speaking of being better, what about Justin Verlander?
All offseason, I’ve been talking Verlander up and saying he will be better. He pitched hurt most of 2014 and I do not believe he was ever 100%. That being said, he’s definitely not 100% going into 2015 and I don’t know if he ever will be. Verlander is not going back to his Cy Young days. Realistically, Verlander may be a middle of the rotation guy for the rest of his career. His velocity is not coming back and he has not shown he can pitch without it. Until he proves he has learned to pitch without 100mph in his back pocket, his numbers will be closer to 2014 than 2012.
- If the bullpen isn’t very good and we don’t know about the starters, is the Tigers’ lineup good enough to carry them?
On paper, the 2015 lineup can be compared a bit to the Tigers’ 2008 squad. That team was supposed to score a ton and make up for some of the unknowns in the starting rotation. The Tigers ended up finishing in last place with a 74-88 season, 14.5 games out of first place. The lineup of Anthony Gose/Rajai Davis, Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez, Yoenis Cespedes, Nick Castellanos, Alex Avila/James McCann, and Jose Iglesias is one that can definitely score runs.
The Tigers are going to have to score a lot of runs to win the division in 2015. The starting rotation is not as good as it was in 2014. The bullpen may be better, but only by a slim margin. It is on the lineup to carry this team. It is good enough to do so, but if Cabrera and Victor are not healthy or there are other injuries through the season, the Tigers could be in a lot of trouble.
- Can J.D. Martinez replicate his 2014 season?
J.D. Martinez was the biggest Tigers’ steal since they traded for Miguel Cabrera. His career year of a .315/.358/.553 split with 23 home runs and 76 RBI gave the Tigers their much needed lift to make their run to the postseason. If Martinez does not have the year he had, they don’t make the postseason.
It’s unreasonable to expect the same numbers from Martinez in 2015. The question is will Martinez take a Brennen Boesch like dive or hold close to 2014 numbers. His power numbers should be close to what they were last season with his RBI total increasing with a full season. His batting average will probably drop somewhere between .260-.290. ZiPS has Martinez at a .283/.328/.483 split with 21 home runs and 90 RBI. If he can do that, Tigers’ fans should be thrilled.
- How far will the Tigers go this season?
An optimist says the window is still open for the Tigers, they will win the division, and be in serious contention for the World Series. A pessimist says the window has slammed shut, turn out the lights and go home; the Tigers will finish third in the division at best. A realist says that the Tigers are not as good as they were for the past few years, but they could still be the best team in the division. The division will be a dog fight all season. The Tigers will probably win the division, but see an early exit from the postseason before a major shakeup next offseason.
Of course, no Detroit Tigers Opening Day would be complete without hearing from Ernie Harwell.