Detroit Tigers: Division Favorites With Justin Upton
Unless you live at the bottom of a pond, you’ve probably heard that the Detroit Tigers signed one Justin Upton. The signing likely brings to an end what has been a fantastic offseason for Detroit.
Joining Upton as a new arrival in the outfield is Cameron Maybin. Other new Tigers include starters Jordan Zimmermann and Mike Pelfrey, as well as relievers Francisco Rodriguez, Justin Wilson and Mark Lowe. Mike Aviles and Jarrod Saltalamacchia were added to improve the bench.
In addition to the Major League additions, Detroit brought in a number of intriguing Spring Training invitees. These include outfielder Nate Schierholtz, utility player John Mayberry Jr. and reliever Logan Kensing.
At the end of the day, the Tigers have pushed themselves back into the contention picture with a number of shrewd transactions. The signing of Upton should, at least on paper, elevate the team to the top of the American League Central.
While dominated by right-handed hitters, Detroit’s lineup may be the best in the league. Manager Brad Ausmus’ batting order now features four players, Upton, Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez and Victor Martinez, who could each hit 30 home runs and drive in 100 runs. The lineup also features Ian Kinsler and Nick Castellanos, who could both easily hit 20 home runs and drive in 70 runs, if not more. Two of the remaining three batters, James McCann and Maybin, had a combined 100 RBI last season.
The lineup is certainly the class of the division.
Even with the addition of Byung Ho Park and full seasons from Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, the Minnesota Twins won’t come close to matching the Detroit Tigers’ lineup in 2016.
Cleveland has too many glaring offensive holes (third base, right field and center field) to be considered in the discussion for the division’s best batting order.
Kansas City and Chicago both have solid lineups, but neither matches up with the Tigers on paper. The Royals are in need of offensive upgrades at second base and in left field, while the White Sox suffer from inconsistency. Chicago needs Adam LaRoche, Melky Cabrera and Avisail Garcia to hit much better in order to contend, and that may simply be asking too much. The South Side club could also use upgrades at shortstop and behind the plate.
In terms of pitching, Detroit’s imposing lineup should help boost an already solid pitching staff.
The Tigers’ bullpen is rebuilt and has the look of a reliable and deep group with the likes of Rodriguez, Wilson and Lowe joining incumbents Blaine Hardy, Drew VerHagen and Alex Wilson. They may not
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post the eye-popping numbers that the Royals relief corps posted in years past, but the Tigers’ new relievers alone should vastly improve the team. They’ll be as good as any other AL Central bullpen, with the likely exception of Kansas City.
What’s more, the rotation could be a strength again. With the possible exception of Cleveland’s excellent depth, no other team in the division has a rotation that is obviously better than Detroit’s. The starting pitching staffs in Minnesota and Kansas City are filled with middle-of-the-rotation arms at best and lack aces. Chicago possesses an ace in Chris Sale, but the rotation also features an inexperienced Erik Johnson (16 career starts) and an unreliable John Danks (4.71 ERA in 177.2 innings pitched last season).
The addition of Upton and the contributions of the rest of a healthy batting order will also provide more victories for the Detroit Tigers’ starting pitchers.
Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez combined for 15 wins last season. Verlander had 15 alone (in a down year) during the 2014 season.
The improved offense will not only lead to better results for pitchers like Verlander and Sanchez, but it also lessens the stress on the bullpen.
Next: With Upton Signed, Time to Pay J.D. Martinez
In short, Justin Upton has taken a potentially good team and made them potentially great. The season has yet to begin, but Upton seems to have elevated the Detroit Tigers to another level—a level above the rest of the team’s division rivals.