2016 Detroit Tigers Predictions: Three Things That Need to Happen to Win the AL Central
By Ben Rosener
With Spring Training coming to an end, here are three things that need to happen for the Detroit Tigers to win the American League Central this season.
The Detroit Tigers enter the 2016 regular season coming off of (by most accounts) an extremely successful offseason.
Detroit added former Washington Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann in a big-money move to pair with Justin Verlander atop the rotation. The Tigers also beefed up an already intimidating lineup with the addition of left fielder Justin Upton.
While those two moves made all the headlines, and rightfully so, general manager Al Avila made some solid under-the-radar moves. Mike Pelfrey was added to the rotation to eat innings, while Cameron Maybin was traded for to improve the outlook in center field. What’s more, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Mike Aviles were acquired to bolster the bench.
However, Avila’s finest work came in the bullpen. The head of the Tigers front office added Francisco Rodriguez, Justin Wilson and Mark Lowe, all at the cost of just a few mid-tier prospects.
It is clear that the Tigers will be much improved in 2016. Has the team improved enough to win the American League Central? Potentially. The talent is certainly there, but three things need to happen in order for the team to win the division.
1. The Starting Rotation Needs to Perform
On paper, the Detroit Tigers rotation is solid. Justin Verlander seems to be returning to ace status, while Jordan Zimmermann is a bona fide frontline starting pitcher. Behind those two is Anibal Sanchez, who could be in for a rebound season if he can keep the ball in the yard. After those three there is some uncertainty, but Mike Pelfrey and Shane Greene have both pitched exceptionally well this spring, and should carry that momentum into the season.
New Zimmermann and Pelfrey both suffered from poor defense and high BABIP last season. Both should benefit pitching in front of a defense that includes names like Ian Kinsler, J.D. Martinez, Jose Iglesias, Justin Upton and Anthony Gose.
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Additionally, any concern with Greene should be put to bed. Spring Training obviously isn’t the regular season, but the 27-year-old pitched like he did the first three starts of last season and in his rookie year in New York. In total, the former Yankee threw 19.1 innings of 1.86 ERA ball, striking out 23 batters while only walking four this spring.
If all five starters, plus a smattering of Daniel Norris, Michael Fulmer and Matt Boyd, can perform up to their respective abilities, Detroit will be in great shape.
2. The Bullpen Can’t Fall Apart
The Detroit Tigers have had bullpen issues for a long time—longer than anyone would care to admit. However, the days of the imploding Jose Valverde and Joe Nathan are gone, and a new bullpen has arisen from the ashes of the dreadful 2015 outfit.
Gone are Neftali Feliz, Ian Krol and Tom Gorzelanny, and arrived are Francisco Rodriguez, Justin Wilson and Mark Lowe.
Right off the bat, the closer position is more stable than it has been in years. The man known as K-Rod has transitioned from a flame-throwing closer to one who relies on off-speed offerings and placement. Even at 34-years-old, Rodriguez still has it as evidenced by his 82 saves over the last two seasons.
Fellow additions Justin Wilson and Mark Lowe will provide a dynamic set up duo. Wilson and Lowe both feature fastballs that sit in the mid-90s, not to mention effective off speed pitches. Additionally, Wilson is the rare reliever who can get righties and lefties out while Lowe posted a 1.96 ERA last season. You don’t see too many relievers with sub-2.00 ERAs anymore, but the Tigers have one in Lowe.
The new relievers will push incumbents Blaine Hardy and Alex Wilson into complimentary roles, where the pair should continue to excel. Both were overused last season, and more selective work should benefit the two.
The Tigers simply can’t afford another bullpen collapse. Nathan’s injury at the start of last season was the first domino in a lost year. It forced the relief corps to reshuffle, and the team’s poor depth was exposed. With better depth this season, a repeat collapse probably isn’t in the cards, but Detroit’s bullpen needs to perform nonetheless.
3. Stay Healthy
While pitching issues plagued Detroit in 2015, injuries played just as big of a role. Verlander, Iglesias, Nathan, Sanchez, Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera all missed time last season.
Detroit needs to stay healthy, especially where the star players are concerned. Having full seasons from Verlander, Cabrera and Martinez will go a long ways towards Detroit reclaiming the American League Central crown.
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If the Detroit Tigers can get good starting pitching and effectiveness and stability from the bullpen all while staying healthy, the team can take the division and make the playoffs once again.
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