What else can baseball fans do in January but dream of October? In You May Say I’m a Dreamer, the Outside Corner staff will imagine the route to a World Series in 2012 title for all 30 teams.
Some of these dreamer pieces are easier than others to write, take it from me, I’m the guy who had to conjure up a fantasy world in which the decrepit Houston Astros could win a championship. However, no such flights of fancy are necessary when it comes to the Tigers.
One could argue that there 2011 was a bit of a dream unto itself since it saw Justin Verlander become the first pitcher in almost two decades to take home both the Cy Young and the MVP. But even that stellar season was only good enough to carry Detroit to an ALCS loss. So close, yet so far.
Logic dictates that no matter how good Justin Verlander is in 2012, he’ll have a heck of a time replicating the utter dominance he displayed last year. That would seemingly make a another playoff run less likely for the Motor City Kitties, but, fortunately for the Tigers, nobody bothered to tell the rest of the AL Central. Not to take away from what Detroit did last season, but they ran roughshod over a pretty week division. After an off-season fire sale by the White Sox, almost no movement from the Indians and Twins and the Royals remaining the Royals, that weak AL Central is looking downright flimsy. Let’s be honest here, if the TIgers don’t win the AL Central, it will be one of the biggest upsets of the entire year.
But getting to the playoffs and winning in the playoffs are two entirely different beasts. In order to tame that playoff beast, owner Mike Ilitch orchestrated the signing of the man that created Beast Mode for the Brewers last year, Prince Fielder. Already armed with a lineup that scored the fourth most runs in the American League last year, adding a premier left-handed slugger like Prince stands to push Detroit to the next level, even if he is essentially just stepping into fill the void left by the injured Victor Martinez. V-Mart was great, but Fielder is better and the prospect of having to face a 3-4 heart of the order made up of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder is sure to give opposing pitchers nightmares. It is that kind of one-two punch that can transform a pretty good lineup into a championship-caliber lineup.
Of course, it takes more than a few big bats to win a World Series. If the old adage of “good pitching beats good hitting” holds true, the Tigers could be in some trouble when you look at how their current rotation stacks up against the likes of the Angels, Rangers, Yankees and Red Sox right now. Now if you really want to get in to where the Tigers will have to do some dreaming, it is with their rotation after Verlander. What they may like in consistency, the “other” Detroit starting pitchers make up for in potential. Max Scherzer has spent his young career showing flashes of becoming a lights out power pitcher and for him to reach that ceiling and stay there would be a major boon to their World Series hopes. Similarly, Detroit would love to have Rick Porcello finally make good on his lofty draft status. After years of underachieving, Porcello doesn’t have the same kind of ceiling as Scherzer, but he could at least improve to the point that he doesn’t make Detroit fans’ stomachs churn at the thought of him making a post-season start. Then there is the case of their top prospect and likely nominal fifth starter, Jacob Turner. With his lofty potential, Turner is arguably the biggest X-factor in the Detroit season. Perhaps he could be the one to step up and be the Robin to Verlander’s Batman.
At a minimum, the Tigers have Doug Fister to stabilize the rotation, but he’s going to need a little dream come true of his own to replicate the same kind of success he found after Detroit acquired him mid-season last year. Unlike Verlander, Fister doesn’t miss a lot of bats, meaning he is going to need a fair amount of help from his defense, a defense that now figures to heavily rely on Miguel Cabrera at third base in addition to Prince Fielder at first base, Ryan Raburn at second base and Jhonny Peralta at shortstop. That might be the worst defensive infield in the majors. Actually, I shouldn’t even say “might,” it is the worst defensive infield and by a fairly wide margin, at least on paper. But in a perfect world, the TIgers will be able to improve in the field by either convincing Cabrera and Fielder to just share first base and DH while letting a more capable fielder handle third base and maybe then acquiring a slick fielding second baseman to come in and push Raburn to the outfield where he belongs.
The best part of this little dream is that it doesn’t have to happen over the course of a whole season since the Tigers have that aforementioned free pass to the playoffs. Scherzer, Porcello and Turner don’t need to pitch at a high level from April to October, they just need to get hot for a few weeks in the fall. That’s a dream I think we can all see coming true pretty easily.