April 3, 2017
All the experts are wrong; Tigers
will be better than last season
By KEITH GAVE
That draft you’ve been feeling just might be from the window left slightly open by the Ilitch family as winter slowly gives way to spring.
And on Opening Day of the 2017 Major League Baseball season, the only question that matters is this: Can the Tigers pry it open enough to climb through as the team that finally reaches its own self-promise? Or will it slam down on their necks, ending an extended era of relative success but unmet expectations by a perennial star-laden roster?
We’re about to find out. First pitch of the Tigers’ season is at about 4:10 p.m. Monday at Chicago’s Guaranteed Rate Field against the ever-rebuilding White Sox. Justin Verlander was the scheduled starter for Detroit against Jose Quintana.
The Tigers are a scary team on paper – both ways. After finishing with 86 wins in 161 games last year, failing to earn a berth in the post-season on the final weekend of the season. They didn’t play Game No. 162 because it didn’t matter.
This season, they have to make every game matter. The Tigers look like contenders with another power-packed batting order and a pitching rotation led by a rejuvenated Justin Verlander and Rooke of the Year Michael Fulmer. The starting five is rounded out by veteran Jordan Zimmermann and youngsters Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd.
Enigmatic righthander Anibel Sanchez appeared to regain his mojo by adjusting his arm motion, and will start the season anchoring a veteran relief staff that had a good spring and may well be the key to keeping that window open all the way through September.
But this team is also serious flawed with an outfield in flux. The Tigers began spring training in search mode for a centerfielder after trading Cameron Maybin in the off-season. But nobody stepped up to claim the job. The situation got worse when right fielder J.D. Martinez went down with a foot injury that will keep him out the first month of the season.
So manager Brad Ausmus will fill both positions by a committee of Tyler Collins, JaCoby Jones, Andrew Romine and Mikie Mahtook, at least until Martinez gets back.
And that explains why just about every prognosticator and betting house has the Tigers slipping below last year’s 86-win total. Westgate has Detroit’s over-under in wins at 83.5; Vegas Insider has it at 85.5, while Sports Illustrated is in the middle at 84.5. Nobody has the Tigers making the post-season.
But I didn’t get to where I am today making a bunch of great or right decisions. I will happily disagree with the experts and take the over, and 89-90 wins will not surprise me at all. I don’t say that because I’m some slappy fan, but because I feel something different, something special about this team’s leadership, veterans like Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and even Ian Kinsler.
All wrestled with the newfound experience of hearing their names in rampant trade rumors over the winter. All have since been more vocal in addressing the expectations of this team – and an appreciation to the Ilitch ownership family for keeping it together for one final kick at the can. They seem prepared to hold their teammates more accountable – demanding it at the same time they unfailingly lead by example.
But this is an aging ballclub, one susceptible to injuries, which killed its chances last year when guys like Zimmermann, J.D. Martinez, Nick Castellanos and Maybin were gone for long stretches. If that happens again – and having J.D. out for the first month is not a good omen – this team has no chance.
So yeah, the under is arguable the safer pick. But I still prefer the over. There’s a heaping dose of gratitude among these players, and the fans who follow them. Maybe it was Mike Ilitch’s last big decision before he passed: Keep ’em together for one more shot. Let’s see what happens with a team that still has Mr. I’s fingerprints all over it, an angel in the outfield.
It starts today, and we only know one thing for sure: It’ll be fun like a roller-coaster ride, exhilarating at times, scary as hell at others, and always interesting.