Our Comeback Candidates series continues with another installment via the American League Central, with the Detroit Tigers looking to rebound from a dismal 2015 campaign. The forecast still looks pretty sunny for the Motowners, with a stacked lineup and rotation with plenty of star-power. Detroit’s core that led it to four straight division titles from 2011-14 is still in place, even if it’s starting to show some wear and tear from age.
The Tigers finished 74-87 despite beginning the season on fire at 11-2. Injuries began to mount, and ultimately the team began to lose steam late in the year and fade away with merely a whimper. The Tigers’ five highest-paid players in 2016 will all be 32 or older, so the window — if it’s still open at all — is closing in a hurry. But this team still possesses some of the game’s top players, and arguably the best hitter in baseball in Miguel Cabrera. The Tigers retooled their farm system by trading starter David Price and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, deals that could pay dividends as early as this coming season.
Reasons for Hope
Injuries and lackluster performance from star players led to the Tigers’ demise in 2016. Justin Verlander rebounded nicely after his first career disabled list stint, and Cabrera was limited to just 119 games. Victor Martinez and Jose Iglesias played in only 120 games each. Anibal Sanchez had shoulder problems that forced his ERA to skyrocket, but when healthy he is a dominant force. Factor in Jordan Zimmermann to the rotation and Justin Upton to a loaded lineup that also features Ian Kinsler at the top and J.D. Martinez, one of the game’s truly underrated players, and Detroit could contend for the division crown in 2016. If nothing else, the Tigers should score plenty of runs and be able to turn leads over to their bullpen. Of course…
Reasons for Doubt
About that bullpen… it was bad during the Tigers’ good years and got even worse last year. Detroit’s relief corps ranked 27th in baseball with a 4.38 ERA and dead-last with a .271 batting average against. The trade of closer Joakim Soria stripped Detroit of its only dependable reliever, but the team is hoping for improved production after bringing in veterans Francisco Rodriguez and Mark Lowe. “K-Rod” should at least begin 2016 as the closer and is still solid despite being 34 years old.
Will they or won’t they?
Don’t expect Kansas City to be a flash in the pan (many sang that tune last year and look how it turned out), and Cleveland also should push for top status in the AL Central. Still, the Tigers are just one season removed from a fourth-straight division title and two seasons removed from a run of three straight ALCS appearances. With plenty of veteran stars, including a few likely to rebound from disappointing years, the odds seem to be in the Tigers’ favor of returning to October baseball.