During the course of March, the month in which we’ve been rolling out our Guide to the 2014 Tigers, things haven’t exactly “gone well” or “not sucked” for the Old English D. Dirks, Iglesias, and Rondon have all gone down with significant injuries and the Tigers have fallen closer to the pack in the Central. They’re coming off three straight division wins and three straight trips to the LCS or better, but the 2014 club will likely face a serious challenge to their divisional supremacy, at least that’s what it looks like at this point.
Luckily, the Twins aren’t going to be one of those challengers. They gave the Tigers a hard time in the second half of the aughts, but over the last few seasons they’ve fallen on hard times. They remade their pitching staff with Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes and moved Mauer to first base to help keep him healthy, but they are still quite a bit short of legitimate contention. They have plenty of young talent coming, including consensus #1 prospect Byron Buxton, in the next couple of seasons, but they aren’t a threat in 2014.
Chicago White Sox
The Sox actually made some sharp moves this offseason acquiring Adam Eaton and Matt Davidson for very little, and also signing Jose Abreu out of Cuba to play first base. They pitched well last year, but they simply couldn’t hit as a unit. They should be a little better in that department, but they remain a ways off. It’s not inconceivable that they might make a little noise in the Central, but this isn’t a team about which the Tigers will worry. The Tigers need to make sure they play well against the Twins and White Sox, but they should have to worry about either winning 90 games.
Kansas City Royals
The Royals have a very good bullpen and a very good defense. Fundamentals, am I right? But the Royals couldn’t hit in 2013. Some of that problem will get cleared up by bringing in Omar Infante and Nori Aoki to play everyday, but you still have offensive question marks at short, third, and maybe center field. Put that together with average-ish starting pitching and you have a good team, but not a great one. The Royals are banking on making it to the postseason and if they don’t, there won’t be any way to defend the Myers trade from a year ago.
This is definitely a team within striking distance of the Tigers, and to catch them, they’re going to have to get better production from the left side of their infield and they’ll need at least one starter to step up behind James Shields.
The Indians came just shy of a legitimate playoff appearance in 2013, but certainly made an impression. They’re returning a very similar crop of position players, but their starting pitching is going to look a little bit different without Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir who pitched very well for them last year. Masterson, Salazar, and Kluber aren’t a bad top three, but getting Salazar to leap into the top tier of young pitchers might be asking a bit much. They’ll need him to dominate and they’ll need their bats to maintain last year’s performance in order to really contend. It’s going to take some good fortune for them to overtake the Tigers, but they have a team fully capable of keeping it close all year regardless.
If I had to call it right now, I’d still pick the Tigers to take the division, but it’s much closer than it would have been even a few weeks ago. The Royals and Indians aren’t World Series favorites or anything, but they won’t got quietly. The Tigers will need to get some good bounces or make a couple of adjustments to their roster in order to ensure that they don’t end of fighting for their lives come September.