I pride myself on my ability to be both a die-hard fan who roots for a team no matter what while also having the ability to take off my fan hat and be objective. Here, and at the various sites to which I contribute, I’ve pegged the Tigers as an 86-87 win team who will take a wild card and fall short of a championship. If you asked me to tell you what I really think is going to happen, that’s the honest truth. But we’re just talking about the most likely scenario. You have to predict the scenario you think is most likely, but lots of other scenarios are plausible. And there’s a plausible scenario in which the Tigers win the series. This is that scenario.
The most important cog in this entire machine is a healthy and successful season from Justin Verlander. He doesn’t have to be superstar Verlander, but the Tigers are an 86 win team (let’s say) with the Verlander I’m expecting. If he is a 4-5 win pitcher instead, that’s a 2-3 win bump right there. It’s probably enough to win the division.
Victor and JD Martinez are also likely to be worse than they were last year, but maybe they did both figure out how to hit like Miguel Cabrera last season. They’re both good hitters, but maybe they’re elite hitters. Another season like that and they Tigers should coast to a division win. Or it could be The Big Year from Cespedes in place of one of these. If Gose and Iglesias hit a little bit and really flash the leather we know they can flash, or Nick breaks out with the bat or learns how to use his glove, this all falls into place.
The Tigers’ main flaw is a lack of depth, so if the critical pieces stay healthy, it’s certainly a team that can win the division. In other words, there isn’t much that has to go right to move them from a borderline playoff team to a sure fire playoff team given the parity in the AL. This is a good team, it’s just a team that could crumble quickly if their base pieces falter. If they don’t, there’s another AL Central crown coming. They only need one significant pitcher and hitter to buck the projections, and as long as no one else takes a dive, October is a safe bet. This isn’t an “if everything breaks right” situation, it’s an “if two things break right” situation, and those are pretty common.
And when they get to October, there isn’t an AL team that can match Price-Sanchez-Good Verlander in terms of 1-2-3 punch unless the White Sox meet them there. The bullpen isn’t very good, but they have lots of guys who throw hard and those guys can have a good two week stretch at any given moment. The defense is better and they should be a little more fundamentally sound, avoiding some silly mistakes of years past. And the middle of the Tigers order can provide some thunder, making them a dangerous postseason team if the bullpen holds up.
So it’s kind of that simple. They need a couple of key over-performances during the regular season and then they need the pen to not melt down in October. They don’t have to be good, they just can’t be a disaster. If those things happen, the Tigers could easily be a World Series team.
Now I recognize the silliness of this exercise. At least 25 teams have a non-laughable path to a title and saying “if some guys play well, the Tigers will be good” is not very insightful. The Tigers’ strength is that they have some high end players and when October comes you can shorten the rotation and the bullpen and the bench. You need your depth at certain moments, sure, but you don’t need the same kinds of contributions. If the Tigers have a major pitching injury, they don’t have much to fill the gap. But if you only need four starters for three weeks, I really like where they stand.
They don’t have a good bullpen, but bullpens are really fickle and they have plenty of guys with enough talent to contribute. I wouldn’t bet on many of them being consistently valuable pieces, but that isn’t what October is about. And as much as people say otherwise, winning in baseball is largely about your ability to get on base and hit dingers. The Tigers can do that really well.
They don’t need everything to go right, they just need a couple of things to go right and they could easily be real title contender. If they get to the ALDS and if there pen isn’t a disaster, it’s a championship capable club.