Posted on March 26, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Detroit Tigers are in the early stages of a massive rebuilding effort after trading away most of their prominent players over the past year. That leaves little hope of the Tigers making any noise in 2018. So, just how bad will the Tigers be this season?
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The Tigers had one of the worst starting rotations in baseball last year, and that was with 28 starts from Justin Verlander. Without Verlander, it could be difficult for Detroit to make positive strides forward. A lot could depend on the health of de facto ace Michael Fulmer, who took home Rookie of the Year honors in 2016 but was slowed by elbow trouble last year.
The Tigers also need veterans Jordan Zimmermann, Francisco Liriano, and Mike Fiers to pitch well if they’re going to have a respectable record in 2018. Unfortunately, Zimmermann had a career-worst 6.08 ERA last year while Liriano posted a 5.88 ERA in 18 starts with the Blue Jays before he was traded and moved to the bullpen. Fiers was beyond dreadful in August and September after an otherwise solid year with the Astros. If those three can’t bounce back, Detroit’s rotation could be in trouble.
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Meanwhile, the Tigers are still waiting for Daniel Norris and Matthew Boyd to emerge as reliable big league starters. Norris showed flashes of his potential in 2015 and 2016, but he couldn’t keep it going last year. Boyd was serviceable in 2016 but well below-average in most of his 25 starts last season. The silver lining is that the Tigers have a lot of promising pitchers in the pipeline. But most of them are at least a year away from reaching the majors.
Detroit’s bullpen wasn’t much better than the team’s rotation last season, and it could take some time before we see any real improvement there. Shane Greene proved to be a viable closer late last season and should continue in that role in 2018. Alex Wilson and Daniel Stumpf should also be reliable setup men. But the Tigers aren’t sure what they’ll be getting from almost every other member of their bullpen this season.
Pitchers like Blaine Hardy, Buck Farmer, and Drew VerHagen have some experience, but they haven’t exactly established themselves as consistent major league pitchers. The Tigers also have high hopes for Joe Jimenez, who has been virtually un-hittable in the minors the past few years. However, he got hit hard in August and September last year, so it’s too soon to assume that he’ll eventually grow into a prominent role in Detroit’s bullpen.
At first glance, Detroit’s lineup could have quite a few holes this season. The good news is that Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez are still around to anchor the lineup. However, Cabrera saw a huge drop-off in his numbers last season, as he began to struggle with injuries. Martinez, meanwhile, is 39 years old, posted subpar numbers last season, and had two DL stints because of an irregular heartbeat.
If Cabrera and Martinez continue to decline, it will put a lot of pressure on Nick Castellanos and James McCann to carry Detroit’s lineup. Both can be good in complementary roles, but neither may be capable of carrying a lineup. Young third baseman Jaime Candelario may be called upon to become a regular contributor in what will be his first full season in the big leagues.
For the most part, the Tigers will be just hoping that a few of their ancillary players can provide more production than expected. Mikie Mahtook is coming off a productive season in 2017 but is far from a guarantee to replicate his .787 OPS. Leonys Martin will get another chance after hitting just .172 last season. The Tigers also aren’t sure what they’ll get offensively from the middle infield duo of Dixon Machado and Jose Iglesias.
The Tigers won just 64 games last year, and that was with Verlander, Justin Upton, and Ian Kinsler with the team for most of the season. Detroit’s roster is arguably worse than it was at the end of last season, which is a bad sign. Look for the Tigers to finish 56-106 this season, making them the worst team in baseball. Even if veterans like Cabrera, Martinez, and Zimmermann get back on track after a rough 2017 season, it’ll be tough for the Tigers to avoid losing 100 games in 2018.