Tigers camp report: Likes, dislikes

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider

LAKELAND, Fla. -- What I like, and don't like, about the Tigers:

Things I like:

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Have you seen the top of the Tigers lineup? Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez. There are other good lineups in the major leagues, but is there anyone close to as good 1-5?

Have you seen the top of the Tigers rotation? Justin Verlander, with Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez behind him. Verlander and Scherzer were 1-2 in the major leagues in strikeouts in 2012. And in the 13 games the Tigers played in the postseason, the only starting pitcher to give up more than three runs in a game was ... Verlander? Yes, it was Verlander, in Game 1 of the World Series.

Manager Jim Leyland took some criticism last summer, when the Tigers were underachieving. But Leyland eventually took the Tigers into October, and maneuvered them through October, at least until they ran into the Giants (and had a week off before the World Series began). In seven years with the Tigers, Leyland has been to the ALCS three times, and to the World Series twice. With a team that?s supposed to win, Leyland is the right guy to manage.

Eight years ago, the Tigers couldn't draw 2 million in a season. Last year, they topped 3 million. The fans have helped make Comerica Park a fun place to be, and they've helped make Detroit a favored destination for players.

The rise in attendance coincided with owner Mike Ilitch's increased commitment to his baseball team. Ilitch has spent big money building this team, and there's every reason to believe he'll be willing to spend more. One big thing to like about the Tigers: If they need help in July, they'll have the money to go get it.

Things I don't like:

Rookie Bruce Rondon might turn into a top closer, but that still doesn't make it any easier to understand how a team with the payroll and expectations of the Tigers went into spring training with no good backup plan. No one else in the bullpen profiles as a full-time closer, so if Rondon can't handle it, Leyland will likely mix and match. And he doesn't want to mix and match.

Adding Torii Hunter will help the Tigers' defense, at least in the outfield. But the infield defense is still sub-par. Turning double plays isn't easy for this team, which isn't as much of a problem when Verlander and Scherzer are striking everyone out, but will be with other pitchers.

The Tigers went to spring training with six starting pitchers, and by the end of spring they liked all six. But few teams get through a season with just six starters, and the dropoff after those six appears right now to be huge. The issue would be even more acute if the Tigers trade Rick Porcello, which remains a possibility (although at this point, it's probably not likely).

The Tigers may be great, but the expectations in Detroit (and even in the Detroit clubhouse) are greater. The Tigers have put themselves in the position where even just making it to the playoffs won't be good enough. It's good to be in that position -- as long as you win.

 
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