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High-end depth makes Tigers a dangerous draw in the postseason

By Mike Axisa | Baseball Writer

The Tigers are bringing nearly unmatched offensive and pitching firepower into October.
The Tigers are bringing nearly unmatched offensive and pitching firepower into October. (USATSI)

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For the third consecutive season, the Tigers are the AL Central champions. They were the preseason favorites after winning the AL pennant last year and they didn't disappoint. Everyone knew Detroit would be a dangerous team in 2013 and they've backed up all the talk and expectations.

The Tigers cruised to the division title thanks to an enviably amount of depth. Detroit has a deep lineup that ranks second in baseball with 788 runs scored and a deep rotation that ranks third in the game with a 3.49 ERA. Here are the top five hitters in manager Jim Leyland's lineup, for example:

2013 Tigers Lineup: Top Five Hitters
PlayersAVG/OBP/SLGHRRBI
CF Austin Jackson.268/.336/.404 (100 OPS+)1146
RF Torii Hunter.300/.332/.465 (113 OPS+)1783
3B Miguel Cabrera.350/.446/.646 (192 OPS+)44137
1B Prince Fielder.283/.364/.46425106
DH Victor Martinez.302/.356/.4281382

Those are just the top five hitters too. In the bottom four lineup spots you'll find a guy hitting .316 (Omar Infante), a catcher with 11 HR (Alex Avila), and arguably the best defensive shortstop in baseball (Jose Iglesias). Heck, even the backup catcher (Brayan Pena) is hitting .300 (.302, to be exact).

At some point next week, the Tigers figure to welcome Jhonny Peralta and his 121 OPS+ back to the lineup as well. He's currently serving a 50-game suspension for his ties to Biogenesis and is working out in left field as the team tries to find a way to keep both his bat and Iglesias' glove on the field. Their already deep lineup is getting that much deeper.

Of course, offense is only half the game. The other half is pitching and defense, and the Tigers will trot out maybe the best four-starter unit of any team in the postseason. Here, look:

2013 Tigers Rotation: Top Four Starters
PlayerERAWHIPK/9
RHP Max Scherzer2.90 (138 ERA+)0.9710.0
RHP Justin Verlander3.56 (117 ERA+)1.338.8
RHP Anibal Sanchez2.64 (158 ERA+)1.189.9
RHP Doug Fister3.71 (112 ERA+)1.316.8

Who's the weak spot? Fister? He's got a 3.23 ERA in his last 13 starts. Verlander? He won the AL MVP and Cy Young Award just two years ago and struck out a dozen batters in his last start. If there is a weakness, it's the fact that all four starters are right-handers. It would be nice to have at least one lefty mixed in there, but we aren't talking about four push-overs right here. Those four guys can all handle left-handed batters with aplomb.

 
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