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The 5-2 loss to the Red Sox in Game 6 of the ALCS on Saturday ended the 2013 season of the Detroit Tigers. And so the time has now come to eulogize their accomplishments, their failures, their efforts. Let us do that now with the proper sense of ceremony …
What went right
The 2013 Tigers won what turned out to be a tougher-than-expected AL Central for the third straight season. Miguel Cabrera will almost certainly be named AL MVP, Max Scherzer will almost certainly win the AL Cy Young, and Anibal Sanchez claimed the AL ERA title. In related matters, the Tigers ranked second in the AL in runs scored and boasted the best rotation in all of baseball.
Elsewhere, Detroit got generally good production from the middle infield, and Torii Hunter at age 37 avoided a drop in his numbers. Victor Martinez soared in the second half. While the bullpen as a whole wasn't impressive, Jim Leyland did have at his disposal a pair of highly useful relievers: Drew Smyly from the left side (2.37 ERA in 76 innings) and Joaquin Benoit from the right side (2.01 ERA in 67 innings).
Justin Verlander didn't pitch quite up to his usual lofty standards for much of the season, but after making a mechanical adjustment in August he ended 2013 on a roll (2.27 ERA and 4.8 K/BB ratio in September and a dominant run in the postseason). The deadline addition of slick-fielding Jose Iglesias, age 23, figures to stabilize the shortstop position for years to come.
What went wrong
The team defense was again a serious liability, which is the cost of doing business when Cabrera and Prince Fielder are holding down both ends of the infield. Fielder's bat showed signs of decline, as he posted an OPS+ that was 24 points below his pre-2013 career mark of 144. As mentioned above, the bullpen outside of Smyly and Benoit largely struggled, as the Detroit relief corps ranked 12th in the AL in bullpen ERA (4.01) and 10th in WAR.
MVP: Cabrera, of course. He paced the majors in average, OBP, slugging and OPS+. He hit 44 home runs, tallied 353 total bases, reached base 288 times and totaled 71 extra-base hits. A run of nagging injuries sapped his power down the stretch, but even when he was otherwise struggling Cabrera managed to put up an OBP of .395 in September. Cabrera's base-running and fielding leave much to be desired, but he remains, when healthy, the best pure hitter in baseball.
LVP: The left fielders. Left field, of course, is typically a slugger's position, but in 2013 Detroit left fielders -- primarily Andy Dirks and Matt Tuiasosopo -- combined to hit just .259/.325/.383. That's not acceptable production from such a non-premium position.
Gameplan heading into the offseason
Add bullpen depth (and consider re-upping with Benoit, provided the terms are reasonable). Prepare to give top prospect Nick Castellanos a starting job in the outfield. There's a vacancy at second base, assuming Infante walks, and might the ever-bold Dave Dombrowski and the free-spending Mike Ilitch target top free agent Robinson Cano? Eh, probably not. In the absence of a blockbuster trade (our own Danny Knobler reported that it's possible), it's also time to start exploring a contract extension for Scherzer, who's eligible for free agency following the 2014 season.
Ridiculously premature prediction for 2014
A fourth straight AL Central crown, but someone besides Cabrera wins the AL MVP. Verlander and Scherzer finish in the top five in the AL Cy Young balloting.