When evaluating the team, most of the things shook out exactly the way one would expect – some ups, some downs, some devastating (but predictable) injuries, and a middle of the road club in which many dubbed a “transition” year.
But while the Tigers are in transition this year, it’s the off-season that will truly mark the transition, and if the Tigers hope to make the jump and return to the upper echelon in the American League, there’s A LOT of work to be done.
The Tigers will finish middle of the pack in runs scored, entering Sunday’s game 7th in the AL with 747 runs scored. That’s respectable, but it’s certainly not good enough to claim a division crown, unless you’ve got a dominant pitching staff, which the Tigers most certainly did not.
They’re 11th in the AL in runs allowed, and 12th in ERA, with a 4.31, surpassing only the Orioles and Royals.
In other words, there’s a lot of improvement needed on the mound and at the plate.
But, there’s reason enough to believe the Tigers are in good, or at least better shape when it comes to the pitching staff. Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer provide the Tigers an excellent 1-2 punch atop the rotation, and the hope is that Rick Porcello has overcome his shakiness and will give the Tigers another plus starter (his 4.00 ERA and greater than 3 K:BB ratio in the second half is solid rationale to believe that’s the case).
The back end of the rotation will need to be figured out, but with at least one of Armando Galarraga or Jeremy Bonderman likely to return, plus lefty Phil Coke moving to the rotation and prospect Andrew Oliver, and the potential for a free agent addition, and there’s reason for optimism for the rotation heading into 2011.
But the lineup, oh the lineup. We all know Miguel Cabrera is entrenched at first base, and Austin Jackson has established himself in center after an outstanding rookie year. Beyond that, nobody knows.
Lots of free agents, lots of question marks, lots of internal younger options, but even those have questions marks attached to them.
But, if you want an appropriate measuring stick, take a look at the Minnesota Twins. The Twins have just three players in their everyday lineup with an OPS+ under 100, and two of those are their up the middle duo (both still with OPS+’s over 90), and the third being center fielder Denard Span, who ended up with a BABIP under .300 and will likely be poised for a bounce back year in 2011.
Now, here’s the kicker; almost every key piece of the lineup is 29 or younger.
In other words, the Twins have a potent lineup, and the entire core will be around for the near future.
It means the Tigers are going to have some serious work to do this off-season in improving the lineup, including adding a strong middle of the order bat to complement Cabrera, as well as find some answers elsewhere around the diamond where the Tigers have had so many holes in the lineup.
The season may be coming to a disappointing end, but the real beginning of the next decade is just about to begin.