Of all the spots across the diamond this coming season, the Detroit Tigers might know what to expect most from one position the most: their starting pitchers. It's been the most consistent group on the team for some time, and certainly the reason Detroit has done plenty of winning in the past handful of seasons.
Gone is the stable Doug Fister, but the team hardly replaces him with an unknown commodity. Drew Smyly has starting experience, is a lefty and has major strikeout potential, meaning he could fit in well within the bottom of the order. The top four remain intact, and considering the improvements in defense, all could be on tap for solid seasons.
Here's an inside look at what to expect from the top flight rotation Brad Ausmus inherited when he took the job last November.
1. Justin Verlander. Still the ace, Verlander proved with a sterling postseason why he's still the most feared pitcher in the game. During 2013's regular season, Verlander was only 13-12 and struggled his way through at times. Strikeouts were down (217 as compared to 239 in 2012) and walks were a bit up. At times, Verlander was done in by his inconsistent offense, while looking tired and overworked on the hill. This offseason, he had abdominal surgery, casting his early season in doubt. He did get back together with model girlfriend Kate Upton, which could actually be good news for his production considering the last time they were together, he was coming off a Cy Young and MVP.
- What To Realistically Expect In 2014: Verlander enjoys a nice bounce back season, and looks the part of a dominating top of the order starter again. 17 wins and 240 strikeouts is a decent expectation.
2. Max Scherzer. At 21-3, Scherzer won the American League Cy Young award last season, and didn't taste defeat until July. Unlike Verlander, the offense was half the reason for Scherzer's success. Despite this, Scherzer did enjoy career bests in strikeouts (240), ERA (2.90) and walks (56). His arm was electric and dominating, and he carried Detroit through a season where Verlander wasn't himself. In the postseason, he was just as dominant in relief as he was starting. Though Scherzer didn't sign a long term extension, he will be back for one more year in Detroit looking to dominate near the top of the order.
- What To Realistically Expect In 2014: Scherzer takes a definite step back from his phenomenal 2013, winning around 15 games while keeping his strikeout numbers high and his walks a bit higher. Scherzer goes to free agency, but ends up back with the Tigers when all is said and done.
3. Anibal Sanchez. The third wheel in Detroit's "big three," Sanchez was quietly effective, winning 14 games and establishing a career low ERA (2.57). He flirted with perfection early in the season, and was a strikeout king at times, whiffing 17 batters which broke a long standing Detroit team record. In some cities, Sanchez would be an ace or a number two pitcher, but with the Tigers, he's slotted in the three spot. Though he disappointed a bit in the postseason with a 1-2 record and elevated ERA, Sanchez is still a prime-time pitcher who will be a tough task to face following Verlander and Scherzer.
- What To Realistically Expect In 2014: A season much like 2012 or 2013, where Sanchez often flirted with no-hitters, perfection and high strikeout totals. He'll win between 12-14 games and be a very solid pitcher high in the rotation with power stuff.
4. Rick Porcello. Statistically, Porcello had his best season since 2011, where he went 14-9. He had more strikeouts than ever before, and allowed the least amount of hits since his rookie season. Porcello's ERA remained elevated though, and he's never had an earned run average below 3.00. This is also due in part to the fact that he's a ground ball pitcher and the Tigers' have rarely had a solid defense. This season, that should be different, which could help Porcello quietly have his best season ever in Detroit.
- What To Realistically Expect In 2014: Buoyed by excellent defense, Porcello takes a major step forward, winning 15 games and establishing a career low ERA while raising his strikeouts. He quietly becomes one of the better pitchers in the American League.
5. Drew Smyly. Used mostly in Phil Coke's lefty specialist role in the bullpen, Smyly was a solid contributor, which is probably the reason many are worried about removing him from that comfortable role and placing him back in the starting rotation. Smyly's main advantage, though, is his left-handedness in a very righty heavy staff, which could provide Detroit with a nice change of pace. He lowered his walks while keeping his strikeouts high, and knows how to win. Smyly's previous starting experience could give him a leg up and make the transition seamless.
- What To Realistically Expect In 2014: Smyly comes in and does a decent job as a bottom of the order starter, winning 10 games and keeping the Tigers in most of his starts.
Next, we'll preview what to expect from a remade bullpen, which is rife with change and full of many question marks prior to the 2014 season.
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