Douglas Benton. 21st February, 2006 - 12:15 am
Just three years ago, the Tigers were the laughing stock of Major League Baseball, as they went 43-119, but they were in a tight race down the stretch. Too bad this race was for the worst record in the history of Major League Baseball. Still, the 2006 Tigers will now look to creep over mediocrity and make a push at respectable playoff contender.
With the Tigers at a pivotal point in their rebuilding project, they have turned to a veteran to lead them in Jim Leyland. Leyland was last seen managing the torn apart Marlins after their World Series run and now he will look to be the man to push the Tigers to the next level. He has already assembled a quality staff that includes Lloyd McClendon as the bullpen coach and Gene Lamont as the third base coach. To go along with these two quality coaches, the rest of the staff is quickly becoming little Pittsburgh, a previous stop for Leyland.
However, it doesn?t matter how great your staff is if you don?t have to right players in the field. In Detroit, the players are there for Leyland to mold, even though they might be on the inexperienced side. Some that aren?t inexperienced is team leader Ivan Rodriguez, who does a really good job of handling a young pitching staff and is still a force with the bat. Magglio Ordonez also adds some punch in the middle of the line-up if he can stay healthy for an entire season. At the backend of the bullpen, the Tigers added solid veterans in Todd Jones and Troy Percival, who should be able to add some wins because of his steady hand in the ninth.
Still, the Tigers? fate this year will hedge on how fast their young players can reach their peak level. The pitching staff is filled with youth, especially in the starting rotation. Jeremy Bonderman is already a proven starter, but fellow starter Justin Verlander is the wild card. He has vast potential and could be one of the biggest surprises in baseball this year. Throw in Roman Colon, a young, hard throwing reliever, and the Tigers are looking strong with their pitching.
In the line-up, they are solid with mostly veterans, but two players really stand out as key figures for the Tigers this season. Shortstop Carlos Guillen is already an upper-echelon shortstop, who is about to grow even more as a player. In the outfield, Curtis Granderson is a superstar prospect who showed flashes of his potential last season. If he can parlay it into a full season, he will instantly make the Tigers a better offensive team.
As you can see, this is a talented team with room to grow through the summer months. This is why the hiring of Leyland is such a good move because an old vet when it comes to managing will make sure this team won?t lose games due to poor managerial decisions. This allows the players to stop worrying about the managing and just focus on the game at hand. They won?t overtake the White Sox for the division, but will be heard in the wild card race, even though they probably won?t win that race either.