Tigers Look to Rebound After Disappointing Finish in 2009

Tigers Look to Rebound After Disappointing Finish in 2009 As we count down the days until Opening Day, it is time to look at each of the teams on the Red Sox' 2010 schedule. Our seventh installment sizes up the Detroit Tigers. 

2009 record: 86-77, second in AL Central

Manager: Jim Leyland

Key additions:
OF Johnny Damon, SP Max Scherzer, RP Jose Valverde, OF Austin Jackson, RP Phil Coke, RP Daniel Schlereth

Key losses: OF Curtis Granderson, 2B Placido Polanco, SP Edwin Jackson, SP Jarrod Washburn, RP Brandon Lyon, RP Fernando Rodney

Outlook: The 2009 Tigers did plenty to lift the spirits of a moribund city by holding down first place in the AL Central throughout the summer. Once fall hit, they managed to break that city’s heart.

By blowing a seven-game lead over the final month of the season (they were up three games with four to play) and bowing out in a one-game playoff in Minnesota, Detroit’s bid for its first division crown since 1987 fell by the wayside.

In order to put the past behind them, the Tigers underwent a massive overhaul this offseason. They said goodbye to linchpins Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco, as well as All-Star pitcher Edwin Jackson. They added a new closer in Jose Valverde. And in from New York came a pair of former Yankees who will patrol the outfield in cavernous Comerica Park.

But concerns persist for manager Jim Leyland, most notably in his search for someone, anyone, to round out the starting rotation.

"It’s going to be a tough spring," Leyland recently told reporters. "But we all know it. There’s nowhere to hide. There’s nowhere to duck it. So let’s see how they all look."

"They" are a group of pitchers vying to fill in after the trio of Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer, who was acquired from Arizona. The group includes Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis, Nate Robertson, Armando Gallaraga, Phil Coke and Eddie Bonine.

If two can emerge and stay healthy, then the rotation could be solid, but the question marks surrounding those back-end candidates are big ones.

So, too, is the one which surrounds an offense that has fallen off dramatically since 2007, when the Tigers ranked second in the AL in runs scored. In fact, the 2009 lineup produced the fewest runs since the franchise’s dismal 2003 edition, a 43-119 unit which nobody wants to be compared to.

The 2010 version should be a bit better. Right fielder Magglio Ordonez is looking to build off a scorching second half last year. First baseman Miguel Cabrera is hoping offseason treatments will curb his off-field issues. And designated hitter Carlos Guillen is healthy after missing half of 2009.

That is the heart of the order, a trio expected to hit in spots three through five after newly signed Johnny Damon. The leadoff spot remains in question. One scenario has former Yankees prospect Austin Jackson at the top of the order, followed by Damon. Another sees rookie second baseman Scott Sizemore batting second, with Damon leading off.

These are some of the matters which need a spring to be determined. A spring which Leyland himself said will be "tough." Maybe so, but it can’t get much worse than it did in the fall.

What it means to the Red Sox:
Will Damon get booed when he comes to Fenway in a Tigers uniform? We won’t know until the end of July, when Detroit comes to town for a three-game set. It’ll be Damon’s first foray into the Fens as member of someone other than the Red Sox or Yankees since May 13, 2001.

Prior to that series, the teams meet in Detroit in May. That’s when we might see Kevin Youkilis step in against Porcello for the first time since their mid-August brouhaha.

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