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Detroit Tigers poised for season opener

By KRISTIAN CAMPBELL, Staff Writer

The Detroit Tigers have a stacked lineup this year led by all-star power hitters Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. They also have a few good pitchers led by the reigning AL CyYoung and AL MVP winner Justin Verlander.

But what can fans expect as the Tigers head toward their season home opener April 5 against the Boston Red Sox? Things are looking good after a strong spring training, but let’s go through each position and see if there are any holes in this intimidating lineup.

Pitcher

The Tigers are led by Justin Verlander, all-star, Cy Young, MVP, etc.  The awards list for him goes on and on. But what makes him great?  How about the fact that he can throw a 100 mph fastball in the 9th. He won the AL Triple Crown last year leading in wins, ERA, and strikeouts. But we all know about his talent. What about his backups?

Doug Fister will probably be the number two guy. Fister was acquired from the Seattle Mariners last season via trade. He went 3-12 with an ERA of 3.33 for the Mariners, and then went 8-1 with an ERA of 1.79.  He’s a solid pitcher who had no run support in Seattle. I think he has the potential to win 20 games this year.

But the rest of the rotation has been very inconsistent the past few seasons. Rick Porcello was supposed to be the number two guy but he can’t stay consistent enough for him to back Verlander. Max Scherzer was brought in to back Verlander but he’s battled consistency issues as well.

No discussion of Tigers pitching would be complete without the mention of closer Jose Valverde, who came up huge last season. The right-hander recorded 49 saves, 69 strikeouts and a 2.24 ERA.

Catcher

Alex Avila was voted to the All-Star game for the first time last season with an average of .295, 82 RBI’s, and 19 homeruns.  He’s a good solid defensive catcher as well. The Tigers also brought back Gerald Laird, who used to start in front of Avila, now he’s his backup. The Tigers will be missing Victor Martinez this year though. He was a crucial part of the lineup last year after batting .330, hitting 20 homeruns and bringing home 103 runs.

First Base

Arguably the biggest free agent signing this summer, the Tigers landed Prince Fielder. He’s hit more than 32 homeruns in each of his last 5 seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers. He’s also been consistently in the NL MVP conversation. If Fielder were to go down with an injury, Miguel Cabrera could easily take his old position back and fill in until Fielder was healthy again.

Second Base

Look for Ryan Rayburn to be the regular starter here. Rayburn has normally been the utility guy, able to play nearly any position asked of him. Also look for Brandon Inge and Ramon Santiago to get a little playing time.

Shortstop

Jhonny Peralta will be the starter here. Peralta had his best batting season last season since 2005. Peralta, who spent most of his career with the Cleveland Indians, was brought in midway through the 2010 season. Also Santiago will likely get some playing time at this position as well.

Third Base

Miguel Cabrera moved from first base back to his old position, which he played when he was with the Florida Marlins, now that the Tigers brought in Prince Fielder. Cabrera has slimmed down this offseason, and should be recovered from his eye injury. He has been in the mix for the AL MVP for the past couple of seasons, but with Prince on his team, Cabrera’s number could definitely go up.  Look for Brandon Inge to get limited playing time here. Inge doesn’t have the bat that Miguel does, but Inge is a great fielder.

The Outfield

The outfield will be manned by Delmon Young in left, Austin Jackson in center, and Brennan Boesch over in right. Young was brought in from the Minnesota Twins; he was the first overall draft pick for the Tampa Bay Rays. Young has batted .288 for his career, isn’t known as a real power hitter, but in his 40 games with the Tigers last year, he hit eight homers in 40 games compared to four homers in 84 games with the Twins.

Austin Jackson came to the Tigers in the Curtis Granderson trade with the New York Yankees. He’s a solid fielder who is expected to show the batting strength that he displayed in his first season, when he hit.293; he only swung for .249 last year. If he does, look for the Tigers to have even more success as he will be their lead-off hitter.

Brennan Boesch will be batting second for the Tigers this season. He’s a great batter who can come up with clutch hits. He’s entering his third season this year and his stats have gotten better in nearly every category since his first year. Look for him to be a major contributor this year as well.

This season’s success?

Unless they fall apart or are riddled with injuries, look for the Tigers to win 100+ games and make it to the World Series. It’ll be very hard for teams to out bat the Tigers, especially in a best-of-seven series.

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