Fueled by an offensive outburst from veteran Torii Hunter that featured a home run and five RBI’s, the Detroit Tigers withstood a late rally from the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday to earn a 7-6 victory over the visitors, and with the win, are now baseball’s only undefeated club at 4-0.
After a 93-69 finish led to a third consecutive American League Central crown a year ago, the Tigers began the regular season minus a few key faces that had played a major role in the franchise’s recent run of success.
To begin with, first baseman Prince Fielder, who also happens to be the son of former Detroit-baseball great Cecil, was sent to the Texas Rangers in exchange for second baseman Ian Kinsler last November. While hurler Doug Fister was traded to the Washington Nationals for a trio of less noteworthy additions including pitchers Robbie Ray and Ian Kroll in December of 2013.
If that wasn’t enough to disrupt a franchise that has been a serious World Series contender in each of the past three years, the departure of veterans Omar Infante to the Kansas City Royals, and shortstop Jhonny Peralta to the St. Louis Cardinals stripped Detroit of two of the team’s most experienced leaders.
Aside from the arrival of Kinsler, shortstop Alex Gozalez, outfielder Rajai Davis, reliever Joba Chamberlain, and closer Joe Nathan also joined the club during the off-season, while both starting pitcher Drew Smyly and third baseman Nick Castellanos have been given increased roles in an attempt to replace Fister and Fielder.
When added to the semi-retirement of Manager Jim Leyland who stepped down at the end of 2013, it’s easy to understand why veteran leadership is likely to be a valuable asset in Detroit over the next seven months.
Brought in as Leyland’s replacement, rookie skipper Brad Ausmus was signed to a three-year deal in early November, but wasn’t the only adjustment to a coaching staff that underwent numerous changes including the addition of hitting coach Wally Joyner who took over for Lloyd McClendon after he agreed to become the new manager of the Seattle Mariners.
But with the main core of Tigers still intact, Detroit began the season projected to continue their run at the top of the Central, not at all out of the question with former Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, ace Justin Verlander, and reigning Cy Young Award-winner Max Scherzer still proud to play for the Motor City.
Over the past few seasons however, winning the division hasn’t exactly translated into a World Series win for the Tigers, and at the beginning of 2014, Detroit still hadn’t tasted success in October since defeating the San Diego Padres in six games to clinch the 1984 fall classic.
Other than their run at a championship in 2012 in which they were swept by the San Francisco Giants after sending the New York Yankees home in exactly the same manner, an equally unsuccessful appearance in the 2006 World Series represents the franchise’s only opportunity to win a title in almost 30 years.
But with Cabrera locked up for the better part of the next decade, there’s a strong possibility that any vacancies further down the line will be filled through big-name free agents that are attracted to a winning environment and a core group of perennial all-stars.
For now, the Tigers have their collective eyes focused on a return to the World Series, and judging by what little we’ve seen so far, nobody will want to play this team come September.