Hard as it is to believe, the 2011 MLB season comes to an end this week. Tonight, the Cleveland Indians start their final series of the season: a three-game set in Detroit.
A couple months ago, it seemed as though this series might end up deciding the AL Central. The Tigers (92-67, 12 GA), however, ended up running away with the division title, thanks largely to their dominance of the Indians down the stretch; the Tribe enters Monday 6-9 against Detroit in the season series, including seven consecutive losses.
As the Indians’ season comes to a close and the Tigers fight for home field advantage in the playoffs, I talked once again to Tigers expert, MotorCityBengals.com‘s John Parent, about Detroit’s offseason plans, the Tigers’ postseason chances, and who he’s afraid of facing in the playoffs.
Here’s what he had to say:
LEWIE POLLIS: Well, the Tigers won the division in a landslide. Before the season, were you expecting the team to do this well? What were the biggest reasons for Detroit’s success that don’t rhyme with “Vustin Jerlander”?
JOHN PARENT: Before the season began, I had picked the Tigers to miss the playoffs but finish with 88 wins (I had Chicago at 90). I would love to tell you that I foresaw Justin Verlander doing what he did this year, but though I counted him among the best in the league, I didn’t see this season coming. Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez have been tremendous, but those two were expected to be. The biggest reasons for Detroit’s success, in my mind, have been the play of Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila.
Peralta made his first all-star team this year and will likely end the year with his first ever .300 season. His power has returned again and he’s played much better defense at short than anyone would have expected (especially Tribe fans). Avila was a huge question mark coming in and most figured that he would eventually lose his everyday job to Martinez. All he’s done is be the best offensive catcher in baseball this year and displayed better than average play behind the dish as well.
LEWIE POLLIS: Getting to the playoffs is one thing, but winning once you’re there is quite another. In series this short luck plays a big role, but some teams are better-equipped for the postseason than others. Are the Tigers built to go deep into the postseason? What’re the odds Detroit takes home the title?
JOHN PARENT: The Tigers have enough offense to out-slug most teams they play. Once you get to October, however, runs are tougher to come by. Anytime you can throw Justin Verlander out there twice in a short series, you have to like your chances. Doug Fister has been a revelation since coming to Detroit as well and he’s ability to slide into the second spot will take some pressure off of Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello, as both of them will now slot in against the opposing three and four starters as well. If the Tigers take the lead to the late innings, they are a perfect 81-0 when leading after eight this year. Jose Valverde has been light-out in the ninth all year long and Joaquin Benoit and Phil Coke have more than held their own in set-up roles. The Tigers can go deep into the postseason, and they can do so because their pitching staff is capable of leading the way.
LEWIE POLLIS: The Tigers are just one game behind the Rangers for the No. 2 seed in the AL, so theoretically they could play anyone in the first round—New York, Texas, Boston, Tampa Bay, and Los Angeles are all possibilities. Who do you think the Tigers match up best against? Who would you be most afraid of in a five-game series?
JOHN PARENT: Detroit hasn’t played the Yankees or the Red Sox since very early in the season, so I’m not sure how much stock to put into the regular season matchups with either of those two teams. The way the Red Sox have been going, you’d almost have to want to play them right now ahead of the other clubs, but honestly, I like the matchup with the Yankees better. If the Tigers don’t wind up as the two-seed, they’d open in New York and Verlander taking the ball in game one could be a table-setter. CC Sabathia has faced the Tigers an awful lot in his career and hasn’t pitched as well against them lately as he did early on. A big part of that, obviously, is that the Tigers have been a much better team in recent seasons than they were when CC was younger. You’d have to assume that Verlander would be favored in that matchup and I’ll take Detroit’s next three starters over their Yankee counterparts as well. I know New York can rake, but the Tigers have some pretty good hitters as well, and they knocked out the Yankees in the ALDS in 2006, so there is some history there also.
LEWIE POLLIS: What’s the haps for Detroit this winter? Are there any players you’d like to see the team target?
JOHN PARENT: Wow. To be honest, I haven’t spent a ton of time thinking about 2012 as of yet. I figure they’ll allow Brad Penny to walk and give Jacob Turner every chance to win the fifth spot next year. In all likelihood, Wilson Betemit and Delmon Young will also be brought back. The only major question is whether or not the Tigers will pick up the option on Valverde. As good as he’s been, I have trouble thinking they won’t. In truth, I could see this team largely staying intact for next year, but they’ll add a complimentary piece or two to replace Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen.
LEWIE POLLIS: We’ve already seen Detroit’s probable starters (Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello) a combined 12 times this year, so we don’t need scouting reports on them. Instead, tell us about some of exciting young players or prospects whose names Tribe fans will need to know in the next few years.
JOHN PARENT: Turner is the first name you’ll need to know. You won’t see him in this series, but Tribe fans will have plenty of time to grow to hate him over the next several years. Some have him projected as a number one starter down the line and at just 20 years old, he’s made three starts in the majors this year. He’ll get a shot to crack the rotation out of camp next year and even if he only becomes a solid number two, the Tigers will be thrilled to line him up behind Verlander and ahead of Fister for the next few years.
I’d like to tell you there is a pipeline of talent on the way from the minor leagues, but most of the bigger names are at least a couple years away. Nick Castellanos is a stud hitter, but at just 19 years old, it will be awhile on him. They do have some power arms that are ready to contribute more quickly, but you’ll likely see those guys in relief roles.
LEWIE POLLIS: What’s your prediction for the series?
JOHN PARENT: With the Tigers fighting for home field in the playoffs, I expect they’ll do everything they can to win each game in this series. At the same time, Jim Leyland will be sure to get his big boys some rest before Friday. With Fister, Scherzer, and Porcello going in this series, the Tigers should be in every game and I like the moxie they’ve shown in coming from behind late in games. As much as I hate to predict a sweep in any scenario, Cleveland has nothing to pay for and the Tigers are motivated to claim the two-seed. I’ll take the Tigers in all three games this week.