For the most part, Detroit Tigers fans have been hard to please since the team’s turnaround after the 2005 season. After finishing at the bottom of the standings in the AL Central for more than a decade, Jim Leyland took over the team in 2006 and made the Tigers a legitimate threat in the division, giving them their s first winning season since 1997. After making it to the World Series and losing the Series 4-1 to the St. Louis Cardinals, optimistic fans looked forward to the potential of the Tigers for the next few seasons.
For what its worth, Leyland did a heck of a job turning the organization around. Yes, it helped that management went on a spending spree, but for the most part, Leyland’s tough love style of baseball and attitude were exactly what the doctor ordered. However, his headstrong ways also led fans to sometimes question his methods. During his eight seasons as manager, a big issue fans had with Leyland was his inability to play small ball. It seemed that a couple games a year would be lost because of the Tigers’ lack of being able to manufacture runs in tight games.
If there is one thing to look forward to in 2014, it will be that the Tigers will finally have the pieces to produce runs in close games. With the additions of Rajai Davis and Ian Kinsler, the Tigers will have a little more speed in the lineup, aside from Austin Jackson and an aging Torii Hunter. Speed on the base paths is one thing; having the right coaching to take advantage of it is another story, and the Tigers finally have a staff to help them to do so.
First year manager Brad Ausmus is no stranger to small ball. While he has been quoted as saying he is a fan of winning games because of the “big inning,” Ausmus is also aware of what his lineup can produce. With the departure of Prince Fielder, Ausmus will look to depend on more steals and movement between the lines, something the Tigers haven’t been able to do in recent years. Here’s some food for thought — last season, the Tigers were dead last in the majors with 35 total stolen bases. Davis alone had 45.
To help with their bunting, the Tigers added first base coach and future Hall of Fame player Omar Vizquel to the coaching staff this past November. After 24 seasons in the majors, Vizquel knows a little something about playing small ball and base running. His duties will include coaching base running skills and timing players on their way around the diamond. Vizquel will also be working with the players throughout Spring Training on their bunting, although I’m sure Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez won’t be focusing on it too much.