Thank you very much to the blog Bless You Boys for suggesting a little pre-game Q&A! By the way, they have a whole series preview (link above), if you would like to check it out. Here are some questions I tossed at them this morning:
1. What was last year like for your fans/blog? I know for Athletics Nation, it was a dream come true; from winning the AL West, to going to the playoffs...basically right up until the A's met Justin Verlander in Game 5. Even after the exit, many fans still said it was the best year of A's baseball they could ever remember. Was it something similar for you last year? Did you consider 2012 a wild success, even with coming thatclose to winning it all?
Expectations are funny. Before the season, most people expected the Tigers to fly through the year and win the AL Central running away despite a roster that had several noticeable flaws before the season began. BYB, and Tigers fans in general, were largely disappointed with the team's play throughout the season. Obviously, the deep playoff run changed all of that, especially heading into this year. While losing in the World Series for a second time under Jim Leyland was a disappointment, most fans (especially those at BYB) considered 2012 to be a successful year.
2. How do you feel about your starting rotation this season (which is very similar to your starting rotation last season)? Obviously you have Verlander and Scherzer, but how great is the dropoff from there?
A lot of fans (myself included) believe that the Tigers have the best rotation in baseball. Verlander and Scherzer have a lot to do with that, but Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister were just as good as those two down the stretch and in the playoffs last season. Fifth starter Rick Porcello scrapped his awful slider during Spring Training, which has many fans optimistic that he will have the breakout season we have been waiting for since his excellent rookie year.
3. How do you feel about the acquisition of Torii Hunter?
While some outsiders think that the Tigers overpaid for Hunter, everyone in the Tigers fanbase is ecstatic to have him terrorizing other teams' pitching staffs after all those years of tormenting the Tigers. Torii has gotten off to a blistering start, hitting .405/.419/.476 in the team's first nine games, and is a big reason why the Tigers have scored first in eight of those nine games. He is a massive upgrade in the 2nd lineup spot, even if he does regress from last year's BABIP-inflated numbers, and in right field.
4. What is the one thing that you feel has to go right this season for the Tigers to repeat their success?
Other than obvious things like keeping Verlander and Cabrera healthy, I think that the bullpen needs to find their footing. The Tigers' pen has gotten off to a shaky start, blowing a save in Minnesota and a five-run lead against the Toronto Blue Jays already this year. A lot of the vitriol thrown at guys like Brayan Villarreal and Phil Coke will blow over once they record a few outs, and they should be fine. This isn't the best bullpen in the league by any means, but they won't be the worst either. Left-handers Drew Smyly and Darin Downs have been solid to start the year, and Joaquin Benoit and Octavio Dotel are veterans who can still bring some heat in the late innings. The wild card is Bruce Rondon, a reliever in the minors who is the Venezuelan version of Ricky Vaughn, pre-glasses. If Rondon can contribute at the major league level this year, the Tigers are in good shape.
5. How does it feel to have a Triple Crown Winner? What do you think about the critics who claim that Mike Trout should have won the MVP over Cabrera?
Having a Triple Crown winner on the roster is incredible, especially because it gives us a chance to appreciate how truly amazing Miguel Cabrera is as a hitter. Torii Hunter recently called him the "best hitter I have ever seen," which is saying something considering the names he has played with in his career. As for the fans that believe Trout should have won the MVP, we (as Tigers fans) know that feeling. A lot of people think Magglio Ordonez was deserving of the MVP in 2007 over Alex Rodriguez, and older BYB readers are still foaming at the mouth over the 1987 MVP vote of George Bell over longtime-Tiger Alan Trammell. Personally, I love the subjectivity of the MVP award, and I'm happy that our guy came out on top last season.