The Tigers are heading into camp and it's time to be optimistic about the upcoming campaign. Sure, the Kitties were a mess last season, but that's the past. I'm not here to talk about the past. We're coming here with hope for 2009. Can the Tigers return to the postseason? Yes we can.
There are plenty of reasons to think the Tigers can rebound from last year's 74-88 season. First, if Detroit can stay a little bit healthy, it will go a long way. The starting rotation could be better if Justin Verlander regains his Cy Young-type form, if Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson bounce back from injuries, if Edwin Jackson improves on the form he displayed in Tampa, and if Armando Galarraga duplicates his solid rookie year. Then, there's Dontrelle Willis, who could become a functional big leaguer again, and Zach Miner, who adds some depth. Rick Porcello waits in the wings.
The back of the bullpen could be outstanding if Joel Zumaya is healthy and Fernando Rodney pitches to his stuff and Brandon Lyon finds consistency.
Offensively, Miguel Cabrera could be poised for a monster season now that he's got a year in the AL under his belt. He ended 2008 on a tear. A healthy Gary Sheffield would up the ante, as would having Curtis Granderson for a full season. If Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen and Placido Polanco produce at their usual levels, the offense could resemble the feared lineup everyone expected last year.
Even more importantly, the defense should be much better. Cabrera should be more comfortable at first. The return of Brandon Inge to third and addition of Adam Everett at short could alone, if you believe some of Fangraphs defensive metrics, save the Tigers 50 to 80 runs over 150 games compared to last season.
Sure, there are a lot of "ifs" but they're not ridiculous. If some of the ifs come through, the Tigers will be contenders. If most or all come through, they will be a force.