Justin Verlander takes the hill at Comerica Park Thursday to open the season against the Red Sox (Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE)
It's Opening Day, everyone. A regular day of the year that we've ascribed enough importance to that many of us -- myself included -- become annoyed when others write out "opening day" instead of giving it the proper reverence that only capital letters can convey.
A few teams have already had their Opening Day, but both the Red Sox and Tigers get theirs today, in Detroit. What do the Red Sox have to look forward to in their first series of the year? That's what we're here to tell you.
Two of the game's best go at it in Thursday's contest, with reigning MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander taking on Boston's own ace, Jon Lester. Josh Beckett, recently coming off of a thumb exam in Cleveland that resulted in his not missing this start, takes on Doug Fister, whom the Tigers acquired at last year's trade deadline from the Seattle Mariners. Fister is a groundball hurler with splendid control, and it helps make up for the fact he doesn't miss a ton of bats. He did strike out an above-average 7.3 per nine in his 70 innings with the Tigers last year, though. The third game will feature a battle between two talented pitchers that were disappointing in 2011: Buchholz due to his back injury, and Scherzer due to inconsistent mechanics and a lofty homer rate that resulted in his first-ever below-average season.
While the rotation (and this set of three starters) is fine enough in Detroit, the real strength for the club lies in the offense. They ranked fifth in the majors in True Average in 2011, and while they lost Victor Martinez to injury this year, they added Prince Fielder to the mix to make up for it. Leaving hitter-friendly Miller Park will likely hurt Fielder's numbers a little, but he's got the power to best Comerica. The middle of the Tigers' order features MIguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Alex Avila, Jhonny Peralta, and, depending on which version shows up, Delmon Young. That's a group with the potential to be dangerous, and the rest of the lineup (Brennan Boesch, Austin Jackson, Ryan Raburn, and Ramon Santiago) aren't too shabby, either.
The bullpen has some intriguing arms, but it isn't that deep. Get to the starters early enough, and the Tigers can be out-mashed, as long as Joaquin Benoit isn't the one on the mound. That's only a relative weakness compared to the lineup and rotation, but the Tigers aren't flawless: their defense is going to have some serious questions.
Will that matter, given the powerful lineup and quality rotation? Teams win with softball-caliber defensive schemes if they hit well enough -- the Red Sox won 95 games in 2009 setup like that -- and it's mostly just the infield that's ugly in Detroit. Miguel Cabrera absolutely has the bat to make his third base experiment work, but that doesn't mean he's going to contribute anything with his glove. Prince Fielder is awful at first base, to the point where, when his bat isn't dominant, he's only an average player. What the world thinks of Peralta's glove seems to change by the season, but, like Cabrera, if he's hitting then the Tigers won't be too concerned. Especially given the state of shortstop. It's easy to joke about this club's fielding, but last year's team ranked #18 in the majors in Defensive Efficiency, converting 70.8 percent of balls in play into outs (the median was 71 percent). Cabrera's glove in the infield instead of Brandon Inge's will damage that number, but they aren't likely to be down in the territory normally occupied by the likes of the Pirates or Astros.
Fister and Rick Porcello (who won't be pitching in this series) are the two hurlers who need to worry about the defense behind them the most, given their lower strikeout rates and grounder tendencies. Knowing Verlander, his arm is up to the challenge of getting more outs on his own, and Scherzer has been known to miss a bat or two in his day.
Boston matches up with Detroit in the rotation in this series, and as intimidating as Detroit's lineup is, Boston's is better. Cabrera and Fielder is nice and all, but Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz, and Kevin Youkilis are not only contained within the same plane of existence, but are in the same lineup, all in a row.
Looking for Detroit Tigers coverage this weekend? Bless You Boys has you covered.