WHO HOLDS THE KEYS TO THE KINGDOM?

By: Holly Horning

So now it’s my turn to name the five Tigers who need to step up their game significantly this year if the team is to see October baseball. And, in typical fashion, I’ve interpreted this differently from Kurt. While my partner-in-crime focused on “players”, I cast a wider net and addressed “Tigers”, simply because I feel no one should be safe – including Paws.

I could go the popular route and put Miggy and VMart on the list but when do I ever do as expected? Obviously, these two are the core of the team and the Tigers won’t do well if they don’t. But they are consistent performers so they merit exclusion. Also off the list of consideration, for opposite reasons, is the BP (short for Black Pit) because, well, where do you start? In the end, someone will have to step it up – I just don’t know who that pitcher might be.

My focus is on the guys who really need to have a “make it or break it” year if the Tigers are to succeed in a stronger division and play into the post-season. Let’s get started, shall we?

1. Brad Ausmus – No longer a rookie, he needs to grow significantly as a manager and show that he can manage outside the box as well as handle personalities and player roles better. In addition to eliminating those extreme win-loss streaks from last year, he’s got to put the fire into the team belly.

2. Dave Dombrowski – Make no mistake, DD is a great GM. But as the payroll and years without a strong WS performance add up, his track record becomes less impressive. Last year was a bad one for Dave and now in the final year of his contract, he’s got to finally resolve those BP and post-season offense issues.

3. Jose Iglesias – Just getting Iggy playing regularly this year will be a major accomplishment. His bat will be better than any of his replacements, but his glove will greatly benefit the pitchers and Castellanos. Having him in the lineup will help spell Kinsler who only had two days off last year. He’s the pivotal piece to having strength up the middle.

4. James McCann – The Tigers may downplay it, but McCann needs to adjust quickly to the majors with both bat and glove – and as soon as possible. Avila will be gone before the year is out if McCann performs as expected. The Tigers need a healthy catcher who can offer a little more speed and a better bat, especially with the loss of Hunter and Jackson. Count on Ausmus to accelerate the learning process by coaching him.

5. Justin Verlander – A no-brainer really. Was his perceived decline due to injury, surgery, age or focus? Could be a combination of all four. Now that Max is gone, he needs to rediscover his beast mode and be open to reinvention. And dare I say it? He performed much better when he was focused on setting records instead of setting dates. (Wow, I said it.)

Now that Kurt and I have shared our lists, what do you think? We want to hear from you!