All offseason long Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski held firm that his team had no intention of signing a closer on the free agent market. Last year’s closer Jose Valverde wasn’t going to be walking through the door regardless of managers Jim Leyland’s pleas to sign the free agent. Instead the Tigers were going to have an open competition during the spring to see who would get the ball in the 9th inning with minor league flamethrower Bruce Rondon listed as the favorite. But Rondon struggled with walk issues and posted a 5.94 ERA in 13 spring training outings, earning him a ticket to Triple-A Toledo to work on his control. That left the Tigers with an unenviable situation staring them in the plate: a smorgasbord of middling relievers forming a closer-by-committee.
Each year baseball fans everywhere mark a random day in mid-February down on their calendars as one of the best days of the year: the day pitchers and catchers report, aka, the unofficial start of the Major League season. For many players, particularly veterans and All-Stars, Spring Training offers a chance to reconnect with old teammates while meeting new ones and to work the body into shape for the long grind of 162 games. But for many other players, rookies, guys on the fringe, or the 40-year-old looking for one last shot at glory, the start of spring represents the start of the season. These players are fighting for their big league lives, the last spot on the roster, or maybe even a starting position.
The defending American League champion Detroit Tigers are well-primed to defend their hard-earned pennant. They resigned Anibal Sanchez, reloaded with Torii Hunter, and will regain Victor Martinez to cover up one of the team’s only trouble spots a year ago, DH. They also play in the easiest division in baseball, one that took just 88 wins to capture a year ago, and they return the best hitter (Miguel Cabrera) and the best pitcher (Justin Verlander) on the planet.
Major League Baseball fans everywhere should be a bunch of happy campers today. We’ve been blessed by the Baseball Gods with a star-studded World Series match-up between the American League champion Detroit Tigers and the National League champion San Francisco Giants. There is MVP and Cy Young hardware all over the place in this series. We have the presumptive 2012 MVP winners in Miguel Cabrera and Buster Posey, seated to your left (although there are MVP arguments for other players, Mike Trout in particular). Over in that corner you have the 2011 AL MVP/Cy Young winner in Justin Verlander. Turn around and you can catch a glimpse of Barry Zito, the 2002 Cy Young winner. Just strolling in the door is Tim Lincecum, the winner of the 2008 and 2009 Cy Young awards in the National League. It’s ridiculous how many big names are in this series, and we haven’t even mentioned the perennial All-Star types like Prince Fielder and Matt Cain. Every single playoff series, except for the ALCS, has been remarkably balanced and has gone the distance this year, and with two evenly matched competitors set to take the diamond tonight, you can expect more evenly matched world-class baseball. Here’s some of what you should be keeping your eye on in the games to come.