Welcome to Opening Day! The Advanced Scout will be a regular feature on Fire Brand of the American League that will present a preview of the upcoming series for the Red Sox. It will focus on the upcoming opponent. We’ll tell you who is expected to be on the mound, who’s hot and who’s not, expected lineups, key injuries, and give you other information to provide a better picture of the upcoming opponents of the Boston Red Sox.
First up is the powerhouse of the American League Central Division – the Detroit Tigers. A fashionable choice to win the American League this year, the Tigers added more power to their lineup with the signing of Prince Fielder at first base. Fielder will anchor a very strong hitting lineup, pairing with now-third baseman Miguel Cabrera to form a formidable duo in the middle of the lineup.
Taking the mound on Opening Day is the reigning AL Cy Young and MVP Justin Verlander (facing Jon Lester). Verlander’s 2011 season was stunning, as were the numbers he compiled: 7.0 fWAR, 170 ERA+, 250/57 K/BB, 0.920 WHIP, 3.12 xFIP and a 40.2% GB rate. Perhaps Verlander’s .236 BABIP for 2011 is unsustainable but with raw numbers like that, you’re going to get a low BABIP. Oh, and he goes deep in games and can hit triple-digit velocity in the 9th inning. Good luck, Sox.
Doug Fister will start the second game on Saturday (against Josh Beckett, maybe). You’ve got to hand it to Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski for trading for Fister last year. Fister became a fantastic starter for the Tigers, going 8-1 down the stretch. In 11 appearances with the Tigers, Fister had a 2.4 fWAR, a 2.75 xFIP and a 50.2% GB rate. Regression is to be expected in 2012, but if Fister can be anywhere near the pitcher he was in 2011, look for the Tigers to make a lot of noise this year.
Pitching on Sunday for Detroit is the heterochromatic Max Scherzer (versus Clay Buchholz). Max’s “stuff” has always been better than his numbers. However, Scherzer’s numbers show he might have been slightly unlucky in 2011. He had a 4.43 ERA versus a 3.70 xFIP, and has a slightly above average .314 BABIP. If Scherzer can equal or surpass his 2011 mark of 174/56 K/BB, his stats could bring him into the fringe of the top pitchers in the American League.
Note: This lineup has been confirmed as the Tigers’ Opening Day lineup.
Ryan Raburn should get the lion’s share of starts at second base this year, and lefty Andy Dirks will see much playing time at DH and left field when facing right-handed pitchers.
WHO’S HOT/WHO’S NOT
Sure, it’s only spring training stats, but Dirks (.429/.485/.513), Cabrera (.413/.491/.652) and Delmon Young (.381/.394/.762(?!)) had hot springs, while Brandon Inge (.180/.226/.300), Alex Avila (.246/.323/.316) and Ramon Santiago (.261/.321/.395) started cold.
Old friend C Victor Martinez (torn ACL) is out for the season. RHP Al Alburquerque is due back midseason after right elbow surgery. 3B/DH Brandon Inge (sore left groin) and RHP Luis Marte (strained left hamstring) will start the season on the 15-day DL.
The Tigers will hit the yarn out of the ball in 2012. If Fister doesn’t regress too much and Scherzer gets the luck that eluded him in 2012, the Tigers will pitch well. If they could defend, they might be the favorites for the American League title. However, they should easily win the AL Central. I’m penning Verlander for a win on Opening Day, with the series depending on the pitching of Fister, Scherzer, and Beckett on Saturday. With luck, the Red Sox could take two of three. Without it, well…we’ve been there before.