03/28/08 10:00 AM ET
Tigers aiming for consistency in '08
Games against bottom of division could be crucial
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
Tigers players have been tracking the Opening Day forecast for the past several days as they prepare to transition from the warm sunshine of Florida to what they hope are the last gasps of winter in Michigan. With the cooldown, however, comes a sudden increase in heat.
Part of that will be from the fans, from whom most of the Tigers already know what to expect. Opening Day is an event in Detroit regardless of where the Tigers are projected to finish in the standings. It's a rite of spring that gives residents promise that summer is eventually on its way.
Eventually, of course, is the key word.
"I know it's going to be freezing -- and snowing," Kenny Rogers said, "or we'll probably have some rain. "Typical Detroit weather. That's all right."
Before that happens, however, there's another warm spell coming, and it's centered right underneath where the Tigers are standing. With the arrival of the regular season comes the pressure the Tigers will face after a flurry of offseason moves positioned this club to win now.
Come Monday at 1:05 p.m. ET, what has been one of baseball's best teams on paper since last December's trade for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis will be tested on the field in games that count. And there'll be a lot of fans counting.
That's why when manager Jim Leyland was asked entering the final two weeks of Spring Training how his team is dealing with the pressure of expectations, he pointed out the obvious.
"We haven't had any forfeits yet," Leyland said. "Nobody's canceling games."
Certainly the Royals aren't, not after the role they played in keeping the Tigers from a return to the postseason last year. For all the importance that will deservedly be placed upon the Tigers' showdowns with the Indians in the American League Central, it could be the games against the rest of the Central that determines a champion.
When the Tigers beat out the White Sox for the AL Wild Card two years ago, they did so despite losing 12 out of 19 games against the then-reigning World Series champions. The difference was that they went 38-18 against the rest of the division, including 14-4 versus Kansas City. The White Sox, by contrast, went 28-29 against Central teams other than Detroit, including eight critical losses to the Royals.
The Tigers' 12 losses in 18 games with Cleveland last year proved debilitating to their playoff hopes, but so did 11 losses to the White Sox and seven to the Royals. The Indians, by comparison, compounded their success versus Detroit by going 36-18 against the rest of the Central.
"I'm excited for it," Cabrera said. "I don't want to think how cold it's going to be."
Neither Cabrera nor Willis have had the chance to open a season in the chill of a Midwestern March. They opened last season with the Marlins in Washington, but the game-time temperature that day was around 70 degrees.
They'll soon learn how to deal with it the way so many transplanted Tigers have. Rogers, for example, says he handles it the same way he dealt with Texas heat when he was with the Rangers.
"You've just got to accept it, and you have to learn how to deal with it," Rogers said. "You already know it's going to be there, whether you want it to or not. So you have to want it."
Leyland has been through plenty.
"They tell me it's going to be bad up there -- cold," Leyland said. "But I don't worry about that. To sit around and worry about stuff like that, it taxes your mind for no reason, really. You can't do anything about it."
KC: RHP Gil Meche (9-13, 3.67 ERA in 2007)
He's traditionally strong against Detroit, including a 4-1 career record and 3.35 ERA in nine starts at Comerica Park. He gets a lot of swings and misses from Tigers hitters, so Monday could give an early sign just how different Detroit's lineup is now.
DET: RHP Justin Verlander (18-6, 3.66 ERA)
It's the first Opening Day assignment for Detroit's young ace. Verlander is 6-0 with a 2.26 ERA in eight career starts against the Royals.
The Royals don't have many players who hit Verlander, but John Buck and Billy Butler are two. They're 4-for-8 and 5-for-8, respectively, off Verlander with a double, home run and two RBIs.
FSN Detroit/FOX 2 Detroit
AM 1270/FM 97.1
Wednesday: Royals (RHP Brian Bannister, 12-9, 3.87) at Tigers (LHP Kenny Rogers, 3-4, 4.43), 1:05 p.m. ET
Thursday: Royals (RHP Zack Greinke, 7-7, 3.69) at Tigers (RHP Jeremy Bonderman, 11-9, 5.01), 1:05 p.m. ET
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.