This grouping of small-market teams has forced the Tigers and its owner, Mike Illitch, to open their wallets to go get the big name players such as Pudge Rodriguez, Rondell White, and others. Kansas City has even thrown its hat in the ring by luring the likes of Benito Santiago and Juan Gonzalez—we all know what he can do for a wanna-be contender—yeah right. However, it is plain to see that all of these teams have their All-Star offensive power. The reason for the division's weakness lies in the starting pitching.
A consistent rotation for any of the five teams remains to be seen and is the main reason why anyone—especially the Tigers—can be playing in late September or early October. Tiger fans should be hopeful because of the addition of Jason Johnson, but even more so for the experience gained by Maroth, Bonderman, Cornejo, and Robertson during the dreadful 2003 campaign. Sure these pitchers lost 69 games, but they have only started 278 games, and nearly half of those starts came last year. If this staff stays healthy, then they will continue to provide a solid foundation.
While Minnesota's Brad Radke has eight more career starts than the entire Tigers' staff, the remaining starters have 129 games started between them. Even then, the bulk of that number comes from Johan Santana who was taken out of his first start because of an injury.
The White Sox may have the most experience as far as starting pitching goes, but their bullpen has already proven to be suspect by allowing six ninth-inning runs to blow Mark Buerhle's performance on Opening Day. Also, can you really trust Danny Wright and Jon Garland as consistent performers?
In Kansas City they are stacked with left-handers Brian Anderson, Jimmy Gobble, Jeremy Affeldt, and Darrell May but are counting on the aging Kevin Appier from the right side. He won't even start the season in their rotation because of weak stamina, but can he really be counted on at any point during the season?
While the Indians seem to be in a position much like the Tigers, they lack the offensive firepower to give their rotation any support. They are a bunch of young arms or journeymen looking to make a difference.
Career games started by rotation
Detroit Tigers - 278
Chicago White Sox - 570
Cleveland Indians - 271
Kansas City Royals - 306
Minnesota Twins - 415
One more glaring reason the Tigers have to be hopeful is the addition of Ugueth Urbina. While they were looking at Fernando Rodney to be their main man in the pen, they ended up shelling out more dough to contend. As of right now, that is more than any of the other Central teams have done with their closers.
The White Sox look pretty good on paper, but can't decide on Billy Koch or Damaso Marte. Kansas City had an All-Star in Mike MacDougal, but injuries have forced them to go with Curtis Leskanic, hardly a big-name stopper. While the Twins have lost Eddie Guardado, and the Indians have let Danys Baez leave, they are both looking at relievers with little extinguishing experience. The Twins are putting their faith in Joe Nathan (1 career save) and the Indians are looking to David Riske (10 career saves).
The final note of comparison in this division of clones is the man who will make the daily in-game decisions. While Alan Trammell has brought a youthful resurgence back to Detroit, the rest of the contenders are in the same boat. Ozzie Guillen, Tony Pena, and Eric Wedge are going for the same approach of energy and the ability of belief and teamwork that elder statesman (3rd year) Ron Gardenhire displayed while leading his small market Twins to the playoffs.
So, despite the ribbing of Jay Leno and disbelief of radio networks around America, Tigers' fans have every reason to put their faith in Dave Dombrowski and the money he has invested in this team. Yes, there are still 158 games, but in a day-by-day division, the Tigers are in sole possession of first place. For a league of unproven pitchers, the Tigers have already begun to show how to win on any given day.