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Road to Lakeland: Previewing the 2024 Detroit Tigers season as spring training gets underway

Previewing the 2024 Detroit Tigers season
Previewing the 2024 Detroit Tigers season 06:05

(CBS DETROIT) - If you look around the four major sports teams in Detroit, there are three things they have in common:

They are young, talented, and inexperienced.

The Lions are the clear-cut standout here, winning the NFC North for the first time in decades, taking care of the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in back-to-back playoff games at Ford Field before losing a heartbreaker to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship.

Across the street at Little Caesars Arena, it's the tale of two very different teams. The Red Wings have a bright future in Dylan Larkin, Alex DeBrincat and Alex Lyon, and are ready to contend right now. 

Meanwhile, the Pistons are dragging their feet through a historically bad season, still trying to build around Cade Cunningham, Jalen Duren and Jaden Ivey, and it might be some time before we see them in the playoffs.

Then there's the Tigers.

A look at the Detroit Tigers pitching rotation in 2024 06:34

Entering this season, Detroit hasn't made the playoffs since 2014. Guys like Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, J.D. Martinez and David Price left Detroit to get the one thing done they couldn't do here: win a World Series.

But don't let the smoke and mirrors of 'the rebuild' get in the way; this could be the season the Tigers finally end their playoff drought. Entering this offseason, president of baseball operations Scott Harris was quick to make a move, trading for veteran outfielder Mark Canha.

A trade Tigers radio play-by-play broadcaster Dan Dickerson says was an important one.

"You're going to still rely on young hitters to make it better this year, but you had to start lengthening the lineup," Dickerson said. "There just were too many dead spots in the lineup; Mark Canha helps lengthen the lineup."

Canha isn't the only new player to don the Old English D this season. Starting pitchers Kenta Maeda, Jack Flaherty and Shelby Miller all signed contracts. Andrew Chafin was also signed, but he's making his second stint in Detroit. Of all the new additions, Detroit might have found lightning in a bottle with Flaherty.

In 2019, Flaherty was one of the league's top arms. A 2.75 ERA and 231 strikeouts, all while holding batters to a .192 batting average, put him on the map. But hasn't been the same ever since.

Division Series - Texas Rangers v Baltimore Orioles - Game Two
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - OCTOBER 08: Jack Flaherty #15 of the Baltimore Orioles pitches against the Texas Rangers during the fifth inning in Game Two of the Division Series at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on October 08, 2023 in Baltimore, Maryland. / Getty Images

Last season, he was traded to Baltimore, where he went 1-3 with a 6.75 ERA in just nine appearances. But at 28 years old, it's very likely he still has something left in the tank.

"The Tigers now see he's (Flaherty) healthy; we can get him back to that level because they've got the staff to do it," Dickerson said.

How the Detroit Tigers can win the AL Central in 2024 03:50

After cycling through 17 different starting pitchers in 2023, the Tigers are no strangers to injuries.

Casey Mize should be back this year but hasn't pitched since April 2022 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and back surgery. Tarik Skubal underwent surgery on his elbow in August of 2022 and returned halfway through last season. Matt Manning could not catch a break in 2023, spending significant time on the injured list, breaking his right foot twice in one season. Fortunately, he is expected to be ready for spring training.

Dickerson says the constant cycle of starting pitchers took a toll on the offense. Some of those pitchers only had a handful of starts in the majors; others were returning from the injured list.

"…that can have an impact on the offense…all of a sudden you're down three nothing, four nothing in the first or second inning, that takes a toll and that sucks the life out of the offense, and that absolutely can have an impact," Dickerson said.

While young and exciting to watch, that offense still has a long way to go.

With Miguel Cabrera retiring at the end of last season, the identity of the team quickly shifts to the future of the young guys: Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson and Kerry Carpenter. 

The good news: all three took major strides between their rookie and sophomore seasons. However, this season should answer the question: can they live up to the hype?

Kansas City Royals v Detroit Tigers
DETROIT, MICHIGAN - SEPTEMBER 28: Spencer Torkelson #20 of the Detroit Tigers hits a three run home run in front of Salvador Perez #13 of the Kansas City Royals during the seventh inning at Comerica Park on September 28, 2023 in Detroit, Michigan. / Getty Images

From a power standpoint, Torkelson really hit his stride in 2023. In 2022, he only hit eight home runs in 110 games. It's no secret his rookie season was a disappointment. Let's not forget he was optioned back to the minors after months of struggles. In 2023, Torkelson hit 31 home runs in 159 games, finally showing the power that hyped his way to going No. 1 overall in the 2020 draft.

What to expect from Javier Báez in 2024 06:59

In Greene's case, it's injuries that are holding him back from his full potential. He only played in 93 games during his rookie season after fracturing his foot in spring training. It was two more trips to the injured list in 2023, with the second leading to Tommy John surgery on his elbow.

Greene played only six more games last season than he did in 2022, but he hit six more home runs, cut down on strikeouts, and raised his batting average.

As for Carpenter, he put himself on the map in 2023. In 118 games, he hit 20 home runs, showing power to all fields while slashing .273/.340/.471.

So, the young guys are clearly talented, but what does this mean from here on out? Are the Tigers primed and ready to win the division in 2024?

Detroit Tigers v Oakland Athletics
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 24: Javier Baez #28 of the Detroit Tigers bats against the Oakland Athletics in the top of the first inning at RingCentral Coliseum on September 24, 2023 in Oakland, California. / Getty Images

"The quickest way to get there is with pitching and defense, and I think that's exactly what they're trying to do," Dickerson said. "I will be surprised if they aren't in it, meaning close to first place all season long."

Dickerson says he's looking for a strong start. That's something the Tigers haven't gotten off to in quite some time after going 7-13 and 10-16 in 2022 and 2023, respectively.

The identity of the Detroit Tigers without Miguel Cabrera 06:13

Still, there are plenty more unanswered questions, such as, will Javier Baez finally have a good season at the plate? Can the team stay healthy throughout the year? Which young guys get the call out of camp, and do they come out hot or struggle to hit big-league pitching? The list goes on.

If there was ever a time to be optimistic, surely it's now, and the Tigers can be the third domino to fall of making Detroit sports fun to watch once again.

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