Can Joe Nathan return to form in 2015?

As the Tigers get ready to head down to Lakeland, there are many questions going into the 2015 season that need answers.

Here are some of the main questions Tigers fans want answers to:

1. How will missing all of Spring Training effect Victor Martinez?

According to head trainer, Kevin Rand, Martinez was in great shape before the injury.  From what I can tell based on that statement, Victor probably just tweaked his knee on a swing.  After getting surgery to repair his torn medial meniscus, Dr. James Andrews set Martinez’s recovery time at 4-6 weeks.  If this timetable is correct, Martinez will be in the lineup on April 6 against Minnesota to start the season.  Short term, this injury will have little to no effect on Martinez, but it could cause problems in a few years as he will more than likely begin to experience early arthritis symptoms.  For 2015, however, I expect Martinez to perform at an all-star level once again.

2. Can Miguel Cabrera finally stay healthy for an entire year?

Miggy was hampered by an ankle injury for a lot of the 2014 season, but he still was able to finish the year with a .313 average, 25 home runs, and 109 RBI.  To Tigers fans, that is a down year for the perennial MVP candidate.  Cabrera is still rehabbing from his offseason ankle surgery and will be ready close to Opening Day.  If he can stay healthy for the full season, he and Victor Martinez should once again be one of the best 3-4 duos in baseball.

3. How will the bullpen fare?

Dave Dombrowski really didn’t do anything to bolster the bullpen for 2015.  He exercised Joakim Soria’s 2015 option and said he’s trusting Joe Nathan to return to the closer he was two years ago in Texas.  The bullpen will have some familiar faces from 2014 in Nathan, Soria, and Al Alburquerque.  It also will be without Joba Chamberlain and Phil Coke.  Dombrowski picked up a reliever (Alex Wilson) in the Porcello trade, but I’m not sure he is MLB ready just yet.  Bruce Rondon is returning from Tommy John surgery.  If all goes as planned, which we all know never happens in baseball, the back end of the Tigers bullpen could be terrific.  The big question is who will be the remaining relievers?  After Nathan, Soria, Rondon, and Alburquerque, there are two spots available in the bullpen.  Obviously, the Tigers need at least one left handed pitcher in that group.  Robbie Ray was traded, so that leaves Kyle Lobstein, Kyle Ryan, Drew VerHagen, and Tom Gorzelanny fighting MLB time.  Honestly, I think the X-factor in the bullpen is Bruce Rondon.  Rondon is a flamethrower comparable to the Royals’ Kelvin Herrera.  Rondon could slide into the 7th inning spot to hand the ball off to Soria in the 8th and then Nathan in the 9th.  If the bullpen can produce, the Tigers may be able to make a run in the postseason.

4. Will Justin Verlander return to his old days?

Okay, that is a kind of obvious answer.  The answer is no.  Verlander will never be the pitcher he was in 2011 when he won the AL MVP and the AL Cy Young.  I do believe, however, that Verlander will return to be a very good, top 10 pitcher in the American League.  As much as he wouldn’t say it last year, I think the offseason core surgery he had last offseason really messed with his season.  His surgery didn’t let him accomplish his usual offseason workouts.  This offseason, he was able to return to what he had done for all of the years before the 2014 offseason.  I think his strength will be back to what it used to be, which also leads to go deeper into games with more left in the tank.

5. Can Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene produce well enough to maintain the Tigers rotation as one of the best in baseball?

Honestly, I’m not sure.  Yes, Simon was an all-star last season, but it also was his first season as a full-time starter.  Before last year, he was a relief pitcher.  He’s also not a young guy.  Simon is entering his year 33 season.  Shane Greene has some promise, as he showed against the Tigers last season which is one of the reasons Dave Dombrowski went to acquire him.  Greene won’t be as good as Porcello was in 2014, but he’s the same type of pitcher.  The rotation won’t be as dominant as it has been the past few seasons, but I still think the rotation is a strong point on a pretty well rounded squad.

6. How will Jose Iglesias perform after missing all of 2014?

As we all know, Iglesias missed all of 2014 after having surgery to repair stress fractures in his legs.  Iglesias is a key piece to the Tigers in 2015 as they are in need of a great defensive shortstop who can provide a little offense.  He is a step up from 2014’s shortstops.  Nothing against Eugenio Suarez and Andrew Romine, but neither of them are every day type players.  Iglesias not only needs to be a terrific fielder, but he needs to get on base.  I think he’ll be fine defensively, but offensively, I’m not sure.

7. After having a year of managing under his belt, can Brad Ausmus lead this team to their 5th consecutive division title?

As much as Ausmus had his haters in 2014, I truthfully believe he did a good job.  I was one of those people where every time Nathan stepped on the mound, I had a mini heart attack.  He came out and blew up time and time again, but Ausmus stuck with him.  In hindsight, I commend Ausmus for sticking with “his” closer.  Closers, as far as I know them, are headcases.  Getting the last three outs of a game is the hardest job in baseball.  If Ausmus showed he lost hope in Nathan, Nathan’s confidence would’ve dropped significantly and I believe he would’ve been even worse.  Ausmus enters 2015 with another team expected to win the AL Central and compete for a World Series.  His rotation isn’t as stellar as it was in 2014, but the Tigers are offsetting the losses of Scherzer and Price with the acquisition offensively of Yoenis Cespedes.  The Tigers should have one of the best lineups in baseball in 2015, and I expect them to win the division once again.


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