During spring training, it was considered a foregone conclusion that the Detroit Tigers would win the American League Central. Despite the loss of designated hitter Victor Martinez, the Tigers had signed Prince Fielder, who with Miguel Cabrera helped form the most powerful middle of the order in baseball. Combine that lineup with reigning MVP Justin Verlander, and it appeared as though no other team stood a chance.
Things haven't exactly gone according to plan in Detroit. Verlander, Cabrera and Fielder have performed as expected, but several other players have not matched their 2011 offensive totals. Replacing Martinez with Fielder should have meant an offensive upgrade over last season's 787 runs scored if the rest of the lineup maintained last year's production. However, Brennan Boesch, Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila are all coming off unexpectedly great seasons and are off to much slower starts this year. Ryan Raburn and Delmon Young have also hit below expectations through a third of the season.
Additionally, as Buster Olney wrote recently, the Tigers' defense is among the worst in the majors. Through Thursday's games, the Tigers had the worst defense in the AL at minus-26 defensive runs saved, as calculated by Baseball Info Solutions.
Yet teams have succeeded with bad defenses before, carried by a strong lineup and/or a dominant pitching staff. Once Avila and Austin Jackson return from injuries, is the Tigers' lineup good enough to overcome their weaknesses in the field?