Verlander: Tigers should win AL Central

LAKELAND, Fla. — Two bulletins from the Detroit Tigers’ spring camp Tuesday morning,
neither a shock: Manager Jim Leyland announced ace Justin Verlander will
pitch Opening Day, and Verlander said he expects his team to win a
third straight American League Central title.

“The division’s
gotten better,” Verlander said. “The Royals and the Indians both got
better. I think, in my opinion, we should win it. But you’ve got to
play.

“I’m very cognizant still of 2008. I remember that. I
remember everybody thinking we were the best team on the planet, bar
none, and we didn’t even make the playoffs. That still rings in my head,
not to take anything for granted.”

Of note, it’s not as if the
Tigers dominated the AL Central last year. The Tigers’ run to the World
Series obscured the fact that they spent only eight days in first place
during the season’s final two months. They went 43-29 within the
division, but that included an 8-10 mark against the Cleveland Indians —
who agreed to terms with outfielder Michael Bourn on a four-year, $48
million deal Monday night.

“Interesting,”
Verlander said, when asked for his reaction to the Bourn deal. “Usually
you see small-market teams — like the Blue Jays, for instance — they
sensed weakness in their division and they went for it. I find it
interesting that Cleveland’s buying when they were fourth (last year),
although they must feel like they’re close. And I know they play us
tough every year.

“In the first half, they’re usually right up
there in the mix. Obviously, their management and their people think
they’ve got a shot — and good for them. They do have a pretty good
ballclub. You never know what can happen.”

Verlander, who turns 30
next week, will make his sixth straight Opening Day start for the
Tigers, the club’s longest such streak since Jack Morris’ 11 in a row
from 1980 through 1990.

“I’ve quickly realized, just watching and
being part of this game for a little bit, that you don’t want to take
anything for granted,” he said. “It’s always a great honor. I try to
recall how great of an honor it was the first time I got it. It’s always
a really, really fun day for me. Right now, I know I don’t seem too
excited about it, but I am.”