If you believe the predictions, the Detroit Tigers might as well print up the T-shirts right now — “2013 American League Central Division champions.”
Nearly every baseball expert has the Tigers will winning the AL Central. Quite a few have put the Tigers in the World Series.
But what do the Tigers think about the expectations as the ready themselves for Monday’s opener in Minnesota (4:10 first pitch of FOX Sports Detroit)?
“That’s something that we’ve talked about in the clubhouse here,” Doug Fister said. “We’re going out to win every day. So, yes, we have a lot of confidence.
“…Today, we’re coming out, doing the things we need to do in the morning and then we’re going to go play to win. We take that into the season with us.”
Said Rick Porcello: “The only good thing about that is that you have high expectations, Skip says it all the time, it means people think you’re pretty good. Obviously, we think we’re a pretty good team. The biggest goal now is to go out and perform.”
Mr. Tiger himself knows that expectations can be dangerous players buy into them.
“I think that’s the one thing you worry about,” said Al Kaline, Hall of Famer and special assistant to president Dave Dombrowski. “Everybody knows this is a really good ball club. But you still have to go out and play the games, and you can’t be overconfident because everybody’s going to be gunning for this team right now.
“Expectations are very high. But I think the guys, particularly the guys that played last year, are a little disappointed that they didn’t do a little better. I think they’re a little bit more focused this year on this upcoming season.”
Newcomer Torii Hunter, who came to the Tigers precisely because he believed they had the best chance to win, has dealt with high expectations before, as a member of the Minnesota Twins and the Los Angeles Angels. He pointed out another issue to consider.
“What I’ve learned, (what) it all boils down is to stay healthy,” Hunter said. “If you stay healthy, you’re going to do what you’re going to do, no matter what. You just have to get it done on the field.
“You can’t worry about predictions, different things like that. For us, the expectations are high. As for athletes, more than fans, more than media, we put expectations on ourselves more than anybody in the world.”
Catcher Alex Avila agrees with Kaline that the players from last year’s team will use World Series sweep as motivation.
“As players, you know how hard the game is,” Avila said. “Yeah, we went to the World Series last year. The year before we went to the ALCS, so we’ve had success.
“But you don’t have that success thinking that you’re going to get there automatically in spring training. Especially this year, losing the way we did in the World Series, it’s OK. Well, let’s try to get better every single day, do whatever we can to win that game. That’s how a team builds character.”
Although winning the World Series is a goal for every player, veteran players realize that can’t be the focus on a daily basis.
“No matter how good you are, that’s something that’s not easy,” Justin Verlander said. “I just expect this team to be professional, play the game the right way and just be prepared to play every day. I think that’s the main thing.
“If the group of our veterans in this clubhouse, the guys that we have, we’ve all kind of been there, done that, been around the block. We know what we need to do to be prepared. I think that in and of itself, just going out there and doing what we need to do will win us games.”
For the coaches, they have to just keep thinking about the task at hand rather than the big picture.
“You just make sure that the guys are working on the daily routine that they need to do, and however it plays out, it plays out,” third base coach Tom Brookens said. “You don’t really concern yourself too much with the winning and the losing and the falling short. You just get yourself ready for that day.”
Reliever Darin Downs, who got to watch the Tigers as they marched through the playoffs last season, said opposing pitchers have to figure out how to deal with Austin Jackson, Hunter, MVP and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, Andy Dirks, Avila and Omar Infante.
“I wouldn’t want to face this lineup, to tell you the truth,” Downs said. “But high expectations, you just gotta live up to it, and we’re going to go out there and play hard every night. We’re not going to win every game, but we’ll be all right.”