Despite the unbalanced schedule, the Rays do occasionally get to play teams other than the Yankees and Red Sox (who knew?). They kick off a big series (well, as big as a series can be in April) at Comerica Park in Detroit this afternoon where they will vie for top billing in ESPN.com’s Power Rankings.
I reached out to Sweet Spot compadre Josh Worn of Walkoff Woodward for some intel on the Tigers. Check out Josh’s stuff during the year and follow him on Twitter (@WalkoffWoodward).
1. What was the biggest surprise of Detroit’s season-opening sweep?
Austin Jackson. So much pressure was on him to come out of the gate fast due to his poor 2011. The subsequent alterations to his stance and offensive approach this off season only enhanced the need for a quick start. He has a slash line of .571/.625/.857 right now and while that is simply the result of a good weekend what that’s done is quiet the doubters. Jackson is the key to the Tigers offense and you couldn’t have asked for a better start. I know I will be charting his every at bat for a long time.
2. Do the Tigers have any weaknesses that the Rays seem well-suited to take advantage of?
Certainly. The Tigers strength is their ability to wear pitching out with their pitching. There are very few in the starting lineup who do not have a plan coming to the plate. The Rays strength is their starting pitching and their ability to get ahead in a count. They just came off of a series in which they swept the Yankees, a lineup that is very similar in style to Detroit. The Rays aren’t coming into Comerica to face a team they don’t deal with in the AL East so i see the Tigers struggling a bit.
3. What can we expect from the Tigers catchers defensively? Will the Rays be able to utilize their running offense?
Alex Avila (31% CS%) and Gerald Laird (37% CSL%) are excellent defensively, but the Rays will be able to run on Rick Porcello who has a tendency to forget about baserunners. Justin Verlander is a different beast and when he toes the rubber the biggest concern is getting on base much less stealing. Drew Smyly is an unknown, but he will be making his ML debut so I can see Madden taking advantage there.
4. I know the Tigers are really tough at Comerica Park. But are they good early in the season? Does the weather play a factor?
Comerica is a fair weather park and plays about the same in any circumstance. The Tigers mash there year round.
But its a park that fits the Rays game. Big gaps for Jennings, Zobrist, and other line drive hitters. Pena has always played well in Comerica (in fact he owns the record for most single season home runs in Comerica for a LHB – though that will probably be broken by a certain 1Bman this year) and I doubt many ballparks can contain Longoria.
5. Is there any truth to the rumor that Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder have a pie-eating contest every day during batting practice? Who is the favorite to win the season pie-eating title in the Tigers clubhouse?
If it’s a pizza pie eating contest, then yes. Both of them gorge on Little Caesars Hot ‘n Ready’s by the box. However the favorite to eat the most is Jose Valverde. He makes a huge dramatic entrance at the end of BP and steals all of Brennan Boesch’s, who has only nibbled a slice because he is concerned about his figure. Then he starts taunting everyone after every bite that he’s the closer and no one can eat after he finishes. Really unnecessary antics.