Tony DeMarco MSNBC.com Sports Columnist Tony DeMarco
MSNBC.com Sports Columnist Tony DeMarco
Q: Will the pitching and hitting of the Detroit Tigers offset what probably will be horrendous defense? Obviously, they are heavy favorites to win the AL Central, but what about beyond that?
-- Carol Johnson, Detroit
A: A lot can and will happen between now and October, and that's why it's too early to judge the Tigers' chances of winning the World Series. The same goes for any of the elite contenders, and I include the Yankees, Rays, Rangers and Angels in that group.
Manager Jim Leyland says he's content with that arrangement, but if it doesn't work out for any number of reasons - injury, ineffective defense, etc. - Tigers owner Mike Ilitch will spend whatever it takes to give his team the best chance to win.
Doug Fister was the key mid-season acquisition in 2011, so you have to assume general manager Dave Dombrowski will acquire the right player to fill this season's need, whether it be another starting pitcher or a more defensive-oriented position player.
My feeling is the Tigers hope the current defensive setup turns out to be simply adequate. But this offense is going to be very potent, and don't forget that it finished in the top four in MLB in runs, batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage in 2011.
Besides Prince Fielder, look for a filter-down effect that will boost numbers for others in the lineup, particularly Brennan Boesch - whether he hits right in front of, or right behind the No. 3-4 Cabrera-Fielder combination.
The Tigers posted a +76 run differential in 2011 - 787 scored, 711 allowed - and it wouldn't surprise me if that number improves in 2012. A full season of Fister, plus possible improvements by Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello should hold down the runs-allowed number.
And any time your season is measured by how far you advance in postseason play, that's a very good place to be.
Q: Is 2012 going to be the year of the pitchers? Should I draft a lot of pitchers early? Or should I draft the hitters?
-- Dominic Toma, Schenectady, N.Y.
A: You should ask the experts at RotoWorld for actual draft advice, but I will say this: Offense has been trending down the past couple of seasons. There's no reason that won't continue, especially when you consider some of the young power arms about to emerge, and key ones returning from injury-filled 2011 seasons.
Adam Wainwright is back at the top of the Cardinals rotation, Josh Johnson looked good in his first start for the Marlins and Joe Nathan is healthy again as the Rangers' new closer.
Darvish is the obvious newcomer to watch. Other breakout candidates include Jordan Zimmermann, Madison Bumgarner, Brandon Morrow, Johnny Cueto, Zach Britton, Luke Hochevar, Chris Sale, Sergio Santos and Cory Luebke.
Among rookies, Matt Moore is expected to emerge in the Rays' rotation, Addison Reed could be the White Sox's closer, and Trevor Bauer figures to reach the majors at some point for the Diamondbacks.
Q: Who do you think should play right field for the Red Sox?
-- Joelis Pena, Boston
A: The depth chart says Ryan Sweeney, Cody Ross and Ryan Kalish, but Red Sox fans can't really be thrilled with any combination of those possibilities.
As I wrote in my spring training team capsules, the Red Sox sure have some shortcomings for a team with a projected payroll of $160-170 million - and right field and shortstop lead the way.
A time share is the likeliest scenario, as Ross has been much more dangerous against left-handed pitching in his career. They also have to hope the switch in home ballparks helps the left-handed-hitting Sweeney, who has totaled only two homers and 61 RBI in 567 at-bats over 2010-11.
When you add in the uncertainty of Carl Crawford bouncing back from wrist surgery, there is reason for concern on both sides of center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who I think will be hard-pressed to match his breakout 32-homer, 105-RBI season.