A cerebral examination of this year's prospects

The Tigers are the best! Or maybe they're the worst?

Tigers fans have been lovable losers and ecstatic, pennant-waving, Sparky Anderson-worshipping, cop-car-burning symbols of urban depravity.

Just in the last decade, we've gone from being paper-sack-wearing, hundred-loss-season-suffering, gee-shucks-we'll-get-'em-next-year joke punchlines to being Veruca Salt with an overpriced beer and a coney-stained smirk.

Our baseball franchise has graced us with a World Series contender nearly every year in recent memory. The last time the Detroit Tigers weren't American League Central division champions, Phil Cooley only owned one restaurant, the city of Detroit owned a big park in the river, and Dan Gilbert was more famous in Cleveland. With two World Series appearances in the last decade after not even sniffing one since '87, it's been an exciting run (even if they were swept out of those World Series like a rental truck by a methhead who couldn't afford the cleaning fee), but it's over.

That's right, the Tigers are done.

Max Scherzer is in Washington, where they're already etching his name on the Cy Young Award, Justin Verlander isn't even the most famous person in his own bedroom, and Joe Nathan gets shelled more than pistachios at a Seth Rogen NORML fundraiser. There's talk that Anthony Gose, he of a lifetime .234 batting average, might hit leadoff. Gose is supposed to have base-stealing potential. Too bad you have to get on base to do it. Scherzer goes to Washington, Gose to the Toledo Mud Hens before the All-Star break.

General manager Dave Dombrowski bought Jose Iglesias for his wife at a Lalique Crystal shop in Boston. If Iglesias ever guested on Sesame Street, the letters for the day would have to be "D" and "L". The Tigers' best defensive infielder is their first base coach, Omar Vizquel. There are so few highlights to show from spring training in Lakeland,Fla., MLB.com actually features a clip of future Hall of Famer Vizquel salsa dancing with an attractive young lady in the clubhouse at Joker Marchant Stadium. This is baseball; I'd rather have Bruce Rondon learning a knuckleball from Charlie Hough than a retired shortstop getting a dance lesson from a wannabe Julianne Hough.

Want to teach a dance in spring training? How about "The Hustle"? Every single team in the Central Division improved through trades or by the emergence of young prospects, while the Tigers stood there, in the immortal words of Ernie Harwell, "like the house by the side of the road." The Tigers are supposed to have the reigning AL Cy Young, except they don't; Cleveland does (Corey Kluber). The Kansas City Royals (remember them?) have more shiny gloves than a Michael Jackson museum, and even the Twins brought back former Tiger Torii Hunter. The last 412 curveballs that Alex Avila has put into fair territory have ricocheted off his catcher's mask, while Russell Martin signed with the AL rival Toronto Blue Jays, where he'll contend for the batting title, win a gold glove, and have the CN Tower renamed after him. Yes, they're not in the Central, but the Tigers still have to face him multiple times. Mike Ilitch still has a checkbook, doesn't he?

So you can pull a sheet over the Tigers and tag their toe. They are toast with no picture of Jesus burned into it. Enjoy Opening Day, but don't make any plans for October, because there is absolutely no possible way the Tigers make the postseason, except ...

David Price is their No. 1 starter. Price is a proven regular-season, top-of-the-rotation workhorse, always good for double-digit wins. That means that Verlander is their No. 2, and he's no stranger to that quaint little trophy named after Denton True Young and at his best he goes deeper than Ron Jeremy strapped to a backhoe, rendering that questionable bullpen almost moot. And speaking of that bullpen, Phil Coke is (again in the voice of Harwell) "Loooooong gone" to the Chicago Cubs, where by June, the fans at Wrigley Field would probably rather see Steve Bartman ride in from the bullpen on a goat. That's addition by subtraction, and the Tigers should be applauded for finally cutting that inexplicable cord.

At the plate, the Tigers still have that Cabrera guy. Miguel Cabrera won a Triple Crown, which is a once-in-a-generation achievement, and his worst seasons make other No. 3 hitters around the league look like guys on the House of David team from the Bingo Long Traveling All Stars. Opposing pitchers can't continue to walk the guy because that means they have to pitch to one of the Martinezes — hitting machine Victor Martinez when he's healthy, or the surprisingly potent J.D., as well as new addition Yoenis Cespedes, the most powerful man to leave Cuba since Tony Montana, who we all know was fond of Tigers himself. Cespedes' quadrangulars will make that multicolored GM Fountain in the outfield dance like it's stoned at Movement.

Ian Kinsler is still a potential All-Star at second, and Nick Castellanos is primed for a breakout after getting more minor league hype than a sleepover with Annie Savoy. Anibal Sanchez is capable of winning 20, and Alfredo Simon sauced 15 wins last year for fourth-place Cincinnati. (After further review, Dombrowski didn't spend the entire winter working on that perma-tan of his, now did he?)

Those eerily accurate minds in Vegas say the Tigers have the second-best chance (to the favored Angels) of winning the American League pennant. These are the same eerily accurate minds that gave the Kansas City Royals 50-1 odds to win the World Series, and those sneaky prairie dogs came within one win of doing so until a Mad Bum ruined it for them.

What does that tell us? The Tigers could be mathematically eliminated by Sept. 1, and you'll see more orange barrels on Woodward than there are blue hats with Old English D's, or those orange barrels will be put in storage to make room for the first World Series parade since 1984.

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