DETROIT - Opening Day is here.
There are few things better than the start of the baseball season, especially in Detroit.
There are plenty of great baseball traditions in cities all over America - St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boston and New York.
But Motown throws an Opening Day party second to none.
And in the last three years, there were plenty of reasons to get excited around these parts. The Tigers - who won the division the last three years - have been the favorites to win the World Series.
And even though the odds-makers still consider the Tigers a top team to compete for the championship, some Tigers' fans aren't as optimistic as they had been.
And with good reason.
The Tigers are worse than they were last year - at least, on paper.
It's not as if the Tigers - who open up on Monday afternoon against the Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park at 1:08 pm - didn't make moves. It's the exact opposite. GM Dave Dombrowski made moves, big moves.
Sadly, the result is that the team simply isn't as good.
Don't forget that the Tigers were picked by most MLB experts to win the World Series in 2013 - they didn't get there. In 2012, they lost to the San Francisco Giants in the Fall Classic.
That team outmuscled and outpitched the rest in the American League.
But that team doesn't exist anymore as the Tigers decided to trim their budget after their $150-million payroll went bust a year ago.
The biggest loss was Prince Fielder. For sure, Fielder had a horrible postseason with no home runs or RBI. Plus, Fielder didn't endear himself with fans after his uncaring comments after the Tigers were eliminated in the American League Championship Series by the Boston Red Sox.
Fielder - and his $215 million contract were sent packing to the Texas Rangers - will be missed, though.
The last two guys that batted in front of the slugger won and an MVP. First, Ryan Braun in Milwaukee in 2011. Then, Cabrera in 2012 and 2013 in Motown.
Pitchers were forced to pitch to Braun and Cabrera with Prince's home run bat waiting on-deck.
That's gone and so is most of the power in the Tigers' lineup. It will be interesting to see how they pitch Cabrera with the powerless Victor Martinez in the four hole.
Plus, the Tigers let go of Jhonny Peralta and Omar Infante, both free agents. Both were .300 hitters.
Dombrowski also unloaded Doug Fister for almost nothing to the Washington Nationals.
Plus, the Tigers have a new manager. Gone is Jim Leyland, who took them to two World Series in eight years. Now, Brad Ausmus is the skipper. He has zero experience. In fact, Ausmus was never even a coach.
So far, it appears as if the veteran players like the change and are feeling comfortable with Ausmus in charge.
Still, there's a lot of pressure to win.
Rob's predictions for the 2014 MLB season
AL EAST - The New York Yankees have reloaded, spent money. Somehow, they won 85 games with all the injuries they had a year ago. They bounce back and win the division.
The Tampa Bay Rays - still with pitching galore - will win an AL wild card.
AL CENTRAL - The Kansas City Royals will shock MLB, winning the division. Last year, they hung in the race until late in the season. They have starting pitching - had best ERA 3.45 in AL last season - and added star pitcher Yordano Ventura. Plus, KC has a great bullpen.
The Tigers will manage to secure a wild card spot.
AL WEST- The Texas Rangers will win the division fueled by a motivated Fielder. Let's be honest, he got his feelings hurt after being dumped. Hence, he's in great shape and has something to prove. Playing in the bandbox, Fielder has a legit chance to win MVP.
NL EAST - The Washington Nationals were the overwhelming pick a year ago and fell on their face. They have so much pitching, including Fister in fourth spot. They will cruise to the division.
NL CENTRAL - The Pittsburgh Pirates finally broke through and made the postseason after more than two decades. They win the division, beating out St. Louis Cardinals.
But the well-put-together Cards get an NL wild card.
NL WEST - The Los Angeles Dodgers will easily win the division. They are loaded, starting with Clayton Kershaw. They have all they need to get the job done.
The San Francisco still has pitching. It will allow they to get a wild card and get back in the playoffs.
WORLD SERIES - Dodgers over the Royals in six games.
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