May 24, 2014

MLB Insider: Tigers too loaded to not play in October

A former TCU catcher is a witnessing another big season in Detroit.

Life, theoretically, could be better for Bryan Holaday, who to date is merely a big-league backup, but things are still pretty grand for the former TCU All-American.

When he gets a chance to play, he might be catching Justin Verlander or Max Scherzer, winners of two of the past three American League Cy Young awards.

Holaday’s locker at Comerica Park is no more than 10 steps from the reigning two-time AL MVP, Miguel Cabrera, and another 12 steps to three-time All-Star Ian Kinsler.

The former Dallas White High School star could have landed with an also-ran in the 2010 draft. Instead, he landed in the lap of the always-in-the-hunt Detroit Tigers in the sixth round.

And, to cap it off, the happily married Holaday shared some spring laughs with supermodel Kate Upton, though he was the one wearing the bikini. Anything else might have strained his catcher-pitcher relationship with Verlander.

“Everything is really good,” Holaday said. “You can’t complain.”

Come October, Holaday could find himself enjoying another deep Tigers run into the postseason. At this point, despite a four-game hiccup last week, Detroit is either the best or second-best team, dueling with Oakland, in the league.

Their starting rotation is as good as there is. Their lineup is more athletic than in years past and isn’t missing Prince Fielder. Their bikini-donning backup catcher could find himself in the World Series.

Just ask Kinsler, who sees similarities between these Tigers and the 2011 Texas Rangers team that came oh so close to a world title.

“We have as good of a chance as that team had of winning a World Series, but you have to prove it,” Kinsler said. “We came off a road trip of winning the first six games against two tough opponents, and then we play the Cleveland Indians and get beat three games in a row. It’s a tough league.”

Those who follow the Tigers closely gushed last week about the impact Kinsler has had, and, for now, were willing to overlook his base-running mistakes as the price of being aggressive.

Aggression of the bases has been badly lacking with the Tigers. Before Kinsler and speedster Rajai Davis arrived, the Tigers’ lineup was filled with base-cloggers, with the exception of Denton’s Austin Jackson, and they often went station to station.

Cabrera and Victor Martinez haven’t suddenly started trying to steal bases or go first to third, but those who do are putting themselves in scoring position more often when Cabrera and Martinez are up.

Cabrera hasn’t missed a beat without Fielder behind him, in large part because Martinez has been a hitting machine behind him. Entering Saturday, the four-time All-Star had already hit 12 homers, two fewer than his 2013 total in 440 fewer at-bats.

Martinez’s .323 average is a tick behind Kinsler and Cabrera, both at a league-leading .326, and he had walked more times (18) than he had struck out (12).

“There’s no secret what kind of hitter Martinez is,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “His numbers certainly show that.”

The Tigers felt they had so much pitching in the off-season that they dealt away Doug Fister. They needed Rick Porcello to be better, and the right-hander has responded with a team-leading seven wins, including six straight before being pounded by the Rangers on Saturday.

And he’s the No. 4 starter, behind Scherzer, Verlander and Anibal Sanchez.

“We definitely have one of the best, if not the best, rotations in the game,” Holaday said. “They’re all studs. It makes my job easy. They do all the work.”

The Tigers don’t seem to have many holes, though their bullpen has been dicey at times. Joe Nathan, the Rangers’ former closer, has been steady enough but not perfect, and no player in the majors is as disliked by his home fan base as much as lefty Phil Coke.

At the very least, Detroit is clearly better than any other team in the AL Central.

Minnesota, the Rangers’ opponent Monday through Thursday, is a nice early-season story but isn’t built to stay in contention.

Kansas City is probably second-best, especially with that bullpen, but the Royals have hit the fewest homers in the league — yes, fewer than the Rangers — and just saw one-time highly regard third baseman Mike Moustakas sent to the minors.

Cleveland won back-to-back 13-inning games Wednesday and Thursday to start its march from the basement, where the Indians won’t be at the end of the season. They rallied into the postseason last year and could again take a wild-card spot.

But they won’t end the Tigers’ three-year reign atop the Central. Detroit is too good, with too much starting pitching and more than enough offense to coast to the division title and possibly reach the World Series for the second time in three years.

The way things are going for the 26-year-old Holaday, the charmed former TCU catcher, an appearance in the Fall Classic seems likely.

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