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SI FOR KIDS
Tigers: Ready to leap forward
Posted: Thursday March 04, 1999 12:38 PM
By Mark Bechtel, Sports Illustrated
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Greetings from Tigertown. Few teams were as optimistic as Detroit entering last season. After losing 109 games in 1996, the Tigers cut that number down to 83 in '97, and began thinking wild card. Then they just got spanked last season, barely avoiding 100 losses again.
This year the Tigers are optimistic once more, but far more cautiously. I think they've got a decent shot of at least being in the running for the wild-card spot. Look at how weak the AL is: New York and Cleveland are locks, and either Anaheim or Texas will win the West. Whichever team doesn't will have the inside track on the wild card, and Baltimore will be in the hunt, too. After that, there's not a whole lot. So a few breaks here and a few injuries there, and Detroit could stick within sniffing distance of the playoffs.
One area in which the Tigers will be especially strong is the bullpen. Watching 22-year-old Matt Anderson throw has been mind-numbing. The kid has been clocked at 103 mph, and his pitches are nothing more than blurs. He'll be pushing Todd Jones for the closer's role. I'd like to see Jones hold onto his job. He is one of the best talkers in the game, and a pretty good writer, too. He does a weekly column for The Birmingham (Ala.) News. I read some of his columns from last year, and he doesn't just give you fluff. He does a really nice job getting inside the game and letting you know what life in the bigs is like.
Jones is not the only Tigers reliever to dabble in the affairs of the fourth estate. C.J. Nitkowski has a website (members.aol.com/cnitkowski) that is full of news, pictures and a diary. If these guys pitch as well as they write, it could be a good year.
Sports Illustrated writer-reporter Mark Bechtel will check in with periodic Postcards from his tour of spring camps.
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