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Spring Training 2011 Question Of The Day: Detroit Tigers

After replacing two-fifths of their starting rotation, the Tigers are looking to improve a real problem area from last season.

There are questions surrounding all 30 MLB teams during Spring Training, and Rob Neyer intends to answer them with his 30-part Question of the Day series. Today, he takes a look at the Detroit Tigers.

In 2010, the Detroit Tigers tallied 750 runs and finished eighth in the American League in scoring.

In 2011, the Detroit Tigers will tally 750 runs and finish eighth in the American League in scoring.

Of course none of that's exactly right. For one thing, the Tigers actually scored 751 runs last season. For another, they'll probably do a little better this season. The Tigers finished seventh in the league in OPS, and underperformed some in clutch situations. They'll have Jhonny Peralta for the whole season, which won't help the fielding but should improve hte hitting. They've signed Victor Martinez, who represents an upgrade over Johnny Damon.

But that's about it. Everything else is the same, on paper. These Tigers figure to score a few more runs, but not significantly more and either way there aren't any real questions regarding the offense. It is what it is, and should be decent but not spectacular. Partly sunny with a chance of taters, you might say.

The pitching is an entirely different story. The starting pitching, in particular.

In 2010, the Tigers' starting pitchers finished 11th in the American League with a 4.46 ERA, and they weren't so many runs away from finishing 13th (the Royals ran away with 14th place and hid). The Tigers managed this despite fine seasons from Justin Verlander (3.37) and Max Scherzer (3.50). Only three other Tigers started more than eight games: Jeremy Bonderman (5.53), Rick Porcello (4.92) and Armando Galarraga (4.49).

Verlander and Scherzer are back. So is Porcello. Which isn't a terrible thing, as Porcello in most regards pitched better in 2010 than in 2009, when he rang up a solid 3.96 ERA and finished third in Rookie of the Year balloting. Porcello's never going to strike out enough hitters to be a star, but he's perfectly capable of adequacy.

Bonderman and Galarraga are gone, replaced in the rotation by Phil Coke and Brad Penny.

There's your question, then ... Will Coke and Penny represent a big (enough) upgrade over Bonderman and Galarraga?

It really is anyone's guess.

Coke has pitched in 158 major-league games, and 157 of those were relief outings. In fact, Coke is 28 and he's started only two games above Class AA in his entire professional career. The Tigers are probably hoping to feature their own version of C.J. Wilson, but if hopes were wishes we all would have ponies in our garages. Or something.

Meanwhile, Penny has spent most of the last three seasons struggling with injuries and/or bad luck. One encouraging note: In his last 15 starts, spread over two seasons, Penny's got a 2.96 ERA. One discouraging note: Those 15 starts are spread over two seasons; Penny started only nine games last season because of a serious shoulder injury.

Both Coke and Penny are intriguing enough, and it's likely that one of them will pitch well this season. In a wide-open American League Central, that might even be enough. If both of them pitch well, though? That might be more than enough for 89 wins and the division title.