1. New Detroit Big Three. Justin Verlander, Doug Fister and Max Scherzer present as formidable a Big Three as you’ll find this side of Philadelphia. Don’t overlook Rick Porcello. He finished the year strong: 3-1 with a 3.50 ERA over his last seven starts dating back to Aug. 26.
2. The heart of the order -- plus two. From a resurgent Delmon Young in the three-hole to AL batting champ Miguel Cabrera at cleanup to .330-hitting Victor Martinez in the fifth spot, the Tigers have no gimmes in their order. Add Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta and you’ve got one bruising lineup.
3. Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde. Detroit’s setup man Benoit has been lights out since early August, and Valverde has been perfect in his 49 save chances. Though Papa Grande can make some saves more difficult than they need to be, he’s been this Tigers club’s version of Willie Hernandez in 1984 -- and then some.
4. X-Factors. Jim Leyland has gotten tremendous contributions from role players like Andy Dirks, Don Kelly and Ramon Santiago, not to mention clutch hits from infrequent starting right fielder Magglio Ordonez. And when Ryan Raburn gets on one of his hot-hitting rolls, he can turn a game around in a hurry.
5. Jim Leyland. The sizable anti-Leyland contingent in Detroit will howl at this notion, but there’s no denying that he’s guided the Tigers to two playoff appearances in his six seasons at the helm and nearly another in 2009. Expect Leyland to manage aggressively this postseason.
Mike McClary runs the Tigers blog, The Daily Fungo.