Hot stove finished cooking: Play Ball

It’s one of those old customs that baseball fans have been doing for a long time.

During the dead of winter, a group of fans gather, not neccesarily in front of a hot stove, and talk about the prospects of their favorite teams in the upcoming season.

Even though the imposing snowbanks up here tell us differently, the time for talk is just about over as the major leaguers pack up their gear and start the trip north for next week’s opening games.

For most baseball fanatics around here, the chief topic is the Detroit Tigers.

Now, the Tigers have teased their rooters over the past six seasons. The team has made it to two World Series in that period, but won a grand total of one game in the Fall Classic.

But this year’s team appears to have the talent to make a wire-to-wire run.

I don’t believe there is a better daily lineup than the one Detroit can trot out.

Free agent Torii Hunter will help strangthen things at the top of the order, adding speed and providing better outfield defense than has been seen for a long time.

After opposing pitchers wade through the imposing middle of the order in MVP Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, they will have to deal with designated hitter Victor Martinez.

I think that Martinez was the missing part of last season’s puzzle. He’s a clutch hitter who will make pitchers pay for working around Cabrera and Fielder.

The bottom third of the lineup is capable enough with leftfielder Andy Dirks one of the keys.

And even though shortstop Jhonny Peralta probably should have been replaced, the Tigers are strong enough to manuever around him.

After all, the 1968 World Champion Tigers made do with weak-hitting Ray Oyler, who had a very good glove.

The catching should be more than adequate with Alex Avila, who could be on the verge of stardom.

But it is pitching that should set Detroit apart from everyone else.

Starting with perennial Cy Young candidate Justin Verlander, the Tigers have a rotation that — barring injuries — could be tops in the majors.

Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez could be aces on any other staff.

Rick Porcello, who was trade bait all spring, looked better than anyone in Florida. He’s a nice option for the No. 5 spot.

If the team finds a way to patchwork a decent closer, there is very little to stop them.

I’m aware that some of the so-called experts are predicting Cleveland, Chicago and Kansas City to be threats in the AL Central. But realistically, none of three have enough pitching to do that.

The only wild card remaining in Motown is the sometimes suspect strategies of manager Jim Leyland. But Leyland has the respect of his players and that’s probably good enough.

And he did replace shaky Gene Lamont as the third base coach, a move that will likely save at least a couple of games.

As for the rest of the American League, the Angels, Blue Jays and Rangers certainly have the offense to be major threats. Again, lack of pitching will be an issue.

The San Francisco Giants embarrassed Detroit last year in the WS. But I think that was a one-time deal and revenge will be at hand.

But don’t take my word … this was all decided during hot stove league sesssions this past winter.