Cockcroft: Detroit Tigers preview

Three games. That's how close the 2006 Tigers came to completing a magical season. Led by 17-game winner Kenny Rogers, Detroit won Game 2 of the World Series, a victory that afterward was marred by the "Dirt-gate" controversy stemming from a smudge on the lefty ace's pitching hand. Perhaps distracted by the attention or too rested after a weeklong break between the American League Championship Series and World Series, the Tigers wouldn't win another game, losing the next three in St. Louis.

So the Tigers instead settled for the American League title and a 95-win season, their first winning campaign since 1993. That's not bad at all, considering Detroit had averaged 64 wins with a .408 winning percentage in the 12-year span between those years. Plus, the 2006 Tigers possessed a deep, balanced roster without too many past-their-prime players, and they bring back mostly the same roster for 2007, which should bode well.

With these Tigers, it all starts with the pitching, much like it did with those 2005 Chicago White Sox, a team whose "magic" many called similar. Detroit led the majors in ERA (3.84), and there's actually hope for better, with under-25 aces in the making in Jeremy Bonderman and Justin Verlander occupying two-fifths of the rotation. Chicago's team two years ago lacked comparable up-and-comers, but Bonderman and Verlander, who totaled 31 wins with a 3.87 ERA in 2006, could be primed for even better seasons. Plus, the man thought of as No. 3 in the bullpen for much of last season, Joel Zumaya, is a 22-year-old flamethrower whom many call the most dominating reliever since Mariano Rivera had that astonishing season for the 1996 New York Yankees. He'll be ready to take over the closer role from Todd Jones the minute Jones begins to show his 38 years of age.