Even with Miguel Cabrera, don’t be surprised when the Detroit Tigers are in last place in the AL Central division after the first month of the schedule. 

The MLB schedule makers have done no favors for a team that has been abysmal on the road the last two years, and the team has one major and a few minor issues to deal with.

To begin their 2011 schedule, the Tigers open with road trips to the New York Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles. In New York, the Tigers will see CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes in front of a boisterous Yankee crowd; they then will travel to face an improved Orioles team.

The schedule eases a little as the Kansas City Royals come to town for the home opener, but the relief doesn’t last for long as the defending AL Champion Texas Rangers will make a trip to Comerica Park on April 11-13.

Next up is a seven-game AL West road trip against the Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners, followed by a home series against the AL Central favored Chicago White Sox.

The Tigers always struggle out West and the White Sox will be a very strong team this year.

Twelve of the first 17 games are on the road, where the Tigers have played terrible over the past three seasons. Despite being a nearly combined .500 overall, the Tigers have won just 40 percent of their road games over the past three seasons.

In addition to the rough schedule to start the season, the Tigers will be dealing with some lingering internal issues that could cause some distractions.

Of course, the Miguel Cabrera arrest will be a major distraction for this team. Rather than accept the penalty and admit fault (making the issue go away quicker), Cabrera and his attorney have decided to plea not guilty to the DUI charge against him.

Rumor is that Cabrera has a decent chance of getting out of the charge, as evidence seems to be lacking that he was actually behind the wheel when approached by police. 

In my opinion, Cabrera should accept the penalty, let the embarrassing situation die and learn from it.

The fact that he is fighting the charge will no doubt drag the incident as a discussion piece for the team as the litigation plays out in the public eye. It also raises further doubt that Cabrera is a changed man. 

Either way, it isn’t good for the team to start the season but the media frenzy will die down eventually.

I do expect Cabrera to struggle to start the season just as he has to start spring training.

Leyland has a nice problem with the fourth and fifth outfield positions. Well OK, it’s not exactly a problem, but it’s something that still needs to play out. 

Ryan Rayburn has done nothing in spring training to lose his stranglehold on the starting left field spot, but three young players have been outstanding for the Tigers in the outfield thus far, meaning the team has some decisions to make.

Brennan Boesch has shown he actually can still hit after his 2010 post-All Star break free fall. He’s also shown improved defense, which was a huge knock on him.

Casper Wells has picked up where he left off late in 2010 and non-roster invitee Andy Dirks has probably been better than either Boesch or Wells this spring and has played his way into the mix.

The way it’s going, two of these guys will probably make the team and Leyland’s favorite utility guy Don Kelly (or Ramon Santiago if Kelly is moved to strictly a backup infielder) might be in trouble. 

Leyland is going to have to get rid of a couple guys who deserve to be on the team.

Since Leyland tends to out-think himself, it might lead to some early lineup mistakes. Again, not exactly a problem, but something that will need to play out.

Finally, it wouldn’t be baseball season without Joel Zumaya injury news. Zumaya is expected to miss a little time as scar tissue has broken up from last year’s surgery on his throwing elbow.

Although the process of scar tissue breaking is normal, every bit of news related to Zumaya’s health needs to be taken seriously. 

Zumaya is extremely important to the Tigers bullpen and a prolonged absence would hurt them significantly. Expect the Tigers to use him with caution the first several weeks of the season.

Despite the fact that they will likely struggle early, Tigers fans should not worry too much about the team. 

The rotation has looked excellent thus far and the rest of the issues should resolve themselves in time.

I have a feeling that this season the Detroit Tigers will be making the late season run to the division title rather than the team blowing it.

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