Verlander needs Cabrera-like focus for Tigers success in 2013

At times in 2012, Justin Verlander didn’t seem to have the same sharpness and focus that he displayed in 2011.

At last year’s Detroit Tigers’ training camp, it was obvious that Miguel Cabrera was mentally and physically prepared for the coming season. He arrived in Lakeland in amazing shape – he seemed eager and ready to assume the role as third baseman in order to make room for his new teammate, Prince Fielder. Miggy came to camp on a mission to win a championship.

Cabrera was the one constant during the 2012 Tigers campaign. The 29-year old seemed to come of age before our very eyes as his immense potential became an unstoppable kinetic reality. Fans soon forgot some of his immature escapades of years past as a man widely regarded as the most supremely talented in all of baseball played an entire season the way we all knew he was capable. The result: an American League pennant and trip to the World Series for the Tigers, a league MVP award – and the first Triple Crown award in 45 years.

In contrast, the Tigers’ ace, Justin Verlander, seemed to have spent a disproportionate amount of the 2011-12 off-season making television commercials, inking endorsement deals, and basking in the glory of his American League Cy Young and MVP awards. Most off-season talk of Verlander revolved around his new 19-year-old bikini model girlfriend, Kate Upton.

Rumor has it that Verlander and Upton are an item again after their midseason breakup of last year. The relationship undoubtedly has many questioning Verlander’s judgment – not to mention his commitment to his teammates and fans. Will he have the focus that will be required for him to win the 22-25 games the entire world knows he is capable of notching in any given season?

It seemed at times that during the 2012 campaign, Verlander was not as engrossed as he was the year before. He occasionally seemed flustered on the mound and he didn’t pitch with the same consistency. His win total fell from 24 to 17 (with a few wins admittedly blown by a lackluster bullpen) and short of a Chicago White Sox collapse in the last few weeks of the season, the Tigers nearly lost a division championship which many believed they should have clinched by early September.

We have all seen what Verlander is capable of when he is on his game. The man is invincible when he’s “locked in.” Think back to Game Five of the 2012 ALDS against the Oakland A’s. The look on his face alone spoke volumes. He was in a different place mentally – and when he’s there, he is virtually untouchable.

It will be interesting to see which Justin Verlander shows up to camp when pitchers and catchers report next week. Will we be reading about his love affair with a swimsuit model? Or will the stories revolve around his determination to bring a World Series Championship to the Motor City?

Verlander needs to take a page out of Miguel Cabrera’s 2012 playbook and come to camp with a fiery intensity and focus that will carry him and his teammates through the end of October. He has the physical ability, but if it is not accompanied by a season-long focus and a burning desire to win, 2013 could be a major disappointment for the Tigers and their fans.

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About Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas is the original founder and owner of Detroit Athletic Co. He enjoys free-lance writing as well and his articles have appeared in The Detroit News, The Detroit Free Press, Crain's Detroit Business and The Wall Street Journal.