Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera enjoy their blossoming bromance.
One series is in the books. The Tigers are 3-0. While we should all remember not to put too much emphasis on the story lines that have emerged so far, it's certainly worth exploring a few interesting story lines that we've been watching develop over the past couple of months.
The lineup is as good as we thought. Maybe the Tigers won't score the 1404 runs they're on pace for -- better make that definitely won't -- but the lineup is every bit as strong as expected. Boston sent two very good starting pitchers to the mound, and a third who should be really good but may be battling an injury. So we're not talking about beating up on a bad club in the opening series. The Tigers acquitted themselves quite well against the starters, and even better against the bullpen members. Austin Jackson limited his strikeouts and collected hits by the gobs (more on that later), meanwhile you cannot help but expect Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder to get a hit -- probably a really long one -- every time they come to the plate in a key situation. It won't always look this easy. They know that. We know that. Yet you can't help but less yourself think, if they do this against Boston what will they do against the cellar dwellers of the league?
At times, the defense is as questionable as we feared. It started with a somersault and error by Miguel Cabrera on Thursday. It ended with a ball that got by Ryan Raburn Sunday leaving you to wish there was a "real" second baseman there. In between, we saw as limited range and little mistakes extended innings or costed runs. Fortunately, the Red Sox didn't always take advantage, and the Tigers pitchers collected a few timely strikeouts to get out of some problems. We also saw that you can forgive some shaky defense as long as the lineup does its thing, and that some of those lumbering giants can look pretty in the field.
Cabrera will stick at third base. Thursday gave national pundits and talk-radio callers ample opportunity to declare the experiment a failure. Cabrera even admitted to being a bit wary of getting in front of a hard-hit ball, for fear of getting hit in the face again. Yet there he was on Saturday, making a catlike-reflexes diving catch, and he made another nice play Sunday. The big guy is definitely an athlete. We're going to continue seeing both Cabreras as the season progresses, but don't let anyone tell you he'll be DH'ing by the end of the year. He's got the ability and he'll regain the confidence he had before the bad hop hit him in spring training.
Justin Verlander took over where he left off. The Tigers' ace had a tall task in facing the Red Sox offense for his first start of the year. All he did was throw eight shutout innings while allowing just two hits and a walk. A little later in the season, he could have completed the game himself. Verlander has never been a strong pitcher at the start of a season. Even during his AL MVP, Cy Young season last year, he allowed three runs three times and four runs twice during his first six starts -- and we all thought that was a vast improvement over his past showings. Verlander looks like he didn't miss a step even after an offseason of receiving accolades and enjoying his stardom. If he can keep this up ... wow. I don't even have the words to explain the complete dominance he would hold over the rest of the American League. It will sure be fun to watch.
Austin Jackson is proving the offseason storylines true. Early in spring training, one of the key stories told how Jackson changed his swing this year to cut down on strikeouts. This story was repeated ad infinitum while Jackson did little in spring training to make you believe it mattered. He struck out 20 times in 70 at bats for a 28.5 percent rate. If that sounds familiar, it's because he recorded strikeouts in 29 percent of his at bats during the first two seasons of his career. Yet three games into the season, it's undeniable that he looks better at the plate. In one memorable at bat, he fought off a tough 0-2 pitch only to turn the next offering into a hit. He's already had multi-hit games twice, collecting three hits in the opener and four hits Sunday. Three of his eight hits have even been of the extra-base variety. He's still striking out here and there, but he's getting on base like a leadoff batter should. The Tigers could really use a reliable table setter for Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Maybe he'll succeed there.
The Prince Fielder signing made good sense. Not just from a statistical standpoint, though he does have a .417 batting average a two home-run game. Fielder belongs in Detroit. By all accounts, he's having a wonderful time. He's fitting in with his teammates. He and Cabrera have a blossoming bromance that is fun to watch. What's also fun to watch is how much he means to the fans of the Tigers. Some of the loudest cheers on opening day were for Fielder. Comerica Park packed in more than 45,000 fans on Thursday and more than 44,000 more on Saturday. Some of that comes from hosting the Red Sox and their myriad fans, of course. But a lot seems to be Detroit's fans enjoying their pair of superstars in the middle of the lineup -- especially the one they were able to watch growing up. The Fielder deal was always more than just a statistical signing -- and it's already proving to be a success in many ways.