Had it not been for an interesting offseason and a lively preseason, a first glance at the Detroit Tigers would cause just about anyone to think the Tigers were playing in a never-ending postseason loop. By no means has the 2014 season been dull. If you want dull, go watch the Cubs play.
The Tigers season has been a combination of Transformers, the Matrix, 24 and Star Wars all rolled into one. Not only has it been an exciting first two weeks, but the way in which they achieved much of their 6-4 record required several therapy visits and the occasional open heart surgery.
But if Brad Ausmus is experiencing heartburn as a result of the shortstop and bullpen situations, he is not showing his hand. He looks very much like the ultimate poker player and has never lost his cool. The man who has never managed before goes about his occupation like a seasoned skipper.
Coming into the 2014 season, the Tigers were expected to produce significantly less offensive power as a result of the offseason transactions, but in the first seven consecutive games they boasted at least one home run in every game. The Tigers made up for the difference by playing smart ball and capitalizing on stolen bases.
The only reason the Tigers suffered two of their four losses was the result of a struggling bullpen and there were some close-call wins as a result of the same issue. A combination of starting pitchers unable to command the strike zone coupled with flat bats were to blame for the other two losses. However, these last two reasons are closer to the rule than the exception. Every team has games like this and it is going to happen on occasion throughout the season.
But even with those struggles, the Tigers have emerged triumphant and they have done so with a better record in the first two weeks of the 2014 than they did in the 2013 season. In fact, the Tigers didn't pick up a four game winning streak until the second game of a two-game series against the Seattle Mariners on April 17, 2013.
Of the first 14 games played in 2013, nine were decided by a difference of four or more runs and the Opening Day score was 8-3 in favor of the Tigers. So understandably, the concept of close games early in the season is not too familiar in comparison to last year.
But a combination of small ball technique combined with the ongoing bullpen and shortstop situations, have made April a little more dramatic than everyone is used to seeing. There is no denying that the Tigers bullpen is wallowing in a pool of self pity. But just because the kettle water is bubbling doesn't automatically mean the steam has blown the top. Eventually Ausmus will turn off the heat and things will return to normal.
To date, the Tigers are 6-4. They have the second highest winning percentage in the American League and even with the losses they accumulated, are ranked fifth overall in Major League Baseball (the Dodgers, Braves and Athletics are all tied at second place). In 10 games Tigers bats have combined for 10 home runs and have 40 runs on 86 hits.
They have the second lowest strikeout count in both the AL and MLB (71 versus the Seattle Mariners who have the AL high of 115 and the NY Mets who have the MLB high of 132) and even with two consecutive losses are fourth in the AL in slugging (.406) and OPS (.713).
Also, the Tigers have the fourth lowest walks-per-game average of any team in MLB, 2.3 walks versus the Minnesota Twins who sit atop with a whopping 4.9 walks-per-game average. This would be a bigger concern if the Tigers had a high strikeout ratio combined with a low walk average but that is not the case.
In two weeks alone the Tigers broke several records both as a team and individually, and put a number of ‘firsts' on the board. The Tigers 2014 Opening Day 4-3 victory marked the Tigers sixth consecutive home opener they had won. The Tigers were also the "first team to open a season with back-to-back walk-off wins since the Twins in 2004" according the Elias Sports.
The Tigers went on to open the season 4-0 which they did when they went to the World Series in 2012. For the first time since 1914, the Tigers had home runs in each of the first seven consecutive games. Victor Martinez claimed the Tigers' first stolen base of the season, which marked his first stolen base since July 1, 2011 in a game against the San Francisco Giants. It was only the fifth stolen base of his entire career.
On April 4 against the Baltimore Orioles, Miguel Cabrera hit a home run for his 2,000th career hit which was also his first homer of the season. Only six players in MLB history reached that milestone at a faster pace and he is ninth overall to ever do it before the age of 31. Seven of those eight players are in the MLB Hall of Fame.
Nick Castellanos got his first MLB hit on the same day Cabrera hit his first homer of the season. Justin Verlander ended a 10 year drought and had not one but two singles and scored a run on Saturday as the Tigers went on to win the game 6-2 against the San Diego Padres. Despite a loss on Sunday, Max Scherzer struck out 10 in five innings or less and is the first Tigers pitcher to do so since 1914.
I could go on but you get the point. Despite the continuing struggles--primarily in the bullpen but to a slightly lesser extent at shortstop--the Tigers are one of the best teams in MLB. In the last two weeks, on average the Tigers had 8.6 hits and HookSlide noted on Twitter Sunday evening that "the Tigers have averaged four runs per game in 2014, and have scored at or above that average in 50% of their games" which, coming off a week of interleague play demonstrates consistency.
The Tigers will return home for a
10 nine-game homestand (curse you Mother Nature), facing the Cleveland Indians first in a three two-game series (dang it!). The Tigers have a record of 34-11 when facing the Indians at home in the last five years and the Tigers have shutout the Indians eight times however the Indians have managed to shutout the Tigers only twice.
Last year alone the two teams went into extra innings three times, twice into the 10th and once into the 14th. Two of those games were on the road both of which were won by the Tigers, and the one home game that went into extra innings the Tigers lost, thus feeding the age-old rivalry which exists between the two teams. Out of 19 games played last year Detroit won 15, and 10 of those were won by a margin of three or more runs. The Tigers also had two seven-game winning streaks last year against the Indians.
There are some issues on the mound and the occasional quiet bat syndrome but overall things are looking up for the Tigers. Nick Castellanos is performing to par, Austin Jackson is obsessed with hitting, Torii Hunter added Silver Slugging capabilities to his Golden Gloving duties, and Justin Verlander ended his bout with flat-bat syndrome.
Andrew Romine is a possible cure for the shortstop disease, Miguel Cabrera is going through his yearly adjustment period by utilizing opposing pitchers for his personal batting practice, and Ian Kinsler is a joy to watch on the field. The Tigers are a more fun bunch to watch altogether and they aren't hiding the fact that they are having fun. Yes, overall things are looking up indeed