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5 early conclusions we can draw from the Tigers' first 2 games

Who needs those other 160 games? We know exactly what this Tigers team will do in 2016.

Rob Foldy/Getty Images

Baseball teams are always hard to judge early in the season. Former Detroit Tigers manager Sparky Anderson famously once said "You can't tell anything about a baseball team until 40 games have been played."

Well, no offense to Mr. Anderson, but he didn't have the internet when he was watching baseball. The Tigers' two-game sweep of the Miami Marlins was a refreshing start to the 2016 season, one that hopes to wash away the foul taste of their last-place finish in 2015. They even played extra innings in one of those games, so we have a full 20 innings of baseball to judge this team on, which is a plenty large sample in internet time.



Okay, so two games is absolutely nothing in baseball. In fact, that series probably didn't change our perception of this club all that much (it was the Marlins, after all). But there were a few interesting things that came out of the first two games of the year. Let's take a look at what we might expect from this Tigers team going forward.

The Tigers are going to hit

We knew this going into spring training. We knew this coming out of spring training, though there was a fleeting moment of "Oh s***, not again!" when Victor Martinez tweaked his hamstring. This Tigers lineup is dangerous, even when an opposing team's ace racks up 13 strikeouts in five-plus innings.

Just about everyone showed some thump, too. Ian Kinslerclearly a BYB reader, socked the team's first home run of the season on Tuesday and is 5-for-11 in the early going. Jose Iglesias and Anthony Gose were productive at the bottom of the lineup, with the latter displaying some surprising power in the opener. Victor Martinez has a pair of home runs, while J.D. Martinez spent the series hitting rockets directly to Marlins outfielders. Even Nick Castellanos, who finished the series 1-for-8, made his lone hit count, driving in a pair of runs with a double on Wednesday. Castellanos had solid at-bats throughout the series as well, except when Jose Fernandez sunk his teeth in.

The Tigers won't continue to score 7 1/2 runs per game, but opponents are not going to have fun facing this lineup.

The ninth inning is still an adventure

For whatever reason, the Tigers had trouble closing out both of this week's games despite a relatively calm lead-up to the ninth inning. Justin Wilson and Mark Lowe threw a pair of perfectly boring frames in each game, allowing one run between them. Drew VerHagen has looked solid in his first two appearances, even making Giancarlo Stanton look foolish on a nasty curveball in one instance. Shane Greene leads the team in saves because baseball.

But then there's the ninth. Francisco Rodriguez blew his first save opportunity as a Tiger on Tuesday, which you can read into all you like. During Wednesday's Fox Sports Detroit broadcast, Mario Impemba and Rod Allen pointed out that Rodriguez relied a bit too much on his changeup, which Marlins hitters appeared to be sitting on. Later in that game, Logan Kensing struggled to get the final out, which led to a second appearance from Rodriguez. Fans will debate on the process of his bases-loaded showdown with Stanton -- I'm on team "probably got away with a hanger or two" -- but the end result was a strikeout and a second Tigers victory.

Things will get smoother. Sometimes the blow-ups will happen in the seventh and eighth instead. VerHagen will look like a rookie at some point. Rodriguez will probably be fine. Until things settle down, I'm still giving a little side-eye to the bullpen, even if it's not all that warranted yet.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia is a game-changer

Forget that Saltalamacchia threw out Dee Gordon attempting to steal second base. It was an excellent throw, yes, but that's not why the Tigers dumped Bryan Holaday as their backup catcher for 2016. Saltalamacchia's four-RBI game on Wednesday shows the dynamic bat he can bring to this lineup, especially against right-handed pitching. Having a productive Salty somewhere in the batting order lengthens the lineup, giving the Tigers a one-through-six (or seven) that will give pitchers nightmares. So far, Saltalamacchia is doing what the Tigers hoped Alex Avila would when paired with James McCann: providing some thump from the catcher spot.

And while McCann will improve offensively, his 0-for-5 showing on Tuesday illustrates why the Tigers needed Saltalamacchia. McCann struggled against right-handed pitching last season, and looked no better in his two plate appearances against righties the other day. If he doesn't improve in this aspect, the Tigers have an insurance policy.

Justin Verlander is back

Verlander's ERA might not tell the whole story after one start, but those watching Tuesday's game saw what so many of us did down the stretch in 2015: #MustSeeJV is here to stay. Verlander was electric in the early going, issuing just one walk and taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning. A lengthy at-bat against Ichiro Suzuki may have worn Verlander down a bit, resulting in a pair of solid base hits from Dee Gordon and Marcell Ozuna to break up the no-hit bid. Giancarlo Stanton's home run came on a hanging breaking ball, but even he seemed slightly fooled by the pitch before launching it to Mars and back.

Detractors will point to those three instances as a reason why we shouldn't get excited about Verlander yet, but I'm looking at the other five innings and grinning like an idiot. Verlander admitted he probably isn't where he wants to be just yet in terms of his command and conditioning, yet he still flummoxed a potentially dangerous lineup for most of his Opening Day start.

The Tigers are going to win it all! Just like 2015

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, we need to remember some recent history. The Tigers have gotten off to flying starts under Brad Ausmus in both 2014 and 2015, only to falter later in the season for any number of reasons. The 2014 squad looked like a juggernaut in April and early May, racing out to a 27-12 record in their first 39 games. They had three Cy Young winners in their rotation and a seven-game division lead. Some awful website proclaimed that the division would be over by Memorial Day.

Instead, the Tigers fell into a slump, losing seven of their next eight games. They would ultimately slide all the way to a 36-32 record by mid-June, a 9-20 mark over that month span. If you include their ALDS sweep at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles, those Tigers went exactly .500 over the last five months, at 63-63.

The 2015 season was more of the same, but to a lesser extent. The Tigers swept their first two series of the season, and jumped out to an 11-2 record. An early May matchup with the Kansas City Royals was billed as a potential playoff preview, and that four-game set mostly lived up to the hype.

We know how that story ended. Fans will be riding high after winning a couple of exciting games over a Marlins club that is more talented than their eventual record will show. The Tigers looked unbeatable during stretches, with an offense that will seemingly paper over any of the bullpen's deficiencies. The starting rotation looks passable so far, and the bench has executed its job to perfection. Even manager Brad Ausmus has been pushing all the right buttons.

Ah, who cares? This team is going to the World Series! Right?