By Eric Thomas
It’s too early to make any serious evaluation of the Detroit Tigers. Running onto the field to make judgments or pronouncements would be a fool’s errand. Commentary is daily, so this is just a snapshot of a moving object. You can’t make too much of the Tigers losing two out of three to what many people consider the worst team in the American League Central while playing in conditions usually associated with Siberia.
These things are true, but early data is data nonetheless. We can review what we’ve learned about the 2013 Tigers without sounding some shrill siren. Here are five things that we have learned in the first three games.
- The starting pitching has been good – One of the team’s few bright spots. Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello have all turned in decent efforts. Critics might mention the Twins lack of talent. This is also true, but when compared to the efforts of the bullpen, the starters have been Steve Nebraska.
- Oh, the bullpen – We knew it would be bad. The collection of relief pitchers were handed two leads and lost them both. In the first game, Drew Smyly was awful; he lost the lead but the bats got it back for their first win. Al Albuquerque and Darin Downs have been bright spots, they looked good in both their appearances. The rest struggled. If the Twins can bring nine men to the plate in one inning against the Tigers’ bullpen, most other teams will be able to do the same.
- That lineup – The Tiger’s lineup is arguably the best in baseball. They haven’t looked like it yet. Austin Jackson has been encouraging, Victor Martinez finally had a pair of hits in game three but the team still has a nasty habit of bouncing into double plays and leaving the bases loaded. These problems will likely work themselves out but for those of us who watch every day, these things are frustrating.
- The defense – There were mistakes. Blown double plays, there seems to be a giant hole in left field and Prince Fielder has struggled with easy outs. Much of this could work itself out, and be blamed on the cold but you shake your head when you see a team with this much talent making easy mistakes.
- Closer – Welcome back Jose Valverde, we hardly had a chance to miss ye. The Tigers might be geniuses because watching the bullpen blow the last two games has made the public a lot more likely to tolerate the return of Papa Grande. It would be fair to say that Valverde’s signing signals that the team was wrong about the development of Bruce Rondon. The team rejected welcoming Valverde back after the World Series last year, touting loudly the little known minor leaguer with three digit cheese. Now suddenly all is forgiven, and he’s back getting paychecks from the organization. Valverde has the option of opting out in May if he hasn’t been called north yet. Where would he be opting out to? One of the dozens of teams that waited on hold to talk to him after last year’s playoff meltdown? It’s a “kinda-sorta” move that should raise eyebrows, proof that the team might be more nervous than they let on about the back half of the bullpen.
Regardless, it’s opening day and the Tigers get the gift of a team that’s more lost at sea than they are. The Yankees. Doug Fister hopes to have a better 2013 debut at Comerica than he did last year, when he left the game with an injury. He takes the mound against Ivan Nova, who struggled in the second half of 2012 with a 7.05 ERA. Tigers lately have made legends out of struggling pitchers (Barry Zito, cough) but maybe they get a boost from the Opening Day magic. They could use it, after that lousy series in Minnesota.