By: Jamie Samuelsen
After nine games, the Tigers are 5-4.
Not bad, other than the fact that they could very easily be 8-1. They flat out gave away wins against the Twins and the Blue Jays. And they easily could have won the third game in Minnesota until Brayan Villarreal flamed out in the eighth inning and turned a 3-2 Twins lead into an 8-2 rout. The only game so far that they’ve flat out lost was the 7-0 Yankee thrashing at the hands of C.C. Sabathia on Sunday afternoon.
Still, many of the signs in the early going are positive for the Tigers with the thought that things could be even better as things move along.
So let’s take a look at the good and the bad for the Tigers in the VERY early going.
GOOD – FIRST INNING
The Tigers have scored at least one run in the first inning in seven of the nine games so far. It’s an impressive start that harkens back a bit to the 1984 season. No, I’m not even close to comparing these Tigers to the 35-5 start. (By my math, they’d have to go 30-1 in their next 31 to match that team.) But the ’84 Tigers had that knack for scoring early runs. It seemed like every night; Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell would scratch at least one run across in the first. In some games, that can make all the difference to a starting pitcher.
BAD – BULLPEN
We all knew that the closer-by-committee would be a tad dicey. We just didn’t know that the first blown save would lead to Jose Valverde earning a minor league contract. (The Tigers insist that the timing is coincidental. I’m not buying it.) But we didn’t realize that the entire unit would be this bad this early. Joaquin Benoit has looked pretty good and now seems to be the closer (for now). But Villarreal looks scared out there and every relief pitcher has had some spotty outings. The bullpen E.R.A is 6.41 which ranks second to last in Major League Baseball. As good as the Tiger starting pitching has been and should be, the bullpen has to get better or this team will not be able to reach it’s goals.
GOOD – PRINCE FIELDER
Fielder is clearly locked in. Perhaps it’s the presence of Victor Martinez behind him in the order. Perhaps it’s a full year of facing American League pitching under his belt. Or perhaps it’s his off-season regimen of MMA training. Whatever it is, he’s mashing the ball. Last April, Fielder had 11 RBIs and slugged .444. So far this year, he has 17 RBIs and is slugging .645. Fielder had a very good year last year. But he didn’t have a loud year in terms of coming through all the time in the big moments. He’s been loud so far this year.
BAD – JHONNY PERALTA
Those hoping for a bounce back year from the Tigers shortstop have been disappointed so far. He’s struck out a team-high 7 times so far and has had some lousy at-bats. There’s a reason that the Tigers chased Stephen Drew during the off-season. If the team has to put up with Peralta’s woeful range at short, then he has to compensate with more offense at the plate. So far, he hasn’t done that.
GOOD – TORII HUNTER
Seriously – could a free agent arrival possible get off to a better start. You’re not going to meet a nicer guy. And he put any thoughts of 2012 being a fluke to rest so far with an electric start. Want to know why the Tigers have scored all those first inning runs? Hunter and Austin Jackson are a huge reason why. So is Miguel Cabrera.
BAD – VICTOR MARTINEZ
We’ll all be patient with Martinez as he works his way back into form following knee surgery last year. And today against the Blue Jays, he delivered a classic Victor moment with a two-out, two-strike run-scoring single. But he’ll be a close watch. Some scouts predicted his demise given how hard it is for a player his age to come back from micro fracture surgery. He should also stay away from bat racks.
GOOD – MIGUEL CABRERA
The thought of winning the Triple Crown two years in a row is preposterous. But then again, Cabrera’s talent is equally preposterous. It seemed like he was off to a quiet start because he wasn’t hitting for much power in the first week. Well take a look at his stats now – .378 average, 11 RBIs. Cabrera is so good that if he’s not putting up a 3-for-4 with a double, a homer and 5 RBIs, you almost feel like something is wrong.
BAD – TALKING ABOUT CABRERA EVERY DAY
I actually feel bad for Mario, Rod, Dan and Jim. They get to watch Cabrera play every day and they have to come up with new ways every game to describe his greatness. I have no clue how to restate something in a different manner that you see in front of you every day. Maybe Miggy needs to go on a prolonged slump to let them change things up a bit. Too bad that will never happen.