Tigers Fast Start Could Set Up Surprise Finish

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“You can’t win the World Series in April. But you can sure as hell lose it then.” Those are the words of former big league closer Rod Beck, as they ring as true today as they did when he spoke them nearly a dozen years ago.

In 2006, The Tigers rode a 5-1 start to the best record in baseball at the all-star break, and while they faded down the stretch, Detroit was able to earn a wild card berth into the playoffs. Eventually, that wild card berth became a berth in the World Series, a place Detroit hadn’t been in 22 years.

The 2007 Tigers were favored to make it back to the playoffs and a 3-3 record in the season’s first week became a 14-11 mark after one month. Again, Detroit held the AL’s best record at the break, but injuries held them back from the post-season as they finished second to Cleveland.

2008 saw the Tigers stumble to a 0-7 start out of the gate. While they would rebound to get back into the race in late July and early August, the hole they dug themselves was too deep. Another late season swoon left the Tigers in the basement.

Last season, the Tigers dropped three of their first four, but recovered to post a 4-3 start to the season. They held first place for 163 days before surrendering the division in an extra game.

So this 5-1 record, tops in the division through one week of play, doesn’t mean they’ll reach the promised land, but it does bode well for a season in contention. When the season began, the Tigers were picked by many to hover around .500 and probably wind up in third place. In a division that should be closely contested throughout, every win the Tigers can pick up will go a long way towards the ultimate goal.

The Twins will be there all year long, it’s what they do. Minnesota got off to a 5-2 start this week, with all seven games on the road. Minnesota opens their new park starting today.

Chicago, lauded by many as the possible division winner, stumbled out of the gate this year. After an win on Opening Day, the Pale Hose dropped four straight to the Indians and Twins before taking the final game of the weekend from Minnesota. At just 2-4, Chicago already finds themselves three games back in the standings, having lost each of their first two series, and both at home.

The Tigers have found ways to win games they probably shouldn’t have won. Justin Verlander has allowed 10 earned runs in 10 innings so far. Gerald laird is just 1 for 18 on the season and has yet to control the opposing running game they way he did so well a year ago. The Tigers have consistently failed to capitalize on scoring chances and have homers from just two players this season.

Yet here they are. So far, so good.

The Tigers have trailed in five of the six games they have played, but they have not wilted in any of them. In fact, Detroit has fought back to take the lead in every one of those games. This team has no quit. So far.

Oh, the questions remain. Austin Jackson has already struck out nine times in his 25 at bats, just as many feared he would. Johnny Damon is hitting .150 so far, and Laird is hitting .056. There have been zero home runs from Carlos Guillen and Brandon Inge, two guys that must produce the long ball if the Tigers are to win.

But Jackson has also shown the ability to hit, batting .364 during the first week. Damon is showing his patience at the plate as we expected, and it seems to be rubbing off on the other hitters. The Tigers have averaged 4.8 walks per game so far. Guillen and Inge have been finding gaps in big moments, combining for four doubles and six RBI. And the Tigers have forced four blown saves.

As Jim Leyland likes to say, the big boys will need to produce like they should or the Tigers aren’t going to win anything. The biggest of the big boys in the lineup are Miguel Cabrera and Magglio Ordonez and so far they have been fantastic. Cabrera is batting .522 on the year. He has two game-changing home runs and eight RBI through six games. He has shown the willingness to take a walk when given as well. Ordonez is just slightly behind Miggy’s pace, batting .462 on the early year. He has six runs batted in and two big home runs. Those two have been the only Tigers to go deep so far.

There is a lot of baseball yet to be played. 156 games remain on the schedule and this hot start doesn’t guarantee anything other than the five wins the Tigers already have.

But the Tigers have won a game where they trailed Zack Greinke, they have won twice when Verlander was knocked around, they won a game where they stranded 18 runners on base. You cannot count on winning those games throughout a long season, but you’ll need to win a few like that to get where you want to go.

Sure, all they have done is beat teams they are supposed to beat, but that’s what good teams do. That’s what they’ll need to keep doing all year.

The Tigers haven’t won the World Series, they haven’t won the division. But they sure as hell haven’t lost either one yet, either.