Mar 12, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers managerBrad Ausmus
(7) talks to his team in the dugout prior to the game against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
In exciting fashion on Opening Day yesterday, the Detroit Tigers won their seventh straight home opener, third straight season opener, and won the fifth season opener in their last six tries. While the team has established success on Opening Day, those positive results have often failed to translate to a strong start.
One of the criticisms of Jim Leyland‘s years with the Detroit Tigers was that his teams often got off to slow starts. Leyland’s first two years in Detroit yielded successful Aprils with a combined 30-20 in 2006 and 2007, but from 2008 to 2012, the Tigers were above .500 only once (2010 at 14-10) after the season’s first month. They were better in 2013, at 15-10, but the slow to so-so first months of those seasons often cost Detroit in the end–the postseason.
The Tigers have won the division three straight years, but in the seven playoff series they’ve competed in during that time–zero have yielded home field advantage. Perhaps that stat is somewhat overblown. Certainly the club hasn’t won the ultimate prize, but they have won four playoff series since 2011, fairly impressive considering they’ve never been the team with more home games.
Now, it’s April 1–the playoffs are a long way off and certainly not a given, but there is a big difference between those Tigers teams and this Tigers team. Aside from the obvious, Brad Ausmus replacing a semi-retired Jim Leyland, the American League Central is no longer a pushover.
The Cleveland Indians held first place through much of the first two months in 2011, the pesky 2012 White Sox led the Central through most of the season, but we all knew how it was going to end, right? Last year, Kansas City and Cleveland spent time in first place until Detroit ultimately took over for good in August.
Kansas City and Cleveland aren’t going anywhere, and they probably won’t be as easy to shake off in 2014. While it’s hard to think either of those teams got better in the 2014 off-season, the Tigers have their own turmoil in left field, shortstop, the bullpen, and lack of depth at other positions. We also really don’t know what kind of manager Ausmus will be.
Another reason to get off to a good start? The Tigers need to take advantage of a home-heavy schedule in April. Of the 26 scheduled games in March/April, 16 of them are in Comerica Park. That doesn’t mean the home schedule is full of cupcakes, its actually the contrary. Teams with high expectations in Kansas City, Baltimore, Cleveland, and the Los Angeles Angels sandwich a west coast trip to play the Dodgers and Padres. The schedule gets a bit easier toward the end of the month–with games against presumed division doormats Chicago and Minnesota.
If the Tigers are below .500 heading into May, look out. Only 11 of 29 games are in Detroit in the season’s second month–including a brutal stretch that sees 15 road games in 20 days.
Baseball is a long season, and anything can happen. Last year’s Dodgers had “bust” written all over them and manager Don Mattingly all but had his bags packed when his last place team underachieved to a 17-25 record on May 19. Los Angeles turned it completely around and were perhaps the hottest team the rest of regular season, finishing with 92 wins and winning the NL West by double-digits.
So while a sub-.500 April wouldn’t be the end of the world, it won’t be as easy to come back from a slow start as it has in the past.