Apr 2, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers second basemanIan Kinsler
(right) receives congratulations from left fielderTyler Collins
(18) and third basemanNick Castellanos
(9) after hitting a walk off single in the tenth inning against the Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park. Detroit won 2-1 in ten innings. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
The Detroit Tigers began the 2014 season with great drama to give them a 2-0 start as they look to sweep the Kansas City Royals on Thursday. The Tigers needed two walk off hits–one in the bottom of the tenth on Wednesday–to give them control of the series.
The Tigers were the first team since the 2004 Minnesota Twins to start the season with two walk off wins. Despite the 2-0 start, the Tigers still have things to improve on, as does any team in the major leagues.
With that said, here are the good and the bad from the Tigers through two games. I know it’s just two games, but there are both concerns and some things to look forward to as the 2014 season progresses.
Ian Kinsler brought his bat with him from Texas to Comerica Park
Various experts across baseball believed that the 31-year-old second baseman would never duplicate the numbers he put up in Texas for two reasons. 1) Kinsler has been slowly declining over the past few seasons, especially his power numbers and 2) Comerica Park wouldn’t allow for Kinsler’s line drive power to give him another 30/30 (30 homers and 30 stolen bases) season, something he hasn’t achieved since 2011.
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus gave his players the green light in spring training, but it isn’t glowing like it had been in the month of March. The Tigers are going to run more, but 30 stolen bases for Kinsler is going to be tough to achieve.
With that said, Kinsler looked like his old self, tearing the cover off the ball in Wednesday’s victory over the Royals. Kinsler finished the day 3-for-5 with a homer, two RBI, one run scored and the winning hit in the bottom of the ninth. Kinsler was the offense on Wednesday as Jason Vargas was spectacular in his first start of the season for the Royals.
It looks like Kinsler will bat either first or second for most of the year, but he thrives in that leadoff role and provides a little more pop and less strikeouts than Austin Jackson had in previous seasons. It looks like Kinsler is beginning to fit in nicely with the Tigers early in the season which is a good sign for AL pennant favorite.
Max Scherzer looks like he has put the issues with his contract behind him
Well, if there was any indication that Scherzer might not be able to duplicate his 2013 Cy Young season, he didn’t show it during Wednesday’s start. He lasted eight innings in his first start of the season, allowing just four hits while striking out seven and walking only one. Scherzer cruised through his eight innings of work, throwing 110 pitches on the day–72 for strikes.
Scherzer wasn’t expected to put on the same show he did in 2014 for various reasons. (Justin Verlander‘s resurgence as the ace of the staff as well as the contract issues). But, a start like the one he had on Wednesday indicates that their isn’t just one ace on the Tigers staff, their are two aces who look to contend for All-Star bids in July (Don’t forget about Sanchez either, who had better numbers than both Scherzer and Verlander in 2014).
The backwards platoon in left field
Rajai Davis was signed to a two year, $10 million deal in the offseason to platoon with Andy Dirks, who is now on the disabled list for the next couple of months. The Tigers decided not to make a move to acquire an outfielder (a mistake in my mind for a few reasons), therefore, Tyler Collins made the jump from Erie (AA) to the big leagues in 2014.
Collins is a left-handed batter who had backwards splits in 2013 as a member of the Erie Seawolves. His splits were as follows:
Vs. Righties .219/.309/.367
Vs. Lefties .289/.354/.599
Mar 14, 2014; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers left fielder Rajai Davis (20) bats in the second inning against the Washington Nationals during a spring training exhibition game at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit:David Manning
-USA TODAY Sports
So, both of the Tigers’ left fielders hit better against left-handed pitching than they do against right-handed. Jason Vargas also had backwards splits in 2013 as a member of the Los Angles Angels which prompted Ausmus to insert the rookie Collins in the two-hole of the Tigers’ lineup on Wednesday. Collins went 0-for-4, but did make a nice sliding catch in the second inning.
I like Ausmus’ logic and attention to detail, but he may have over-thought this situation. Vargas’ career splits show that righties actually hit better than lefties do against him. Ausmus used Collins’ numbers at the AA level as well as Vargas’ 2013 splits to lock in Collins in the lineup on Wednesday.
So, does Collins’ backward splits mean he will be facing more lefties than previously predicted? I wouldn’t count on it, especially after the Tigers mustered only two runs during Wednesday’s victory, and the fact Davis struggles mightily versus right-handed pitching.
In Ausmus’ defense, those are the only numbers he can go by for Collins. With that said, he shouldn’t expect a rookie left-handed hitter to be able to hit major league lefties like he did in the minor leagues, especially in his pro debut (technically, it was on Monday, but he only was inserted into the game as a pinch runner).
Ausmus should look to go back to the traditional platoon in left field to give the Tigers the best opportunity for solid production from that spot on the field.
Torii Hunter struggles through the first two games
This may not be a sign for things to come or it could be the inevitable slide to mediocrity for the former center field standout. To go with his 0-for-8 with one strikeout line to start the season, Hunter also misplayed a fly ball in right field on Opening Day, something very unusual for the former Gold Glove award winner.
Hunter had amazing splits for a 37-year-old outfielder in 2013 (.304/.334/.465). He even had a higher slugging percentage than the new cleanup hitter, Victor Martinez in 2013. Hunter compiled only a 1.7 WAR in 2013 as his defense saw a major decline. Is this the year his offense joins in?
I don’t expect Hunter to completely drop off in his final year of his contract with the Tigers, because he may want to sign another one-year or two-year deal (most likely not with the Tigers) to keep his career going. I expect a drop off from his 2013, but nothing too drastic. These first two games look like a blip on the radar for the 38-year-old as he enters his 18th major league season.
I expect the platoon to even itself out and for Hunter’s bat to wake up, but Collins unusual splits and Hunter’s inevitable decline raise questions as the Tigers pursue the ultimate goal of a World Series Championship.