First Impressions–Detroit Tigers Win Two Walk-Offs


Apr 2, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus (7) talks to umpire Paul Emmel during the sixth inning against the Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

After a punishing Michigan winter, the skies finally parted for the opening two games in Detroit this week as the Tigers took on their division rival Kansas City Royals.

Although by no means dominant, the home team seized both games (game three was rained out) in walk-off fashion. Though it’s obviously early, winning two one-run games–one of which was in extra innings–is encouraging.

In comparison, last year’s team did not distinguish itself in one-run games or extra innings. This year’s squad, with a renewed emphasis on speed and defense, may fare better.

We’ll only have another 160 games or so to find out.

Joe Nathan

Is anyone else concerned about our $20 million closer, Joe Nathan?

In his prime he threw in the mid-90’s. Last year, when he saved 43 of 46 games for Texas, he was throwing 92-93 mph. This year in Florida he had trouble getting his velocity up (though he said that was normal) and only threw his fastball at 89-91 in his first two regular season appearances against the Royals.

One of those, of course, was a blown save.

Nathan has Hall of Fame credentials as a closer and has earned the benefit of the doubt many times over, but he’s definitely on my “watch list”.

Ian Kinsler

Though the Opening Day crowd magnanimously welcomed former Tiger second baseman Omar Infante back to Detroit, Ian Kinsler is an upgrade.

He hit a couple liners in the first game for outs, and of course was the offensive hero of Wednesday’s game with a homer and a walk-off hit.

He’ll make for a smart, tenacious leadoff hitter who’ll set the tone for the team. More than that, though, he’ll play sound defense. He showed quickness, range and confident foot work on his defensive chances and is a nice fit for this club.

Verlander and Scherzer

In an interview on MLB radio on Tuesday, Royal’s center fielder Lorenzo Cain said the Kansas City hitters were seeing Justin Verlander‘s pitches well on Opening Day. He added that he seemed more like the inconsistent 2013 version of Verlander than the one who pitched so well in 2012.

Now that may be self-serving prattle and it’s only one outing, so consider it in that context.

For his part, Verlander did not pitch poorly on Monday and contributed to a team victory. Nonetheless, Tiger fans have come to expect dominance, and that assumption is factored into his paycheck.

It was not on display Monday.

Max Scherzer, conversely, was very sharp on Wednesday.

After escaping early trouble, he cruised through most of the game and showed his mettle by closing out the eighth inning with his shutout intact.

Unfortunately, performances like that only inflate his eventual open market value and make him less likely to be a Detroit Tiger beyond 2014. To some Tiger faithful, Scherzer is neither fish nor fowl at this point–you want to cheer for him unconditionally but must temper your enthusiasm because he has chosen (for now) not to be “among us” after this year.

Alex Gonzales

The 37 year-old Opening Day hero may have earned his entire salary when he delivered two key hits, including the walk-off winner.

But he has not looked particularly good in the field in either of the first two games. Considering his lack of involvement with the position in the past two years, that’s not a surprise.

If he can regain his fielder’s legs and continue to deliver a key hit or two along the way, this experiment may yet succeed.

But at some point “experience” fades to “obsolescence” and youth must be served.

Brad Ausmus

The major league manager least likely to win a “Jim Leyland Doppelgänger” contest got off to an auspicious start with his new team.

Brad Ausmus pulled all the right levers in the opener and successfully challenged two close calls in game two. Two games, two one-run victories, one of which was in extra innings.

There will be losing streaks and second-guessing to come. But the new helmsman managed impeccably in his first two games and has made a clean transition from behind the plate to the top step of the dugout.

Not bad for a kid manager.