April 30, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; General view of exterior at night of Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
There are subjects that do not merit serious reflection–videos that go viral, law firm commercials, and pronouncements by politicians among them.
On the other hand, there are disciplines so critical to our sustenance and advancement as a people we periodically journalize them for a highly learned audience.
Among these noble pursuits are law, medicine, and literature.
And of course, baseball.
So let’s get on with our first quarterly review of the Detroit Tiger 2014 season.
The Tigers have broken quickly out of the gate in the season’s first quarter. Beginning with a thrilling Opening Day victory in Detroit and continuing through a mostly successful road trip culminating in Memorial Day weekend, the Tigers have distinguished themselves as one of baseball’s finest.
Let’s break it down.
Pick your superlative.
Starting pitching was supposed to be this team’s strength and it has held true to form. The staff is near the top of the American League with an ERA of 2.98. While division rival Kansas City’s starters have also pitched well (3.55), Cleveland (4.75), Minnesota (5.00), and Chicago (5.34) have fallen to the bottom of the league.
More than any other factor, the gap between the Tigers and the rest of the division can be explained by the superiority of their starters. Max Sherzer (2.59) and Rick Porcello (2.91) have been particularly impressive in the early going.
Though Detroit’s bullpen has the highest ERA (4.27) in the AL Central, remarkably its WHIP (1.25) is the lowest. In general, Detroit’s bullpen has recovered from an oscillating start and has stabilized itself as the season has progressed.
After a troubling week or two to start the season, closer Joe Nathan (4.08 ERA–11 saves) has for the most part been the shutdown option envisioned by the Tiger brass. Joba Chamberlain (3.20) has also been solid as a set–up man, and Evan Reed (3.72) and Ian Krol (1.62) have made vital contributions to the relief effort.
The addition of veteran Joel Hanrahan may also yield fruit, as he works to overcome an arm injury with the hope of joining the club sometime before the All-Star break.
Though Alex Avila inexplicably continues to absorb an unusual physical pounding behind the plate, his production (.240/.367/.440) has accelerated as the season has progressed. In a back-up role, Bryan Holaday has exceeded expectations (.289/.341/.316).
Defensively the tandem has comported itself well, allowing a stolen base percentage of only .677, which is among the top tier of AL teams.
It’s a tale of two sides.
Offensively, the right side of the infield is producing runs as anticipated. Super-hero first baseman Miguel Cabrera (.326/.364/.541) has rebounded from a tepid start and is busy restating his claim as the best offensive player in the game.
Second baseman Ian Kinsler (.317/.350/.459) came to Detroit with a reputation as a complete ballplayer and has hit the ground running with six stolen bases.
The left side of the infield is a different matter, however.
Promising rookie third baseman Nick Castellanos (.237/257/.375) has struggled while adjusting to major-league pitching. To his credit, however, he has had several clutch hits and has played a solid third-base.
Not surprisingly, the shortstop position has largely been an offensive void.
Journeyman Danny Worth was called up from Toledo to help and has hit somewhat better than Romine, though that’s not saying much at this point.
Defensively, Gonzalez was shaky, but Romine has merited the most playing time because of his range and arm. Worth has been his usual reliable self in limited play.
With Stephen Drew‘s recent signing by Boston, shortstop remains the one field position which may require an upgrade from the trade market, as there’s not much experience down on the farm.
The outfielders have been a major contributor to the team’s success.
Unlike last year, when the team’s left fielders were offensively challenged, newcomer Rajai Davis has galvanized the offense with his legs and bat.
Austin Jackson has hit out of the fifth and sixth positions, which seem to fit him better than leadoff, though he remains a somewhat streaky phenomenon.
The ageless Torii Hunter has remained an offensive force, and has recovered robustly from a disappointing 2013 postseason.
Defensively, Jackson and Hunter have been solid. Davis, however, seems to lack instinct and does not read the ball well off the bat, which has resulted in several misplays.
The Bottom Line
Despite an inevitable four-game swoon this week after a perfect 6–0 start to their latest road trip, this team is for real.
Across the first quarter of the season, the starting pitching has been the envy of most MLB teams and the relief pitching has recovered from an uneven start.
On the whole, the defense has been solid and the new Brad Ausmus and Company’s inspired “rapid run” offense has captivated the fan base while posting runs to the scoreboard.
All in all, not a bad first 40 games for a team which, upon review, has given no quarter to the American League Central Division competition.