National pundits and local reporters alike believed that 2015 would mark the end of the Detroit Tigers’ run atop the AL Central. So far, however, Brad Ausmus’ club is laying waste to any skepticism which hovered over them at the outset of this season.
The Tigers are 9-2, to begin the year, and aside from a 12-3 drubbing at the hands of the Chicago White Sox, yesterday afternoon, they have been impressive in each and every contest.
What has perhaps been the most surprising element of their early success has been their pitching. Despite allowing those 12 runs to Chicago, the Tigers have the fourth lowest team ERA in the league (2.76), and are one of only two teams with a team WHIP under 1.00 (.99).
Detroit’s low ERA, and WHIP, are buoyed by a starting staff that was projected to be a far cry from the starting staff manned by the likes of Max Scherzer and Doug Fister. Anchored by David Price, however, Jeff Jones’ rotation has been very impressive so far, even without Justin Verlander. Price, and newcomer Shane Greene each have ERAs under 1.00 (0.40 and 0.00, respectively), and the much maligned Alfredo Simon is 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP.
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But good starting pitching has been a reliable staple of the Tigers’ success in the past few years. A new wrinkle to their dominance has been the efficient, and reliable defense, in both the infield, and outfield. Through 11 games, the Tigers are in the top ten in fielding percentage (.992), defensive efficiency rating (.746), and fewest errors committed.
What has been less surprising is the success of this offense. The best offense in baseball in 2014, somehow got better, on paper, over the offseason and those expectations have materialized as reality in 2015. The Tigers rank in the top three in all of baseball in hits (116), stolen bases (13), average (.301) and OBP (.368).
Now, for every statistical category that the Tigers have excelled in, the Kansas City Royals have matched, or even surpassed them, in just as many. And the defending American League champions certainly cannot be overlooked. They are a talented team with a chip on their shoulder and they will battle Detroit all year long. However, the Tigers won the division despite being the 17th best defense in baseball last year, and they have gotten even more fast and athletic in the past year.
If Detroit can run and field with Kansas City, they can certainly hit with them, and put themselves in position to win the division again. Namely because outside of the Royals, the AL Central may not be the division it was heralded as. Outside of Detroit and Kansas City, the other three teams in the division are a combined 12-19, including the Cleveland Indians, who Sports Illustrated picked to win the World Series.
To be fair, over 100 games remain in the 2015 season, and the unpredictable nature of baseball is one of the defining characteristics within the game. Do not be shocked, however, if this Tigers bunch continues to prove the skeptics wrong.