In 2016, the Detroit Tigers were easily described as a consistently inconsistent, with inconsistent pitching and hitting on a consistent basis.
But today’s Detroit Tigers are on a different path than the 2016 squad.
Through April and the first few days of May, the offense is developing an identity that fans can enjoy.
With nearly the same 2016 squad returning, the Tigers haven’t changed much. The only lineup changes include two outfield spots and the occasional start by Alex Avila. Even though JaCoby Jones and J.D. Martinez have not played much with the team, the team identity is shaping up to be more aggressive and speedier than 2016.
Record in the AL Central
As of April, the Tigers are fourth in the AL Central with a 14-13 record – one game back from the leader. The Indians are 15-12, the Twins are 14-12, and the White Sox are 15-13. The Royals are last with a 9-18 record. With the top four teams in a tight race, anyone could take over the top spot at any time. The Tigers have faced all but the Royals in their division. And, in those division games, the Tigers are 10-7, with a 4-2 record against the Indians and Twins. In the non-division games, the Tigers are 4-6.
The team has already had a few injuries early in the season, but it has not slowed the team. At one point in time, the Tigers were without Miguel Cabrera, Jose Iglesias, J.D. Martinez, and JaCoby Jones. And, without those big bats and defensive players, the Tigers managed to actually win a few games, even a notable 19-9 win against the Seattle Mariners.
In 2016, the Tigers were known for their bad choices while on the bases. Ian Kinsler made several gaffes in 2016, getting picked off six times. He has only been picked off once so far in 2017 – and is the only Tiger to have been picked off. But, in 2017, the base running has been significantly cleaner and the Tigers have actually had some success stealing. The team has 10 stolen bases, putting the Tigers in the 11th spot in the AL – which is where they finished in 2016, too.
Unexpected Offense from Unlikely Sources
The Tigers have had to rely on players like Alex Avila, Andrew Romine, John Hicks, and Jim Adduci on a daily basis. Fortunately, these men, who were not signed on to play everyday, have been able to play like everyday starters. When the top batting stats belong to Adduci, Hicks, Avila, and Tyler Collins, the team has potential to go big. Especially considering that Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera have yet to really break out. And, J.D. Martinez has yet to swing in a big league game. So, the batting is ready to break out at any time.
Big Guns Just Getting Started
There are real signs that the big guys, Cabrera and Victor Martinez, are getting ready to open it up. Even though Martinez has only hit one home run so far, he is finding other talents like bunting to beat the shift and running out a drop-third strike. In his last 10 games, Martinez is batting .308/.364/.462 with an OPS of .825 with 12 hits, 1 home run, and 3 doubles. At age 38, it can take a little longer to get started.
Cabrera, like Martinez, has also taken a bit longer than usual to get started. Like Martinez, he is also loosening up and getting better swings. Cabrera is still a career .320 hitter with a career OPS of .960. He is still nowhere near his normal numbers, but he does have four home runs.
And the Adjective Is:
The best adjective to describe the Tigers so far in the season is surprising. The biggest surprises have come from Alex Avila and James McCann who have combined for nine home runs. Only two catchers, Salvador Perez and Austin Hedges have six each. McCann has five and Avila has four. No other team has two catchers with that many home runs combined. Avila is batting .391 – which is also quite a surprise.
Again, the unusually high batting averages for the most unlikely players is another big surprise. Players are starting to balance out, but the other big surprise that Justin Upton does have the best stats of the everyday players. He is batting .275/.389/.525 with an OPS of .914. He and McCann are tied for the most home runs on the team. Upton has stolen three bases. He has 14 walks and 30 strike outs. Last year, by this time, Upton has 41 strike outs and only 3 walks.
Big Stuff from the Outfielders
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Along with Upton, other outfielders have provided surprises at the plate, too. Tyler Collins has shown patience and maturity at the plate with a pair of unexpected home runs and the fourth highest batting average on the team. Jim Adduci, the outfielder who hadn’t played in an MLB game since 2014, has provided a serious spark in offense that has made him almost legendary. His ability to grind away at pitchers has endeared him to fans after only nine games filling in for Martinez in right as Collins moved to center to take over for JaCoby Jones. Adduci’s performance has been so consistent that he just might be sticking around for longer than expected – especially with his left-handed bat and speed on the bases.
In the competitive MLB, it does take more than just hitting to win games. But, the hitting is what makes the game exciting and enjoyable to watch. The surprises that the Tigers have brought to the plate have helped them stay in the running for the top spot in the AL Central. If this first month has shown anything, it is that the team is full of surprises and that those surprises will not stop any time soon.