Section 313

Seat no. 3

Section 313 is what we have decided to call the weekly posts from Tigers editor, A.J. Reilly. Each will be labeled, chronologically, by seat numbers. This week is number 3. Follow the links to catch up on number 1 and number 2. If you would like to partake in the discussion either comment or shoot a message to A.J. on twitter.

As the Detroit Tigers look toward their upcoming series with the Cleveland Indians, there is a lot to love about this Tigers team. Now, admittedly, it’s only been nine games; so none of this is meant to get hopes up too high, nor bring them down too low. Nine games is hardly enough of a sample size to decide what type of Tigers team we actually are going to be seeing throughout the summer. However, there are a few things that we can take away from the first nine games.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Detroit Tigers
Apr 13, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Minnesota Twins third baseman Miguel Sano (22) slides into second as Detroit Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias (1) applies the tag in the fourth inning at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers leave town after having won home series against the Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins. Some may balk at the success over those two series stating things like Boston not having three of their more potent bats in the lineup — Mookie BettsHanley Ramirez, and Xander Bogaerts — for the entire series. And others will say, “well, yeah, they beat the Twins — but it’s the Twins.” I get it; hence, why I said this isn’t meant to puff up hope, nor to drag it down. Here’s what I’m taking away from these three games: our starting pitching is our backbone — and has the potential to be really good, our middle hitters in the lineup are going to be just fine, and lastly, this team is full of grit.

The starting pitching will be our backbone

The old adage always goes, “good pitching beats good hitting.” While the Tigers were proving their dominance over the American League Central in the past, they were doing so with a stellar rotation. Guys like Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, and Rick Porcello were all, seemingly, tossing gems night in and night out. Two of those guys still remain with the club, and one isn’t even a starter anymore. But the new crop of young arms Michael Fulmer, Daniel Norris, and Matt Boyd are proving that they are worthy of their position.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Detroit Tigers
Apr 9, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Daniel Norris (44) pitches in the second inning against the Boston Red Sox at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

According to Fangraphs.com, the Tigers starting staff came into the third game against the Twins leading the American League in ERA (2.74) and came in second to the Cubs for the overall lead in the Major Leagues. Now, Jordan Zimmermann did not have a great start today, giving up 5 runs in 4.2 innings — which bumps that number up to 3.40. Not accounting for what the other teams ahead of them did, that still places them 11th overall in all of the Major Leagues and 7th in the American League.

Minus the start from Jordan Zimmermann today and the start from Matt Boyd in Chicago — one he rebounded nicely from — our starting staff has been outstanding. Currently, two of our hurlers, Justin Verlander and Daniel Norris, have pretty impressive streaks going. Each of them has not given up more than three earned runs in 20 consecutive starts. JV’s streak goes back to June 26th of last year, while Norris’ spans all the way back to August 12, 2015. Check out the game logs in the links to see exactly what I’m talking about, it’s quite impressive.

Personally, I would like to see the rotation switched a bit for two reasons: 1) I think rotating righty/lefty gives us a slight advantage in series; and 2) it allows us to hide our weaker link in Jordan Zimmermann. My proposed rotation:

  1. Justin Verlander
  2. Daniel Norris
  3. Michael Fulmer
  4. Matt Boyd
  5. Jordan Zimmermann

You know what you’re getting with Verlander and Fulmer. If Norris can stay healthy, and that’s yet to be seen, he also has proven over his last 20 starts that he’s more than capable of being that high in the rotation. By alternating righties and lefties, we force managers who like to play the matchup game into running a different lineup out in each game of a three or four game series — except of course when you go from Zim to JV.

Secondly, let’s talk about Jordan Zimmermann. Last April he was lights out. But after April, the wheels came off. He was battling through some injuries, but the hefty price tag he garnered the offseason prior to last year meant that the fans, and you could argue the organization, expected a little more.  Here’s a breakdown of his ERA by month:

  • April: 0.55
  • May: 4.88
  • June: 6.43
  • July: did not pitch
  • August: 32.40
  • Sep/Oct:10.13

Zimmermann has never been a strikeout per inning guy. The only year which he did average a strikeout per inning was back in 2009 when he logged 91.1 innings and struck out 92 batters. But since then, his strikeout per nine rate is 7.3. Once could ask why a guy that doesn’t average a strikeout per nine innings got the type of deal he did, but why bother, the money is already spent. The question now becomes, how are they going to deal with him? Generally, fifth starters do not make the same amount of starts that the other four in the rotation do; given this information, that fifth role would be a perfect spot for a guy who struggles to put people away and also is battling the injury bug. Zimmermann can be good and will have the most success if he’s down towards the bottom of the rotation.

If the Tigers are going to contend this year, which no one really thought they would, it will be on the arms of their starting rotation. If the starters can lengthen their starts, maximizing their pitch efficiency, Tigers fans will be enjoying meaningful baseball long into September.

Don’t fret about Miggy, V-Mart, or J-UP

One of the best things about being a Tigers fan during the last decade is the fact that we have been treated to some of the best players in baseball. Mr. Ilitch wanted to field a winning team so badly that he spared no expense. For that, we were privileged to see players like Pudge Rodriguez, David Price, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, and other top of the league players don our beloved Old English D.

This season has gotten off to snail’s pace for Miggy, Victor Martinez, and Justin Upton. Victor has had some meaningful at-bats but is not hitting for the power we expect from our clean-up hitter. Upton seems to be starting slow, once again, like he did last year. And, Miggy, well the entire city of Detroit began to feel like the world was ending when he started the season 2 for 22. And even though they aren’t setting the world on fire, I think we can all relax just a bit.

Apr 13, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera (24) receives congratulations from third base coach Dave Clark (25) after he hits a home run in the first inning against the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Miggy started the season going 0 for 16 in the teams first four games. He finally collected two hits in the team’s fifth game, and then in the last game against the Twins finally got the home run monkey off his back. Now, to those that fret about Miguel’s performance thus far please remember this: he’s Miguel Cabrera. He is the last Triple Crown winner and there is no reason to believe that he will not be around .300 on the season, with close to or over 30 home runs and 100+ RBIs. Every hitter has their moments of slumping, Miguel is just getting his out of the way early, which bodes well.

Upton as well has crawled out of the gate, hitting just .182 after the tilt this past week with the Twins. He, too, homered in the last game against the Twins. But here’s what we do know about Upton, when he gets hot watch out. If you remember the last part of the season in 2016, after being given a mental break, J-UP started tearing the cover off the ball. There is no reason that won’t happen again.

Out of the three guys, we’re talking about the one that I am most concerned about, but also will most likely be proved wrong, is Victor. It’s no secret that Victor is aging, he is 38 years old, and maybe it’s catching up to him. He’s currently sitting at .207 for the season, but most concerning, he has zero extra base hits — the only regular without one. Maybe the power is diminishing a little for the aging vet, or maybe he’s just getting off to a slower start than we are used to. However, for his career, Victor is a .300 switch hitter. Against lefties, he hits .306 and against righties, he is at .298 — for his career. Normally switch hitters have a weaker side, but not Victor.

Each of these guys will get it going; hopefully, it is soon rather than later. But one thing you have to love about this club, they are sitting at 6-3 without any production from their best hitters. Once they start to get that production, it could spell trouble for the rest of the Central and the American League as a whole.

Grit that even John Wayne would be proud of

Grittiness is was it takes to survive a grueling 162-game season. In the first couple of weeks, this Tigers team has shown a good amount of that grit. Grit is that characteristic that is “courageously persistent.” And the feeling I get every time I watch this team take the field is that they are never out of ballgames. Call me a hopeless optimist, but even down 11-5 to the Twins, I thought they still had a chance.

Here’s why.

Apr 12, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias (right) and pitcher Justin Verlander (left) celebrate after the game against the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park. Detroit won 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

This team was not expected to do much of anything this season. They were expected to have a rather ho-hum existence somewhere in the middle of the AL Central, with no real shot at a playoff birth. But yet, here they are playing good baseball and forcing themselves into the conversation.

They have endured a rocky start from their best hitters (see above), an uncertain position in right field left by an injured J.D. Martinez, and even (somewhat expected) blow ups from their bullpen. Yet, they persist.

The bottom third of their lineup has carried them. James McCann has hit for power, JaCoby Jones has been electric, and Jose Iglesias has pitched in with the bat, though he’s still getting going too. Not to mention, Andrew Romine, has been tearing the cover off of the ball.

Last Friday when the bullpen blew a 4-0 lead for Michael Fulmer, I thought, oh man, here we go again. But panic didn’t set in. Not for this team. They were loose, they were calm, and they clenched their teeth and fought back. There was a great article from Lynn Henning of the Detroit News about this team. In it, she talks about how the Tigers team is “long on clubhouse qualities” that are extending beyond the walls of the clubhouse and onto the diamond. It’s a chemistry that has this team exactly where they need to be after nine games.

I do not know what the remaining 153 games hold for this club. There will definitely be mountain summits of joy and wallowing pits of despair — that’s baseball. But one thing I do know is this, this team is fun to watch and this team has some quality about them that is hard to describe. it’s what makes them lovable, it’s what makes them good, it’s what makes them our Tigers.