At the time of this writing, the Detroit Tigers are 6-2 and in 1st place in the AL Central. Not only that but, Detroit is tied for the best record in the American League. Across Major League Baseball, only the Arizona Diamondbacks have a better record at 7-2.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Chicago White Sox
Apr 4, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Francisco Rodriguez (57) and catcher James McCann (34) celebrate after defeating the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

The question is: just how excited should we be about this team? Does this hot start a indicate success over the rest of the season? Is this team for real? Or, have the Tigers fooled us with the win/loss record thus far? Have they essentially “gotten away” with some wins?

Let’s explore the different sides of this scenario and make an informed decision on just how excited we should be about the 2017 Detroit Tigers.

The Case For Solid Gold

Unexpected Contributions

The MVP for the first ten days of the season would have to be Andrew Romine. The Swiss Army knife player is off to a scorching start in 2017. His stat line is gaudy with a .545 BA, 6 hits, 4 RBI, and 1 HR. If you’re wondering, the home run was a 4th inning grand slam (the first of his career) that propelled Detroit to its 6th win of the season. Not only that but, Romine looks at home in the outfield taking superb angles to run down fly balls. Not bad for a guy written off as a “utility player.”

Starting catcher James McCann appears to be bouncing back this season. It hasn’t gone unnoticed around DSN that “The McCannon” is batting for power this season, already notching three home runs in 20 at-bats. Furthermore, DSN contributor Alexander Muller has noticed an improvement in plate discipline. While only 4 for 20 so far, McCann has registered only one strikeout.

JaCoby Jones and Mikie Mahtook have both also contributed in clutch spots. Both have provided timely offense and excellent defensive plays to make major contributions towards victories this season.

Quality Starting Pitching

I’m just going to leave this here:

  • Justin Verlander: 1-0, 1.35 ERA, 14 K, 0.98 WHIP
  • Jordan Zimmermann: 1-0, 1.50 ERA, 3 K, 0.83 WHIP
  • Michael Fulmer: 1-0, 2.25 ERA, 11 K, 0.92 WHIP

There is no question that the Detroit Tigers are getting incredible performances early on from the top of the rotation. If Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd can continue to contribute on even and average level, this bodes very well for the rest of 2017.

Effective Bullpen

What is the closer’s job? To win. Protect a lead. Plain and simple.

Forget about giving up hits or walks. Winning is everything that they are (or at least should be) measured upon. Right now Francisco Rodriguez is getting the job done in the 9th inning.

Don’t forget about Justin Wilson. That gentleman is settling very nicely into his role of 8th inning set up man. The importance of that cannot be overlooked. He is for real and the combination of Wilson and the MLB’s active saves leader is awesome.

The Case for Fools Gold

***The following video, while funny, contains some NSFW language***

Superstars In Absentia

There are some conspicuously absent names from the above paragraphs. Miguel Cabrera is off to a terrible start this year. He currently is 3 for 28 with a paltry .107 BA, 0 home runs, and 9 strikeouts. Even if his shaky start is due to a minor injury sustained during the World Baseball Classic, he needs to get it together.

Hitting only slightly better than Miggy right now is Justin Upton. His .158 BA and 0 home runs are not what we expected to see.

Finally, we come to Victor Martinez. VMart has the 6th best BA on the team at .231. He also is not a threat on the basepaths.

While some may think that it’s only a matter of time until these superstars get going offensively, this may be worse than originally thought. Upton was sidelined for one game with back tightness. Cabrera may be feeling the lingering effects of the WBC injury. Victor has had a host of injuries over the past few years. It is possible that these veterans are slumping due to health and age and not from the normal ups and downs of a game based on failure.

Bothersome Bullpen

Even though KRod has only blown one save and Justin Wilson has been extremely effective, there are some concerns. Rodriguez has the propensity to allow baserunners which often makes the fan base nervous.

Bruce Rondon, once thought to be a possible closer for Detroit, has once again missed another opportunity given to him by the team. In the wake of a horrifying outing against the Red Sox his ERA is now a whopping 40.50 and has a WHIP of 5.25 in only 1.1 innings of work. He has been replaced on the roster by Joe Jimenez, a.k.a., “The Next Big Thing.” In short, it appears that Rondon has unfortunately gone from fireballer to flame out.

And the troubles don’t stop with the back end of the pen. In the first game of the series with the Minnesota TwinsShane Greene was able to get only one batter out in middle relief. He gave up 1 hit and 1 walk in 0.1 innings of work and was immediately replaced by Kyle Ryan. Not exactly the debut that Greene was looking for. With his ERA at 6.75, it’s easy to see why some Detroit Tigers fans may be scratching a temple about whether or not this team is a contender.

Run Differential

The Tigers have only been able to score 32 runs so far this season. That’s good for 18th in the league. Even though their record is 6-2, their run differential is 0 having allowed 32 runs on defense. If the bullpen is as shaky as it appears to be sometimes, a case could be made for more close games not going their way.

My Early Conclusion

At this point, I’m buying the Detroit Tigers this season. With all the caveats of it being too early to judge, I’m still judging…and I deem the boys to be Solid Gold. I always like to keep this quote from the legendary Tommy Lasorda in mind when it comes to baseball.

“No matter how good you are, you’re going to lose one-third of your games. No matter how bad you are you’re going to win one-third of your games. It’s the other third that makes the difference.”

There is a lot of wisdom there. One of the things that makes baseball so much fun to watch is the combination of things that have to go right in order to get a win.

For instance, spreading out a bunch of hits over several innings and leaving guys stranded on base doesn’t score runs. Obviously, teams need to convert when they get on the base paths. Draw a walk or a knock a single. Work the count or steal a base to get the runner to second. Finally, the hitter at the plate has to make positive contact in order to get that runner home and the point on the scoreboard. This is just one example on offense. Don’t get me started on pitching.

Right now the Tigers are making hay when the sun is shining. Getting wins when they can. Clutch hitting, solid pitching, and an effective bullpen. In the two losses, the blame should be placed mostly on the starting pitching (Boyd vs. Chicago in Game 2) and the bullpen implosion (Rondon vs. Boston in Game 5). These types of events happen over the season. Starters and relievers have bad outings. Hitters and entire teams go thru offensive slumps. Errors happen.

It appears to me that the Tigers have experienced two normal losses. They have also experienced some dominating starting pitching and defense for a couple of normal wins. The other wins are coming because they are making quality plays when called upon. Giving themselves opportunities to make plays and they have delivered at crucial times. These are the “middle third” games that Lasorda was talking about.

In my mind, that indicates a strong team worth its weight in gold.

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