There’s not a lot of Tigers talk on Major League Assholes because, frankly, they just don’t generate the same kind of compelling insanity that comes from both ends of the Chicago baseball landscape. However, that doesn’t mean the Motor City isn’t still #1 in my heart (sorry Cubs, I love you too, but you’ll always take a backseat to my hometown team).
Despite flying almost completely under the radar, the Tigers have quietly clawed their way back to .500, overcoming a tough opening two-week schedule that featured a road trip to the Bronx and a series against the defending AL champs. They’ve done it so quietly, in fact, that my colleague mistakenly tried to use their record as trash talk on Facebook today (nice try, Pete).
Last night’s 10th-inning, 8-4 comeback win in Oakland shines a light on who the Tigers seem to be this season: an offensive mix of productive superstars and scrappy youngsters with a decent, but not yet dominant starting rotation backed by a lights-out bullpen.
Miguel Cabrera is off to his typical MVP-caliber start with 5 HRs, a .320 average, and 11 RBI. And while the numbers may not be as obvious, major off-season addition, Victor Martinez has fulfilled his role of suppling Big Mig with much-needed protection, creating an ominous left-handed threat at the plate, playing a mentoring role to emerging talent, Alex Avila, all while providing flexibility to the Tigers lineup as a backup C, DH and 1B.
Last night’s victory was the 1,500th in the illustrious career of Jim Leyland who has the best kind of problem a manager can have: trying to find playing time for breakout candidates Ryan Raburn and Brennan Boesch in a crowded outfield. Both have thrived in the competition, combining for 2 HRs, a .290 average and 14 RBI. Austin Jackson needs to pull out of this early sophmore season slump and the imminent return of a healthy Magglio Ordonez is essential, but the Tigers depth has certainly helped stop the bleeding in the meantime.
The starting rotation has been anchored by perennial All-Star, Justin Verlander who has been his usual dominant self, eating up 23 innings in three games with a 3.13 ERA and 21 Ks including a tough complete-game loss against Texas. Max Scherzer has been a solid #2 already with two victories including one in Yankee Stadium. Third-year starter, Rick Porcello has been disappointing so far until he showed signs of righting the ship last night with a solid one-run, six-inning performance against the A’s.
The back of the bullpen has been absolutely dominant thus far with the lethal combination of Joaquin Benoit in the 8th and Jose Valverde in the 9th yielding only one earned run in 12.2 innings. I’ll take these guys over anyone in the AL right now.
While the Tigers are on a 4-game winning streak, they’re still looking up at the surprising Indians and Royals in the division. But it’s been proven, time and again, that teams with such little depth cannot maintain their early torrid pace and will soon fall to the wayside. After losing their last two, the Sox are a mere half game ahead, and despite a potent offense and solid starting pitching, they are clearly in disarray with an imploding bullpen that has proven no lead is safe and has manger Ozzie Guillen at his wits end, calling for the resurrection of former White Sox closer and 1990 AL Rolaids Relief Man of the Year, Bobby Thigpen. The floundering Twins are now reeling from the lose of Joe Mauer, on the DL with a mysterious illness. I’m going to start the rumor here that it’s syphilis, not because I have anything against the former MVP (he seems like a pretty cool guy in all those PS3 commercials), but just because I hate Twins that much.
Given the bullpen being an obvious strength while other AL Central rivals’ being epic failures coupled with the offense and starting pitching rounding into form, I’m starting to really like the way everything is falling into place for the Tigers to take control of the division as we cross over of this gloomy April into the sun and warmth of May.