Thursday, April 12, 2012

Thoughts on Tigers First Week

The Tigers are 5-1 after taking two series from teams expected to contend for post-season this year.  They could have easily been 3-3 if not for the Red Sox bullpen meltdown in the opening series, but those games are in the books and the Red Sox can't have them back.

The Tigers were expected to have an explosive offense this year and they didn't disappoint in the opening week.  They lead the majors with 6.7 runs per game and a .304 batting average and the American League with a .840 OPS.

The big sluggers Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are producing as expected, but the most pleasant development of the early season has been red hot Austin Jackson.  The Tigers center fielder has 10 hits and four extra base hits in 23 at bats plus five walks.  They aren't flukey hits either - he is scorching the ball.  It's way to early to reach conclusions, but if he is for real, he's going to be a dynamic lead-off man on top of a dangerous line-up.  He has already scored nine runs.  His new "no leg-kick" swing seems to be paying off.

It's also great to see Alex Avila come out of the gates strong.  Many are predicting him to regress this year, but so far there are no signs of it.  He has seven hits in 18 at bats including two homers, one of them a dramatic walk-off in game three.

Defensively, all eyes are on Cabrera at third base.  After a rough first game, he has looked pretty smooth at the hot corner.  If he is able to keep it up, that's going to plug a huge hole and prevent a situation where they have to figure out how to juggle Cabrera, Fielder and, at some point in the future, Victor Martinez.   

On the negative side, second baseman/ outfielder Ryan Raburn is batting just .105 and not looking too sharp defensively at second.  He could be quickly playing himself out of the starting line-up.  Delmon Young is undisciplined as usual swinging at everything that moves, but that is to be expected.  The disappointing part is he has not yet flashed the power he showed at the end of last year and in the playoffs.  He really needs to hit the long ball consistently if he is going be useful.

While the offense has been mostly awesome, the pitching has been a bit unsettled.  Justin Verlander has had two fantastic eight-inning performances before two adventurous ninth innings.  The first one was closer Jose Valverde's fault while Verlander is to blame for the second one.  Given that the Tigers ace typically struggles in April though, his start has been decidedly more encouraging than discouraging.  

Beyond Verlander, there are a few areas of concern, The enigmatic Max Scherzer was shelled in his first outing before getting bailed out by the offense.  Doug Fister was cruising along in his first start before straining a muscle in his side.  It's not known how many starts he will miss, but it could be a tough loss for the Tigers if it lingers on for a while.  Meanwhile , the bullpen has been generally shaky with Valverde the biggest source of anxiety so far.

One key pitcher who opened up about as well as could be expected is Rick Porcello.  The 23-year old right-hander allowed just one run on seven hits and a walk in seven innings on Tuesday.

All in all, Tigers fans have to pretty pleased with the start of the season as they find themselves with the best record in the league and two tough series out of the way. 

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