Tigers’ hot start has been fueled by offense, defense, and pitching

Shane Greene has pitched eight innings in each of his two starts this season, winning both games.

Shane Greene has pitched eight innings in each of his two starts this season, winning both games.

The 2015 season has only just begun, and the Detroit Tigers are off to a quick start (8-1 at this writing).
Here are a few thoughts on the team as the weather begins to warm up:

The Good:

— The starting pitching has been exceptional. The two most pleasant surprises have been Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon, who have stepped up in the absence of Justin Verlander. But let’s also keep in mind that the Twins, Indians, and Pirates are never going to remind anyone of the 1927 Yankees. A big test will come when the White Sox arrive this weekend. Chicago is a very good hitting team, and the Tigers mound crew may come back down to earth a bit before the weekend is all over.

— The bullpen has been a case of “so far, so good.” Joakim Soria appears to have found his groove. I can’t envision any scenario in which manager Brad Ausmus hands back the closer’s role to Joe Nathan once he returns.

— An infusion of much-needed speed has transformed the team from last year. Sometimes all it takes is a player or two to make a big difference, and with the additions of Anthony Gose and Jose Iglesias, Detroit is a much faster team in the field and on the bases. Rajai Davis, at 34, is still a threat to run whenever he gets on. What in years past was often a dull, plodding offense that relied too much on the long ball, suddenly can beat you by taking the extra base and forcing the other team to throw the ball around.

— Having a strong defense up the middle is vitally important in baseball, and with Iglesias, Gose, and Ian Kinsler, Detroit may just be as good as any team right now in this regard. Iglesias is the best fielding shortstop in baseball, but he is a born hot dog who needs to learn when it is better to just hang onto the ball rather than force a throw. Left fielder Yoenis Cespedes has the arm of a right fielder, and he loves to put it on display. The Tigers are going to win games this year with their speed and defense, which couldn’t be said of them in the past.

Miguel Cabrera has his power stroke back. Pitchers, please take note.

The Bad:

— Justin Verlander’s injury is a cause for concern. Both the Tigers and Verlander continue to downplay the situation. But he was expected to throw 60 pitches in a simulated game, and stopped at 45, citing fatigue. That does not bode well for the immediate future. As Ausmus admitted, “You can’t go from 45 pitches to a major league game.”

— What can this team realistically expect from Bruce Rondon? If and when he comes back, will he ever be the dominant bullpen closer that the club always envisioned him to be? Some players are just injury-prone, for whatever reason, and Rondon may be one of them.

Nick Castellanos is an aggressive hitter who often swings at the first pitch. But there are times when he would be better served taking a pitch or two. His performance on April 13, when he hit into two double plays in crucial situations, both on the first pitch, was frustrating.

The Ugly:

— Shane Greene is a quality major league pitcher. What we’ve learned so far, however, is that he is not a quality major-league bunter. In the future, let’s hope he doesn’t get any at-bats with runners on first. I’ve seen better bunt attempts in t-ball.

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About Scott Ferkovich

Scott Ferkovich was the editor of Tigers By the Tale: Great Games at Michigan & Trumbull, published by the Society for American Baseball Research. His next book, Motor City Champs: Mickey Cochrane and the 1934-35 Detroit Tigers, will be published by McFarland in 2017. Follow him on Twitter @Scott_Ferkovich.