At one month old, the MLB season now has accrued a sufficient sample size of free time to permit me to compile the opening post of this site’s regular Detroit Tigers series for 2015, Window Shopping. Last year, I came out of the gate a bit too hot, burned out, and had to take the month of June off. This year finds your resident Tiger tracker more balanced and measured in his approach. This year’s Detroit Baseball Tigers have a more balanced look too.
Like 2014, the 2015 offseason wasn’t especially kind to the Tigers pitching rotation, but at least the damage wasn’t entirely self-inflicted this time around. In January, inevitability became reality when free agent Max Scherzer decamped the automotive capital for the regular old capital and a pitching job with the Nationals (and not, as some hinted, a backup catching job). General Manager Dave Dombrowski also took my then-months-old advice and flipped the young-looking arm of Kid Rick Porcello to Boston for the bat and barbeque of Yoenis Cespedes. New guys Fettuccine Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene Not-Giant came on board to fill out the rotation. Elsewhere in the field, Anthony Gose arrived from Toronto to attempt to conjoin himself with fellow former Blue Jay Rajai Davis in order to make a whole Austin Jackson. Finally, while not an acquisition, shortstop Jose Iglesias located two working legs and returns as a full-time starter after missing all of 2014 on account of him having shins made of sharp glass.
Heading into this season, the beat on the Tigers was that this year represented the current team’s last chance for a World Series championship run– that is, if their proverbial Window hasn’t already closed. Even if it’s true that this Tigers roster is getting older (aren’t we all?) and the team has been making an especially concerted push for a championship for the past three seasons, the sweeping application of this trope to the 2015 Detroit squad felt a bit hackneyed. It also felt lazy, in the same way people who make those song lyrics websites are lazy: they all were copying off the same script without really reading or thinking about what they were writing. I understand that the Detroit Tigers aren’t everyone’s Precious, but the window-closing Narrative isn’t even accurate. At least that’s not how Dombrowski & co. are playing it.
If the Tigers really were going all-in this year, then they would have behaved differently in the offseason. For one, they probably would have swallowed their pride, called the Brinks truck, and signed Scherzer. They also likely would’ve been more active in the marquee free-agent market to
reinforceproperly staff the bullpen and add even more bats. Cf. San Diego Padres; Los Angeles Dodgers; Chicago Cubs.
The thoughtless labeling of more distanced observers often referenced the Philadelphia Phillies of the last decade, a comparison that simply does not apply to these Tigers. First, they haven’t actually won the World Series, and second, decisions like the ones they made this past offseason suggest that they are unlikely to spend the next ten years wandering the baseball landscape like depressed zombies begging to be put down for good, even if they are going to owe Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander $58 million in 2019.
Instead, they made some financially prudent decisions and improved their defensive profile such that they should be able to compete at a high level both this season and in the near future.
As I wrote elsewhere, a rotation that loses Scherzer and Porcello (and Doug Fister before them) isn’t reasonably likely to get better, and I won’t tell you that this one has, especially given the absence of Verlander. It did get off to a very strong start, though, and, with the exception of the two-faced Greene, all starters remain among the forty-best in baseball (and all except Verlander’s stand-in, Kyle Lobstein, are among the top twenty-five), which is not nothing. As for Greene, he’s attempting to best his modest projection by adding a pitch, which is a good– if potentially tumultuous– thing for a young, developing starter to do.
Related, Gose, who was projected somewhere between a defensive-first and defensive-only centerfielder upon his arrival in Detroit, is attempting to pull a J.D. Martinez and outperform his hitting expectations by changing his swing, and it seems to be working. All he’s done so far is hit at the best offensive rates of his career.
Speaking of J.D. Martinez, the ever-meaty meat of the Tigers order already has produced its share of highlights, including a Cabrera double-decker and a Cespedes power grand slam, but it has struggled a great deal of late. J.D. is in a real funk at the moment, and although Victor Martinez’s left knee no longer induces cringing gasps, it still doesn’t look good, and his back doesn’t seem much better. On top of this, the team has hit into an MLB-leading twenty-nine double plays.
(This may be something of a strong/hot take, but I find a not-insignificant part of me agreeing with those fans who think Brad Ausmus should rest Victor for a couple weeks now to allow him some further healing time, with the thought that he’ll be able to return at a sustainably stronger level for the remainder of the season. Ausmus seems to fancy himself a players’ coach, which is fine for a team with veteran leadership, but he should know that Victor, like Prince Fielder, is not going to take himself out of the lineup. I think Ausmus needs to protect Martinez from himself in this instance and force him to rest. Martinez’s health generally does seem to be improving, but a setback, like the knee tweak last night, still seems possible at any moment. Even if he isn’t doing further damage to his surgically repaired knee, he’s in obvious pain, and it seems reasonable that a spell on the fifteen-day disabled list could help boost his strength and confidence.)
Despite their recent struggles at the plate, though, the Tigers have the fourth most productive offense in baseball. They have a 17-10 record (including an 11-2 start), and they just split their first series with the Kansas City Royals, who hold a negligible half-game lead over Detroit for first place in the division. Twenty-seven games certainly don’t tell us everything about this team, but this first month has offered a nice window through which to observe the dynamic potential of this team, which looks like it’s ripening into another contender.
Snapshot: How good has the Detroit Tigers starting rotation been to date? – 4-29
An audible discussion of current baseball topics – 4/27
The Criminal Mind: Measuring Radical Changes in Base-Thieving Habits – 4/16
Shane Greene Outduels Burnett as Tigers Hurdle Pirates to Avenge Only Loss – 4/15
Detroit Tigers 2015 Season Preview – 3/12