What we learned about the Tigers in April

One month into the 2016 season, Detroit third baseman Nick Castellanos is leading the American League in hitting.

One month into the 2016 season, Detroit third baseman Nick Castellanos is leading the American League in batting average.

Frank Sinatra once sang, “You’re riding high in April, shot down in May.”

The Detroit Tigers have been riding high, at times, the first month of this 2016 season.

At other times, they have looked like a team with some of the same problems that plagued the 2015 team (namely, weak starting pitching, inconsistent hitting, atrocious baserunning, and questionable managerial decisions).

Will they be shot down in May? Time will tell.

And while we are cautioned to reserve judgment on a team until the weather warms up, there are a few kernels of insight that we can glean before the sample size grows larger.

Here are five take-aways from the 2016 Tigers, so far.

  1. Nick Castellanos seems well on his way to having a breakout season. He may be the most improved player in baseball, period. At this writing, he is tied for the team lead in RBIs (18) with Victor Martinez. He is leading the American League in hitting by a wide margin. He has worked hard to take his game up a notch at third base. His knowledge of the strike zone is getting better. He is not as bulky as he was last year, which has improved his speed on the bases. His power can be awesome, as evidenced by his mammoth home run to dead center field in Minneapolis on Saturday night. And he has done all this while flying under the national radar. How long can he keep it up? In the last 40 years the Tigers have had only two homegrown third basemen who have made the All-Star team (Travis Fryman and Brandon Inge once each), but that duo could become a trio this season.
  2. The starting pitching may prove to be this team’s undoing. Jordan Zimmerman has been outstanding, but after him, the starters have mostly been inconsistent and ineffective. Zimmerman has a .055 ERA and a 1.061 WHIP. But Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Mike Pelfrey, and Shane Greene have not carried their share of the load. JV has shown flashes of his old self this season, but has yet to put it all together. He keeps telling us how close he is to getting back to where he wants to be. Given his track record, he deserves a longer leash in order to see things through. Sanchez, however, has continued to regress. As for Pelfrey, if things don’t get better quickly, he will be in danger of losing his rotation spot, regardless of how much he is getting paid. A promising spring for Greene hasn’t translated, so far, into the regular season.
  3. The bullpen has been as good as advertised, despite injuries and a few bumps in the road. The pieces fit together nicely, and lefty Justin Wilson has been lights out. If the Tigers had had this bullpen two or three years ago, they would have won a World Series. Francisco Rodriguez is probably going to have a few more high-wire acts before the summer is over, so get used to it, Tiger fans. But he will get the job done more often than not. The problem is, if the starters, other than Zimmerman, can’t somehow find a way to grind it out and pitch into the sixth or seventh inning at least occasionally, the bullpen is going to be overtaxed before long.
  4. Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera appear to be completely healthy, and if they can stay vertical for the next five months, the Tigers will have a shot at winning this division. Every team in the American League Central has weaknesses that can be exposed over a 162-game season. That is why health is so important for Detroit, because barring any significant down time by their star players, their lineup is as good as anybody’s. Both V-Mart and Miggy figure to get even better once the weather warms up, and that bodes well.
  5. Justin Upton is Justin Upton. After he joined the team, all we kept hearing was how he was a streak hitter. Folks in San Diego and Arizona told us that he was going to carry this team for weeks at a time, and disappear for the next month. Well, he disappeared in April, that’s for sure. His bat has come alive in the last few days, however, so maybe we are in for one of those awesome streaks that we heard so much about. That is just the type of hitter he is. It can be frustrating, and it was unfortunate that he picked his first month as a Tiger to look more like Kate Upton at the plate. A better performance will come, however, so hang on.