A diary of the Tigers’ amazing first week of the season.
Opening Day, April 6: Tigers 4, Twins 0
Today, this looks like the most complete Tigers team in memory. Power: both J.D. Martinez and Alex Avila clout opposite-field home runs. Defense: Yoenis Cespedes leaps over the wall to take away a home run, Ian Kinsler makes a spectacular leaping grab of a line drive, and Jose Iglesias flags down a grounder deep in the hole. Speed: Jose Iglesias easily steals two bases and Rajai Davis adds another theft. Pitching: David Price spins a five-hit, no-walk shutout, barely working up a sweat.
A few questions, though: Why pull Price in the ninth after only 101 pitches? Was Brad Ausmus that eager to get Joe Nathan into the game? Why isn’t Anthony Gose a defensive replacement in the ninth, just as Andrew Romine is for Nick Castellanos?
April 8: Tigers 11, Twins 0
Anibal Sanchez dominates the Twins — and the Tigers capitalize on a bundle of Minnesota errors, not to mention their subpar pitching. In his first start, Anthony Gose shows his stuff, making a great catch over his head in center field look routine and banging out some extra-base gappers.
The biggest surprise comes with the contributions at the bottom of the order from Alex Avila and Iglesias. Iglesias hit .300 in 2013 because he can leg out infield singles — and he could do it again. Always patient at the plate, Avila looks like he could grind out a very good season, if he stays concussion-free. The Tigers’ lineup looks formidable top to bottom.
April 9: Tigers 7, Twins 1
When things are going well, bloop hits fall in and grounders find holes. That’s how the Tigers built a lead in the first inning in this game. And they are helped again by the Twins’ pitchers’ wildness.
Yoenis Cespedes boots a ball in the outfield to enable Minnesota to finally score, but not until Detroit has set an AL record for most shutout innings at the start of a season (twenty-four).
The big surprise in this game is the performance of Shane Greene, who efficiently dispatches the Twins on eighty-five pitches over eight innings.
April 10: Tigers 8, Indians 4
In the Indians home opener, the Tigers keep spraying hits all over the place—fourteen in the first six innings, though that’s good only for five runs, and eighteen overall. The hits continue to fall everywhere—one even comes off the pitcher’s foot!
The first chink in the armor of the Detroit starting rotation comes when Simon, cruising for five innings, suddenly allows five consecutive hits and three runs. For the first time this season the Tigers need their bullpen, though after they tack on three runs to give them a four-run lead, Ausmus can fiddle around with Joba Chamberlain in the ninth. Joba is Joba, three-ball counts galore, putting a couple runners on, and Joakim Soria has to be summoned anyway.
Cespedes is a continuing relevation. He tries to bunt for a base hit (it goes foul). He tags up and goes to second on a fly to left center. The Tigers are now a very resourceful team on offense.
April 11: Tigers 9, Indians 6
After four games of feasting on mediocre starting pitchers, the first real test for the Tigers offense is facing Cy Young winner Corey Kluber. Gose homers to lead off the game! And they tack on another run before Kluber settles in.
Nothing is going wrong: Ausmus rests Jose Iglesias, who is hitting only .600 — and his replacement, Andrew Romine, gets three walks and a hit, steals two bases, and scores two key runs.
Price is again dominant, but the Indians wisely run up the pitch count, and in the sixth Price throws away an inning-ending double-play grounder. No argument with leaving him in to face Jerry Sands, but Sands delivers, and the Tigers are behind for the first time in the season.
As in yesterday’s game, when he used Blaine Hardy for two innings, Ausmus has no qualms about having Tom Gorzelanny finish the sixth and pitch into the eighth. But in the eighth he brings in Al Alburquerque, who walks Carlos Santana — no surprise there — and summons his third lefty reliever, Ian Krol, who struggles. Ausmus inexplicably leaves Krol in to face Sands, even though Joakim Soria is ready to get a four-out save, and Sands delivers again, meaning the Tigers have now blown three leads in the game.
Luckily, however, Cleveland’s bullpen is even worse, and the Detroit offense remains on fire, and the Tigers win with a big ninth inning. The team is hitting 364/433/538 — a lineup of nine Babe Ruths! Everyone is punching hits to the opposite field consistently, with absolutely remarkable results.
But, please, can we get another third-base coach instead of the pusillanimous Dave Clark, who twice refuses to send Gose home when he could have scored easily?
This game is, I think, a lot more like we’ll expect to see from the Tigers this season, featuring a leaky pen but never-say-die offense. Detroit has now outscored opponents 39-11 but is still only tied for first place!
April 12: Tigers 8, Indians 5
Walk. Hit. Double steal. Home run. Hit batter. Single. Tigers are ahead 3-0 before a lot of fans get to their seats. Second inning: three more hits, two walks, a steal, three more runs, starter chased. Cabrera homers again the second time up and later in the gamble adds a single and a double.
Kyle Lobstein struggles but Ausmus gambles and sticks with him through five innings; if your club is averaging eight runs a game, it doesn’t matter much how your lesser pitchers do. By the end of their sixth game, the team slash line is 355/433/550.
Based on the evidence of this first week, a lot of people have underestimated this Detroit team. Only a real pessimist might point out that, aside from the two runs scored off Kluber in six innings, the other forty-five runs in forty-five innings have come off lousy pitching…but still, a run an inning? Holy cow!