The Tigers completed their first series of the year in 2015 against the Twins. They did it pretty impressively, outscoring the Twins 22-1 with the one run unearned, for a nice 0.00 ERA 24.1 innings into the season. I got to see the first two shutouts live in person and watched the third on TV. Here are my observations from the series.
Let me first say that you can’t take too much from the first 3 games of the season. It’s such a small sample size that it’s hard to be able to make great final decisions. Also, the Tigers obviously dominated a team that might be picking first in the 2016 MLB Draft, so a lot of people are discrediting this sweep. What we forget is that this Twins team still has solid major leaguers like Joe Mauer, Brian Dozier, and Phil Hughes, and that even if they are the worst team, they’ll still likely win 60+ games, so they have to win sometimes. That makes the +21 run differential in this series all the more impressive.
I’ll start at the top of the order for the Tigers. Anthony Gose got two starts and Rajai Davis one against all right-handed pitchers. Davis mashes on lefties so there figures to be a platoon all year, but the Tigers are opening the season against five straight righties so Davis needed to get into one game and giving him the Opening Day honors after his solid 2014 made some sense. Davis went 0-for-4 but he showed some signs of promise, almost lining a ball down the right field line, which could’ve been a triple if it stayed fair. Davis will be more of a pinch runner who starts against lefties in 2015. Gose hit two routine fly outs to start his Tiger career, and he looks like he has a bit of an uppercut to his swing, but that helped him later, as he fell just a homer short of the cycle live and he looked impressive. He continued his success yesterday and got three more hits.
Ian Kinsler hit second and he didn’t do anything to really stick out, but he had four RBI on Wednesday and showed he doesn’t look like he’s going to regress much this year. Also, his defense is still there.
J.D. Martinez probably had one of the best starts for the Tigers. He may lead them in homers this year. Both of his homers were not just opposite field homers, but hit with amazing power. It takes a great, consistent swing and pure strength to take two balls to where he did, and he did it in a span of three games. He looks fine moving from left to right field too; he’s an average fielder who won’t hurt you on defense.
Yoenis Cespedes is perfect for that six hole and he had a hit in almost every way you can get one this series. From his little infield dribbler, to his ball hit on an absolute line to dead center. He also robbed a home run and brings a whole new dimension to the Tigers that’s exciting and can help them win games. With the way Shane Greene pitched, I can say trading Rick Porcello for Cespedes was still a solid deal for the Tigers (taking nothing away from Porcello, because he’s good).
Nick Castellanos is still getting his engine started, but I realized how much I missed his swing over the winter. That swing translated into a triple and eventually a run yesterday, and as Castellanos matures as a hitter, we could see a lot more of that. Nick obviously is going to continue to learn this year, but I think we could see him get better with the season.
Alex Avila showed that he really thought he should be hitting second. First he hit one of his signature opposite field jacks on top of the bullpen clubhouse in left at Comerica, then the next game he walked three times. With that production from the eight spot, the Tigers offense is truly tops in baseball. What Avila did that series isn’t sustainable, obviously, but parts of what I saw could equate to a better 2015 and maybe his best season since 2011.
Jose Iglesias is here for defense. He’s the plug up the middle, but he did hit over .300 his rookie season in 2013 and thanks in large part to his infield singles. Two of those happened in the opening series and his bat looked like it has plenty of singles in it. In the first two games, Avila and Iglesias (and one hit from James McCann) got on base 14 of their 16 plate appearances. Iglesias and Avila hitting even at less than half that production means this lineup is amazing from top to bottom.
Pitching wise, the team did what they were supposed to do against the Twins. The relievers looked good in their limited innings and David Price, Anibal Sanchez, and Greene all dominated with some help with the improved defense. Gose looks kind of like Austin Jackson did in center, Yoenis can handle left field and then some and Castellanos still looks below average but he made some decent plays and didn’t mess much up. Up the middle is a plug for the Tigers this year. Price will be the ace and eat innings this year, and if he gets three more starts against the Twins, he might just throw a no-hitter. Anibal looks solid as usual, and Greene looks like he could be the breakout player I predicted he could be.
The Tigers’ window isn’t closing thanks to GM Dave Dombrowski. Getting Gose, Greene, and most importantly Cespedes has added a dimension and built on the existing team. They may need to snag a solid rotation and bullpen arm at the trade deadline though. Alfredo Simon could repeat his first half success and then the Tigers could transition him to the bullpen later this year. The important thing to remember is that the Tigers bottom of the rotation isn’t any worse than most teams. Simon just has to win games like the one he’s pitching today, against Zach McAllister, and the offense could help them. One last thing I noticed is that the Tigers are really built for the ballpark they play in, from the outfield defense to all triples they got from their speed and gap power.
The Tigers now move on to Cleveland, who probably is their biggest competition in 2015. They need to win the season series against the Indians like they have the past two years — it could be one of the Tigers biggest keys to winning the Central.