By: Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning
Sparky Anderson thought you could never really get a gauge on your team until you played at least 40 games.
Well, here we are. We have eclipsed the 40 game mark, and he was right. There are some conclusions we can draw about the team at this point. There have been some surprises and some disappointments.
So as we head out on the road for a West Coast trip, let’s take a look at what has made us take notice so far, from both ends of the spectrum.
1. What is the most pleasant surprise this year so far?
The Tigers have learned a valuable lesson from the Kansas City Royals; the importance of speed. The Tigers, with some key additions are a substantially faster team this season.
And I can’t believe I am saying this, but it’s true, the Tigers lead the American League in stolen bases. Team speed is finally something opponents must be concerned about when they play Detroit.
The surprises start with Gose at the top of the lineup who has been hitting .300 since spring training and has not let up. He has been a tremendous boost for a lineup that begins and ends with speed.
My hope is that they will force the issue even more as they have several guys that can really run on this team, and even though we have shown that ability, somehow we have managed to have trouble scoring runs. So being even more aggressive is a must.
With VMart out of the lineup for the foreseeable future, the Tigers can take advantage by adding more speed to the everyday lineup. Putting Davis and Gose in the lineup together is something they should do as much as possible.
Iggy has returned and resumed the glorious performance that we tasted very briefly back in late 2013. Many who said the .303 BA was a fluke, stress fractures in both legs and a year away from the game – yet, he comes back and performs above expectations.
He is the complete player. Currently, a .333 BA, .811 OPS, 7 stolen bases and minimal strikeouts. And he has the much-needed high-energy, enthusiastic play that is so contagious to watch.
But let’s talk about what is even more exciting than what he does at the plate. It’s the glove! Currently ranked as the #2 defensive SS, the man is simply incredible with his combination of ballet and gymnastics in the field. And he makes the national highlight reels almost every time he plays. Let’s change his nickname to HHR – Human Highlight Reel.
2. What is the most disappointing surprise this year?
As much as the Tigers have added an element of speed to their offense, you would think it would be a lethal combination with such a powerful middle of the order. But, it’s amazing how difficult it has been for them to score runs.
As much as I hate to fill articles with stats, let me discuss them without a lot of numbers. The Tigers are near the top of the majors in batting average, trailing only Kansas City. Impressive right? They lead the American League in stolen bases. Wow, this offense must be electric.
But add in the fact they rank in the top 5 in leaving runners in scoring position and the incredible stat of leading all of baseball in grounding into double plays, you suddenly have an offense that doesn’t know if it’s coming or going.
I am totally confused by an offense that appeared to have the ability to score in different ways, when instead, they have found just about every opportunity not to score. They are destined to struggle to stay above .500 with all of the inconsistencies littered throughout their team.
The key word here is “surprise” so I won’t be addressing Ausmus for obvious reasons. But rather than identify one person, I’m going to address the established and worsening pattern of play which has to do with failing to score with RISP.
The Tigers lead MLB with games in which they have scored 2 runs or less – 25 of them. Taken alone, this would indicate that the team has problems offensively. But this is not the case. They rank #6 in all of MLB for runs, #1 (by far) in hits, run away with the lead in TB and are #2 in BA.
Yes, they put lots of runners on which impacts this figure but it also shows they are unable to cash in effectively when they have runners on 2B and beyond. How many of these 2-runs-or-less games could they have won? Technically, a maximum of 15 of these 25 games had the chance to be winnable. And unfortunately, I don’t see any visible effort by management and coaching in addressing this problem.