When a veteran manager stays around long enough, they eventually become remembered for something they said – over and over again.
Jim Leyland was continually asked about momentum and he repeatedly denied its existence. He just didn’t believe in it from one game to the next. In his mind, “you’re only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher.” It’s a quote from Leyland that rings pretty true in most cases. If you don’t pitch, the chances of winning are low.
Sparky Anderson could really keep the quote machine churning. My personal favorite, “It’s my way or the highway.” And he continually declared things set in stone, when not long after the words came out, the decision did indeed change.
But Sparky also had a way of monitoring a season that we will always remember. He declared the 40-game mark as a point deep enough in the season to be able to make some determinations about the team and where they could be headed; a point where strengths and weaknesses could begin to be determined. It was a decent sample size to make an initial progress report.
In Detroit, the 40-game mark gets fans’ attention. They always bring up Sparky’s deadline for a personal progress report.
Every season, fans take a look at their team around this time. And well, I guess we should. Sparky after all, came to Detroit in 1979 and immediately declared that they would win a World Series within 5 years. He not only said it, they did it.
So when a veteran manager who has won a title, talks about when your team will win one, and delivers, well, fans are going to listen to what you have to say.
Where are the Tigers after 40 (now 42) games? What judgments can we make? Well, we could go through every phase of the team and grade them, but I won’t do that. I would like to take this 40 game mark in some different directions. These are the things that have caught my attention and questions we should ask.
What have you noticed about this particular Tiger team?
Certainly, the injuries have continued, but unlike other years, the team doesn’t seem to be using them as excuses for any failures so far. Not yet anyway. In fact, I think they have made it through the first wave in pretty good shape.
Given all the top-tier injuries, being around .500 and staying close in the race through 40 games is a decent accomplishment.
Are there any concerns with the starting pitching?
I believe, simply, that it’s important to have made it through the first 40 games with the same rotation. With the youth in this group, we have seen some bumps in the road, but they are weathering the storms, which is huge in their personal development.
There is a lot of learning going on. And each youngster acquired in those 3 trades in 2015, are at different levels of development. Fulmer is clearly the cream of the crop, while Daniel Norris continues to be touted as extremely talented but still trying to find consistency and command. Matt Boyd? He’s developing but has to eliminate those real bad games from his resume.
JV after the 40-game mark? Well, he’s back to throwing high 90’s fastballs when he wants to throw them. It is maybe the most remarkable story of the first quarter of the season, the fact that he raising the bar again. He’s just been an incredible pitcher for the Tigers.
Jordan Zimmermann is the one Tiger starting pitcher that we can still label as a concern. He is getting hit around pretty well, lacks a lot of command with his pitches and makes you wonder about his health. He is obviously someone we will watch closely as we move forward.
Who are the surprises up to this point?
1. Alex Avila. The Tigers, as you know, made very few additions to this year’s team. Alex was one and the move brought nothing but yawns and shaking of heads. Well, Alex? We are awake! And yes we are still shaking our heads.
2. JD Martinez. Who could have imagined a start like this when he returned from his foot injury? The Tigers will have a real decision to make if this assault on pitchers continues all season.
3. Justin Verlander. We had regained enough confidence in our ace that we were not at all worried about him continuing the same rate of production heading into this season. But to look even better and improve his velocity? Come on, JV!
Did I leave anything out?
Well, they are showcasing their power as expected.
Their outfield defense still struggles as expected.
They have developed some depth as injuries have forced them to give some guys from Toledo a shot, and they have delivered.
The bullpen? It has settled down after the initial KRod implosion and subsequent dismissal from the closer role.
All things considered, the Tigers look to be a Wild Card team, at least for now.