Why We Can Believe In Tigers' Hot Start – And Why We Really Shouldn't


Hey, look! It's August and the Tigers are in a playoff race. The rebuild is over. October baseball is on on the horizon. 

Hopeful? Romantic? Insane? 

Probably the latter, but that's the beauty of a shortened season. You can believe in anything you'd like. So here are three reasons to believe in the Tigers' 9-5 burst out of the gates, the club's best start since 2015. 

The Power's Back

If there was one mission for the front office last winter, it was to add some more pop to the lineup. The Tigers hit the fewest homers in the AL the past two seasons, which meant they almost never scored runs in bunches. (Actually, they almost never scored runs at all.) So they signed a pair of proven big-league hitters in C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop and counted on better numbers from a healthier Miguel Cabrera. That trio has combined for 11 homers so far, and the team as a whole has clubbed 23, fourth most in the AL. JaCoby Jones leads the way with five. That kind of power keeps you in games. If it continues, the Tigers can hang around. 

The Birth of a Bullpen

One thing the Tigers never combined with those slugging lineups of yesteryear? A reliable bullpen. Maybe this is the season that changes. Don't look now -- no, seriously, don't look now -- but Detroit might have found a group of late-inning arms it can count on. 25-year-old lefty Gregory Soto has been the revelation, with 11 strikeouts and just one hit allowed through eight appearances. John Schreiber seems to have discovered something, too. He'll get a chance to prove it with steady set-up man Buck Farmer on the IL. The biggest question might concern closer Joe Jimenez, but he's got the goods to hold down the 9th. 

As Sparky Once Said...
You can't tell anything about a baseball team until 40 games have been played. Well, 14 games brings us to about the same point in a 60-game season -- and the Tigers are a half-game out of first place! Consider it this way. A 9-5 start this year equates to 25-15 in a normal year. Would you believe in the Tigers then? What if there were three more playoff spots up for grabs, as there are in 2020? Would you believe in the Tigers then? Detroit is fourth in the AL a quarter of the way through the season. Sparky would say this team has a chance. 

OK, look. It's basically April. The only thing the Tigers are racing for is the future. The rebuild is the rebuild. That glow on the horizon is still a couple years in the distance. 

Hopeless? Cautious? Realistic? 

Probably the latter, and that's the sobering reminder after this heady start. Here are three reasons we should be wary of believing in the Tigers based off their results so far. 

For Starters...

their starting pitching has been poor. And the poorest of the group has been the purported ace. Hoping to channel the first of half of last season, Matthew Boyd has more closely resembled the pitcher he was before that: lots of hard contact, lots of hits. That's a problem in the short term and the long term, and there's no turning back now. The Tigers made the decision to build around Boyd when they spurned serious trade talks last summer. Now he headlines a rotation with the highest ERA (5.93) in the AL. The Tigers will fade quickly if that doesn't change; Spencer Turnbull can only pitch every fifth day. 

It's About To Get Real

The Tigers are the only AL club that's yet to face an opponent currently above .500. That might explain their record through 14 games. They deserve credit for hanging tough with the Reds, a team bound to climb in the standings, but half their games thus far have come against the last-place Royals and the last-place Pirates. After this week's series against the White Sox, the Tigers will face either the Indians, Twins or Cubs in 14 of their next 18 games. Let's see where they stand at the end of August. 

Regression to the Mean

Is it possible the Tigers mash their way through this season? Is is possible JaCoby Jones posts an OPS over 1.000 and the team sustains a slugging percentage close to .450? I suppose. But it's much more likely that the players who have buoyed this hot start will come back down to earth. And when they do, who are the underachievers other than Boyd who might balance that out? Even Cabrera, with his .208 average, has an OPS close to .800. And then there's the bullpen, which, for all its good vibes, feels like it's being held together by string. A lot has gone right for the Tigers thus far. We know better than to expect it to continue.