4 Things We Learned About Detroit Tigers Through the First Quarter of the Season

Brett Kaplan@brettkaplanCorrespondent IIIMay 17, 2013

4 Things We Learned About Detroit Tigers Through the First Quarter of the Season

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    With the one-quarter mark of the 2013 season approaching, the Detroit Tigers have reinforced the fans' offseason hype that they are a strong World Series contender.

    After a sluggish 9-9 start to the season, the Tigers have been terrific since late April and are currently tied for first place in the AL Central with a 22-17 record.

    In a bit of a surprise, the Cleveland Indians are 7-3 in their last 10 games and are currently tied in the standings with the Tigers. While the season is still early, it appears that the Indians could challenge the Tigers throughout the season for first place.

    Throughout the start of the season, we've already learned multiple things about this Tigers team in their quest to win the city of Detroit their first World Series in 29 years.

    *All statistics are accurate as of May 17.

    **All statistics are from espn.comBaseball-Reference.com and MLB.com.

Torii Hunter Has Been Even Better Than Expected

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    Detroit Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter is 37 years old but has played in the first quarter of the season like he's 27—endearing him to Tigers fans.

    Hunter, who signed with the Tigers in the offseason, has played fantastically and has fit into the lineup seamlessly. In the past few years, right field has been a position of need for the Tigers and Hunter has helped solidify that question mark.

    Hunter had a strong season last year with the Los Angeles Angels, but his age was a minor concern due to the fact that Father Time catches up eventually with every athlete.

    Even though spring training statistics are meaningless for veteran players similar to Hunter, his .319 average helped to ease some concern around his age. Yet, no one knew that the best was yet to come with the regular season.

    So far in 157 at-bats, Hunter is hitting .318 with one home run, 20 runs batted in and 23 runs scored. And this is all while still playing solid defense.

    Hunter has proven that age is just a number and doesn't look like he's slowing down anytime soon.

    However, even with Hunter's strong start to the season, it's getting overshadowed by his work in the community. On May 2, the Detroit News' Tony Paul explained how Hunter is helping the city of Detroit:

    He knew he was coming to Detroit, he knew this city has problems. And he stressed his desire to lend a hand — moments after finalizing his two-year, $26 million contract.

    Hunter has wasted little time making good on that pledge, filming a Fox Sports Detroit PSA for Forgotten Harvest, the Metro Detroit food rescue organization that in the last calendar year provided more than 47 million meals to families in need.

    Hunter's actions—both on and off the field—have made him a quick fan favorite, which would have seemed improbable a few years ago when he was playing for the Minnesota Twins.

Starting Rotation May Be Even Better Than Expected

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    The Detroit Tigers' starting rotation from Justin Verlander to Rick Porcello has lived up to the preseason hype from their pitching performances in the 2012 postseason.

    So far in the 2013, the starters have picked up where they have left off. The Tigers currently have an overall team ERA of 3.47, which places them at fifth in the major leagues. However, when looking at the starting pitchers, they have a 19-10 record.

    While No. 1 pitcher Justin Verlander has a 3.17 ERA, the No. 4 starter—Anibal Sanchez—is quietly sporting the fourth lowest ERA in the majors with a 2.05.

    Even though Sanchez's ERA number will get most of the fans' attention, behind the stats is a complete pitcher, who is improving in all aspects of the game. He has the best strikeout to walk ratio of his career and has only allowed one home run this season. He even set a Tigers franchise record for strikeouts per game on April 26 with 17. That is why the Tigers feel very confident with any pitcher on the mound.

    The Tigers' No. 2 and No. 3 pitchers, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister, are also pitching strong and are each excelling with a sub-3.70 ERA.

    In my eyes, Scherzer has followed up his 2012 breakout season with a solid sequel performance so far and has put the theory to rest that he could possibly only be a one-season wonder. 

    Eventually, the Tigers will need to decide how to proceed with Scherzer's future as he approaches free agency, but for now they should be thrilled that they have him as a part of this special rotation.

    If there is one question mark, it's No. 5 starter Rick Porcello, who has had a few tough outings. However, he has been pitching better lately and looks to have rebounded nicely after his awful pitching against the Los Angeles Angels.

    Against the Angels on April 20, Porcello allowed nine earned runs in 0.2 innings, which caused him to have a bloated 6.68 ERA. Without that game, Porcello's ERA would be in line with his career ERA of 4.65.

    As the season progresses, the starting rotation will be relied upon even more so to keep the pressure off the bullpen. So far, it appears that each starter is up to the task, which will make it fun to watch during the remainder of the season.

Jhonny Peralta Looks to Have Rebounded from 2012

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    Throughout this past offseason, Detroit Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta had to endure speculation that the Tigers were looking to replace him. The most common reason cited amongst fans was his lack of range defensively.

    CBS Sports' Jon Heyman even reported back on Nov. 20 that the Tigers were interested in Stephen Drew, who was a free agent and is known to have great range defensively.

    In my mind, the Tigers figured that if Peralta couldn't produce at the plate like he did in 2011, then he wasn't worth being penciled into the lineup each day.

    Fast-forward to the one-quarter mark and Peralta is currently hitting a career-high .326 at the plate, so fans aren't targeting him to be replaced anymore.

    Whether or not Peralta will continue to hit like this remains to be seen, but the Tigers will take his bat as long as he helps the team out.

    Personally, I see Peralta's average tailing off to around .280. However, it would be a huge improvement over last season (where he only hit .239) and would allow the Tigers not to use a valuable trade chip on a short-term shortstop.

Bruce Rondon Should Spend the Rest of the Season in Triple-A

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    Rookie pitcher Bruce Rondon was hyped this past offseason by the Detroit Tigers' front office to be the closer in 2013.

    The Tigers bypassed some veteran closers like Rafael Soriano because the front office had so much confidence in the 22-year-old rookie.

    However, once Rondon got to spring training, he was very inconsistent, and the Tigers organization realized that he wasn't ready for the pressure of the major leagues. Rondon finished spring training with a 5.84 ERA and was sent to Triple-A Toledo for more seasoning.

    At Triple-A, Rondon thrived with a 0.00 ERA and was called up to the Tigers on April 23. However, once with the Tigers, Rondon proved that he really wasn't ready for the major leagues. After only 2.1 innings pitched and an 11.57 ERA, the Tigers sent him back down to Toledo.

    Currently, Rondon has yet to allow an earned run. But at 22 years old, the Tigers need to be patient with him and let him spend the whole season refining his pitches.

    With Jose Valverde as closer, the Tigers must take a long-term approach with Rondon. I believe the best thing for all parties is for Rondon to spend the rest of the season in Triple-A and have him build up his confidence. At the same time, the Tigers will be able to determine if he can pitch in the major leagues in the future.