After a disappointing season last year in which the Detroit Tigers did not live up to expectations, they have come out of the gate in the first 72 games and stormed to first place in the American League Central. They currently have a five game lead over the Minnesota Twins.
The turnaround has been unexpected and has left many scratching their heads over how long it can last. There is no question about how much the Tigers have improved, but there are several who are unsure on how the Tigers have been able to pull this off.
One thing that is certain is that the AL Central Division is not the strongest in baseball at the moment. With the Kansas City Royals fizzling out after their big start to the season, the division was up for grabs as early as May when the Tigers seized control and have failed to lose grip since then.
The Tigers faced several tests in their way this past month, and have struggled with some inconsistencies in their pitching and hitting.
Dontrelle Willis' struggles with anxiety disorder and Jeremy Bonderman's absence have both hurt a team that has grown to depend on their first three starters immensely. The Tigers have also struggled to find a second bat to go along with the red hot Miguel Cabrera.
They have lost to several key teams, and a sweep in Boston at the beginning of June was embarrassing although ace pitcher Justin Verlander was not slated to start at any point during the series.
It showcased the weaknesses of the Tigers rotation. Other series have showed the Tigers to be a team of resilience, especially during this most recent stretch of inter-league play.
The Tigers are currently on a seven-game winning streak and all of the wins have come in inter-league play, with the last four of them all being one-run wins. Last season, and early in this past season the Tigers would often lose these types of games by making more mistakes than their opponents, but this year that is not the case which brings forth the reason for why they have improved.
Their pitching has improved no doubt especially with Justin Verlander currently leading the American League in strikeouts and Edwin Jackson having the second lowest ERA in the AL as well.
However, the biggest reason for their improvement has been how they play when they are not at bat.
In the field, they are making far fewer errors which doesn't allow their opponents to comeback so easily or for them to beat them without being a better team.
This is partially due to Curtis Granderson being arguable one of the best defensive centerfielders in baseball, but at the same time the rest of the team has been stepping up as well.
Players like Placido Polanco, Brandon Inge and Adam Everett in the infield have come up with key plays and avoided making too many foolish mistakes. Granderson has also been receiving substantial help from his fellow outfielders especially recently Josh Anderson and Don Kelly. It also doesn't hurt that right now acquiring Gerald Laird as catcher is probably one of the most underrated trades from this past off season.
There are still areas in which the Tigers can improve, but as of the 72nd game in the season, they are in a very good position to make a run to the postseason this year.
Because last year the Philadelphia Phillies did not have the most complete team as far as pitching and hitting was concerned, but what they did have the best fielding team, and that combined with what else they had was enough to win the World Series last year.