Good, Bad and Ugly: Grading the Detroit Tigers Up and Down First Quarter
The Detroit Tigers are in second place - within striking distance of first - which is about where fans should have expected this ball club to be.
The team has endured some pretty interesting situations.
The Good - A seven game winning streak, solid starting pitching and strong offensive contributions from several sources.
The Bad - The bullpen, a seven game losing streak and horrendous offensive contributions from some key players.
Also unexpected to Tigers fans - and all of baseball - is the standings of the AL Central.
The Indians have played extremely gritty baseball and currently own a five game lead of the Tigers early on.
The White Sox have got off to a terrible start but have shown some improvement over the last couple of weeks. It's hard to imagine that a team this talented won't make a run at the division.
The Royals appear to be be regressing after a strong start, but still need to be accounted for.
The Twins have been a complete disaster. Marred by injuries and an abysmal offense, unless they get healthy quick, it will take another amazing managerial job by Ron Gardenhire to get the Twins in contention.
While the Tigers can't control the make-up of their division, they should be held accountable for their individual performances. Both good and bad.
Here's my assessment with individual grades of the roster thus far.
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Justin Verlander - A-
Max Scherzer - A
Rick Porcello - B
Brad Penny - B -
Phil Coke - C
By far the best unit for the Tigers this season has been the starters.
Max Scherzer has been the most consistent starter and Justin Verlander seems to have caught fire before mid-season this year.
Scherzer and Verlander are vital to the Tigers success, but Rick Porcello and Brad Penny are nearly as important.
They've given the Tigers excellent efforts after slow starts and have given the team a solid top four starters. They are 17-8 combined with a 3.33 ERA.
Despite the 1-5 record and up-and-down starts, Phil Coke has actually been OK. He's had a couple of tough luck decisions and has really only been terrible in two starts.
He's been far better than any number five the Tigers have thrown out over the past few years, but with the mess that is the Tigers set-up spot he might be more valuable to the team in the bullpen.
Charlie Furbush and Andrew Oliver have both pitched very well at AAA Toledo and either would be a candidate for the rotation if Coke is moved.
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Jose Valverde - A-
Joaquin Benoit - F
Ryan Perry - F
Al Alburquerque - B
Daniel Schlereth - B-
Bryan Villarreal - C-
Brad Thomas - F
Robbie Wienhardt, Enrique Gonzalez - Inc.
What was thought to be a strength going into the season has been the teams Achilles heel.
The Tigers are currently proud owners of the worst bullpen in MLB with a a 5.50 ERA.
Luckily for the Tigers, the starters have pitched so well that the bullpen has been used the second least in baseball - behind the Oakland A's. When Leyland has had to turn to anyone not named Jose Valverde, it's been messy.
Valverde has had a strong start to the season. He seems to have regained his form from the first half of last season.
Al Alburquerque and Daniel Schlereth have had their own bumps lately, but they've been by far the next most dependable relievers.
They're both very young pitchers and have a lot to learn, so it's alarming that the Tigers are so dependant on them at this point.
Bryan Villareal - another rookie - has been OK, but he's struggled lately.
Joaquin Benoit has been an absolute failure as the set-up man. Despite his strong start - he's a shell of his 2010 self. He has to pitch better or he'll make people forget that Dombrowski had good free-agent acquisitions in Victor Martinez and Brad Penny.
Ryan Perry did have a DL stint interfere with his season, but when he's pitched he hasn't shown anything. If he doesn't start pitching better, he'll soon be sitting next to Matt Anderson on the Tigers draft pick bust "Hall of Fame".
It's clear that the Brad Thomas feel good story is coming to an end. The Tigers reclamation project was picked up off the scrap heap last season and despite a decent effort then, he has been awful this season.
Luckily, he hasn't really needed to pitch when it's mattered.
The strong starting pitching has somewhat masked the bullpen problems, but the Tigers need to find some answers in the bullpen as they'll need to rely on it more down the road.
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Magglio Ordonez - F
Austin Jackson - C-
Ryan Raburn - D
Brennan Boesch - A-
Casper Wells - C-
Andy Dirks - Inc.
Another weakness on the team has been the performance of the outfield.
Magglio Ordonez has been completely ineffective. He looks slow and shows no power. He's cornered the market on rally killing groundouts to the shortstop this season.
Ordonez is currently on the DL and the Tigers are giving Andy Dirks a shot. Dirks looked strong in spring training and at AAA Toledo and comes to the team with some expectations.
Austin Jackson was risking a demotion to Toledo with his awful start to the season but the second year center fielder has rebounded nicely. Not ironically, as he's started hitting the ball the offense has woken up.
Jackson has shown more power and ability to drive in runs this season, despite his alarming number of strikeouts.
After a tremendous second half to 2010, and despite a couple early flashes, Ryan Raburn has struggled lately and finds himself in a platoon situation - where he has never thrived.
Raburn has been one of the bigger disappointments on the team.
Luckily for Jim Leyland, Brennan Boesch has re-emerged to reclaim a spot in the Tigers future.
Boesch has shown a new approach at the plate and has been a spark plug to the offense hitting in front of Miguel Cabrera.
Between Ordonez terrible season thus far, Jackson's poor start and Raburn's recent struggles, the outfield would be a complete mess without Boesch.
Casper Wells has played sparingly and hasn't shown much when he's been in the lineup.
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Miguel Cabrera - A-
Brandon Inge - D-
Victor Martinez - A-
Alex Avila - A
Jhonny Peralta - A-
Will Rhymes - D-
Ramon Santiago - B-
Don Kelly - C+
Scott Sizemore, Omir Santos - Inc.
Overall, the infield has been extremely good for the Tigers.
Miguel Cabrera was red-hot to start the season but has cooled down recently. Backlash from his spring training DUI hasn't been a concern.
Despite Cabrera's recent struggles, the Tigers offense has performed much better lately. Once he heats up again, the team could have a scary lineup.
Victor Martinez has been an excellent signing. He's been especially effective after his DL stint for a sore hamstring and he gives opponents a real reason not to pitch around Cabrera.
Martinez hasn't been called on to catch much thanks to the strong start by Alex Avila.
Although his average has dipped a little lately, Avila has been one of the Tigers biggest surprises. He's shown the hitting ability that he flashed during his first season and has been excellent behind the plate.
Avila is on a pace for 20-25 home runs and 100 RBIs. Anything close to that would be an outstanding season for him.
Nearly as big a surprise for the Tigers has been Jhonny Peralta.
Peralta was terrible in spring training and there were rumblings that the team was looking to replace him, but not anymore.
Although he's sure to cool down, Peralta has shown an ability to get timely hits lately and has made up for the absence of any offense from Magglio Ordonez and Brandon Inge.
Never known to possess a high batting average, Inge has been especially bad this year. He's only hitting .202 and is on a pace to hit 4 HRs and drive in less than 50 runs.
Two game winning hits against the Rangers and Twins keep Inge from being graded even lower.
Considering his diminishing range at third - his best friend is the scorekeeper - Inge needs to start hitting or be replaced in the lineup.
David Wright and Jose Reyes - Peralta would move to third - from the Mets have been rumored. It would cost the Tigers a couple of top prospects - including Oliver, Furbush or Jacob Turner - but with the current shape of the rotation it might be worth it.
The extremely easy to root for Will Rhymes wasn't able to hold down the second base spot. He didn't show the same scrappy play that made him a fan favorite and he was sent down to AAA Toledo quickly.
Scott Sizemore has been a little better as his replacement, but he hasn't placed a stranglehold on the position, either. It appears the job will be Carlos Guillen's before too long.
Don Kelly and Ramon Santiago both are good utility men and give Jim Leyland flexibility in a matchup or pinch situation.
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Jim Leyland - B
On May 2nd, the Tigers were 12-17 and a full eight games behind first heading into a series with the New York Yankees.
Jim Leyland was seen as one of the biggest reasons for the teams early struggles, but in reality he was doing a good job of holding the squad together.
Victor Martinez has had a DL stint, Magglio Ordonez has been non-existent, Austin Jackson had a terrible start, the bullpen has been awful and numerous other factors have been working against the Tigers' skipper.
Leyland held the team together during a seven game swoon without putting too much pressure on young players struggling or leaning too much on young players who were performing.
Two weeks since May 2nd and the team has shaved nearly half of the lead that the Indians possessed in running their record to 22-19, firmly declaring themselves as the strongest competitor to the Indians for first place.
The Tigers have played a hectic schedule with a lot of road games. They've got a West Coast Trip and the Yankees out of the way already for the season and they're still in good shape.
Especially encouraging has been the Tigers .500 record on the road, where they've been competitive all season.
The Tigers road woes have been their biggest downfall in recent years - they've been tremendous at home - and if they can continue to win every other game on the road, there's no reason they shouldn't play meaningful baseball deep into the season.