Is 2014 the Year of the Tiger?
The Detroit Tigers are on a roll early in the season, and being that they’re in the mediocre (at best) AL Central, they’re already starting to run away with the division in mid-May. The Tigers swept the Boston Red Sox over the weekend, allowing the defending World Series champions to only three combined runs over three games. Detroit has a seven-game lead over the second place Royals, and they’re looking like baseball’s finest club. A lot of the praise will get pushed upon Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and the rest of the Detroit lineup that has won 15 of their last 18 games, but it’s really the pitching that can carry the Tigers to a World Series in 2014.
Detroit has a team ERA of 3.13, almost a full run below the average across the American League good for second in the American League to only the Oakland A’s. Adjust for the parks the two teams play in (Oakland is a very pitcher-friendly place to be), and the Tigers have the best staff so far this season in the league. One of the big reasons for that is a low walk count, with Detroit only issuing 108 free passes in 2014 – first place in the AL. The Tigers are also in first (or last, however you want to look at it) in home runs allowed with 27. Those are two of the most important basic statistics for pitchers, because they’re the things 100% controlled by the man on the mound. Balls put into play vary and the defense can have a lot to do with whether they become hits, but controlling walks and keeping the ball in the park is huge – and the Tigers are excelling at both.
The Detroit starters have been in a league of their own, with the worst ERA of the bunch being the 2.91 of Rick Porcello. You know it’s a good year when your worst starter by ERA is 7-1 has allowed only six runs over his last 4 starts. Along with Porcello in the bottom half of the rotation is Drew Smyly, who started off the season as a long reliever out of the bullpen. Since a shaky first start, Smyly has also allowed six runs over four starts, going at least six innings in three of them.
At the top of the rotation, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer are still churning out the strikeouts and wins at a very high rate. Both pitcher already have Cy Young awards, but it’s Scherzer that has really shined recently. The big right-hander has racked up 73 Ks in only 59 innings this season, all while sporting an ERA of 1.83 – best in the AL. The trade for Scherzer by Dave Dombrowski is looking like one of the best moves made in baseball over the last five years.
The Tigers have lost in the World Series and in the ALCS in recent years, but this year’s pitching could be good enough to get them over the hump. It’s still early, but there’s a reason that Vegas is favoring the Motor City team to win it all.