The leading candidate for AL MVP and Cy Young after ten games of the MLB season is, unequivocally, Jeremy Bonderman. No player in the majors this season—and perhaps MLB history—has meant more to his team. Consider he has 100% of the Tigers wins. That is unprecedented. If he can keep that up over the course of the season, he would have the best single-season in sports history. So, be sure to keep an eye on that.
In other news, the Tigers have sent Metro Detroit into an area-wide depression with their 1-8 start fueled by anything and everything going wrong. I had on my Old English D cap the other day and a man said to me, “do you feel good about wearing that hat?” Clearly, he forgot about 2003 but this man was burned about the start. No single event sums up the Tigers early season futility more appropriately than the fact that Placido Polanco broke his MLB record consecutive errorless streak by committing an error in two straight games. When Polanco is making mental mistakes, you know you’ve got issues. Polanco’s errors might be the most shocking faux pas of the season but they certainly aren’t the worst of Detroit’s problems. Of the following group—Gary Sheffield, Miguel Cabrera, and Placido Polanco—who is hitting over .200? Unfortunately, the answer is none. Of the following group—Sheffield, Cabrera, Polanco, Marcus Thames, Jacque Jones, Pudge Rodriguez, Edgar Renteria, and Magglio Ordonez—who has an OPS above .750? Unfortunately, the answer is none. The hitting has been atrocious and, not surprisingly, the Tigers are last in the AL in runs scored.
The Tigers have actually scored more runs per game than the Yankees by .01 runs per game and the Yankees are not 1-8. What does that mean? It means that the Yankees have pitching. Tigers-pitching has been awful. In fact, it has been even worse than the hitting. The Tigers are last in virtually every measurable pitching statistic. That’s what makes the hitting drought so damaging. Everyone knew coming into the season that the Tigers had big-time question marks with the starting rotation and bullpen. The offense was supposed to mask those problems until some moves could be made to sure up the staff (whether those moves were going to come this season or next is a different story). The hitting hasn’t masked anything and the Tigers have no chance of winning until it does.
There is good news, however, and there is actually quite a bit of it. First, the Royals are leading the AL Central. There is no doubt that the Royals are an improved team but if the Tigers can’t catch the Royals by season’s end, then a lot of people need to be fired. Second, the Tigers haven’t even played 1/16th of the season. Last season, from May 25-June 1, the Tigers went 1-7. From July 26-Aug 5, the Tigers went 1-9. They still managed to finish 14 games over .500. They are only 4.5 games out of the wild card spot. Presuming the Tigers don’t let this slump adversely affect them more than any other slump simply because it's the start of the season, there is no difference between a slump in April and a slump in July. Third, Curtis Granderson is set to return as early as next week. His importance to the Tigers cannot be overstated. Remember, Granderson finished 10th in the AL MVP Voting last year and—if the voters had any idea what they were talking about—he would’ve finished in the top five. Granderson makes the Tigers offense go. No offense to Edgar Renteria—the only off-season trade that I wasn't ecstatic about—the Tigers don’t have the same effectiveness with Renteria leading off. Fourth, some of this stuff isn’t unfamiliar at all. Gary Sheffield hit .200 with a .675 OPS for the whole month of April last season. Over the next three months, he hit .320 with an OPS bordering 1.000.
There is no way that the offense will continue to be putrid throughout the season unless there is a rash of injuries. These players are just too good. The big question is, will the offense heat up soon enough to keep the Tigers from falling too far behind? Cleveland is a good team and possibly a great team. Chicago could be very good, too. It’s early in the season but the Tigers can only play so much better than the best teams even when they’re on a role.
Even though there are some things to take solace in, I don’t want to minimize the unacceptable nature of the Tigers porous play. It is disappointing to see the current level of effort and execution from a team that had so much promise coming into the season. My first guess is that they bought into the hype about how good they were going to be and that affected their mental and physical preparation coming into the season. There is just no other excuse for an entire team to be underachieving at such a ridiculous level. I could blame Jim Leyland for allowing such a malaise-attitude—and anyone who wants to do this would be more than justified—but I won’t. The players are responsible for their own preparation. They didn’t have it in Spring Training and they don’t have it now. The season is still young enough that a 1-8 start can be overcome but they need to start winning right now.