Monday, May 3, 2010

Jackson, Willis, Coke, Zumaya: Tigers' season full of surprises

Neither of their catchers is hitting his weight. Gerald Laird is officially listed at 225 pounds, although that is probably giving him the benefit of the doubt. He is batting .155. Rookie Alex Avila weighs 210. He is hitting .147.

Their defense has, at times, been brutal, committing 24 errors -- by far the worst in the American League

Their five starting pitchers, supposedly one of the strengths of the team when the season began,  won a total of seven games during the first four weeks. Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, Max Scherzer, Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman boast a combined ERA of 5.18.

Incredibly, Willis, who has battled back from anxiety issues and an alarming loss of control, is easily the best of the bunch at 3.75. What kind of odds could you have gotten against that if you had gone to Las Vegas and placed a bet on Opening Day?

Yet the Tigers are off to one of the best starts in years.

Yes, it has been a strange season so far -- in a very pleasing sort of way.

Even Jim Leyland has been surprised at some of the things he has seen.

The offense -- the Tigers are leading the league in hitting -- and the revamped bullpen have been carrying the load.

Going into Monday night's game against the Twins in Minnesota, early-season sensation Austin Jackson was leading the AL in base hits with 40 and was second in the league in batting at .367.

Curtis who?

Miguel Cabrera, third in hits, was seventh in the league in hitting at .340. And Johnny Damon was batting .326. Nobody is doubting the wisdom of that signing these days.

Jackson ranked third in the league in runs scored with 21 and Damon was right behind him with 20. Magglio Ordonez, who is determined to demonstrate he deserved to return this year, was tied for 6th with 19.

Cabrera, who came into this season with something to prove, too, was leading the league in RBI with 27 and, surprisingly, ranked second in doubles with 11. That shows you what the young man can do when he puts his mind to it.

Then there is the bullpen.

Joel Zumaya (2-0, 1.23 ERA, 16 strikeouts in 14 2/3 innings) is again throwing the ball like he did in 2006. His return to form has given the whole team a lift. And workhorse Phil Coke was tied for third in the league with three wins --  as many as Scherzer, Willis and Bonderman, combined.

New closer Jose Valverde was tied for the league lead with 14 appearances, seven of which have resulted in saves.

It is still way, way too early to start thinking about October.

But, so far, this season is not shaping up to be the throw-away many envisioned during the offseason when the Tigers, to save money, jettisoned Curtis Granderson, Placido Polanco, Edwin Jackson, and Fernando Rodney.


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