Myth vs. fact about the 2014 Detroit Tigers at the 40-game mark
|Victor Martinez, Rajai Davis: Dynamic duo|
Myth - The Tigers are winning because they are so much more aggressive on the bases and so much better balanced.
Fact - The Tigers are winning because they are hitting with power and their starting pitching is the best in MLB. It's true, the Tigers do run the bases better. The additions of Rajai Davis and Ian Kinsler, and subtraction of Prince Fielder, has made the Tigers better on the bases. Their stolen bases are up, though, for no other reason than they added a player in Davis, who stole more bases (45) than the Tigers did as a team in 2013 (35).
|Brad Ausmus: So far, so good|
Myth: Brad Ausmus has made a huge difference as the Tigers' manager.
Fact: Ausmus has done well so far, but it's been a smooth ride. After a spring training of injuries, the Tigers have remained healthy and his veteran players have generally been performing up to, or surpassing, expectations. It's true the Tigers steal more bases, but it's more a matter of changed player personnel than strategy. The Tigers don't play "small ball" any more under Ausmus than they did under Leyland. Only Oakland has fewer sacrifice bunts than the Tigers, who have just four. Ausmus has ridden his superior starting pitching as far as he can and then turned to the bullpen, which has a better closer in Joe Nathan. And he's done similarly goofy things with his batting order, like Leyland, including hitting Don Kelly fifth Monday night. The Tigers' 27-13 record is the exact same Leyland compiled during his first season in 2006. And Leyland inherited a team that won just 71 games the year before, and a franchise that had compiled 12 straight losing seasons. We won't really know how good a manager Ausmus is until he faces some form of crisis. There simply haven't been any for the Tigers so far in 2014. For the record, the Tigers were 23-17 last season after 40 games with Jose Valverde as closer, and Martinez and Alex Avila marred in horrific slumps.
My thoughts on the Tigers' 5-4 loss to Cleveland Monday: