As a sports fan, one of the many lessons Iâ€™ve learned over the years is to be very wary when certain events seem like forgone conclusions. The Lakers are going to easily handle the Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals? Nope. Down by six points with time expiring in 1994, there wasnâ€™t any chance the Colorado Buffaloes could come back and beat the Michigan Wolverines? Apparently there was. The Detroit Lions will never win an NFL Championship? … OK, well that last one at least seems to be a maxim we can all hold onto until we take our last breath.
Thatâ€™s why, when I heard, saw, or read nearly every prognosticator declare the Detroit Tigers a mortal lock to win the AL Central before this season started, I was filled only with trepidation. Sure, similar predictions had been made for the past few years, and they ended up coming true. But sooner or later they had to be wrong, right? Injuries or bad luck or a rookie manager or shocking underperformance were sure to undermine the so-called sure thing that was/is the 2014 Detroit Tigers.
So far at least, my anxiety appears to have been misplaced. With their 11-4 victory over the lowly Astros Tuesday night, the Tigers moved to 19-9 on the season on the heels of a seven-game winning streak. The rotation is living up to its astronomically high expectations, the defense has improved, and the offense has been plugging along despite a sluggish start by Miguel Cabrera.
The only weakness appears to be the same one that plagues this team perennially – the bullpen. But even that might be getting better as some of the late-inning arms who had gotten off to rocky starts are calming down and Joel Hanrahan, the teamâ€™s latest signing, begins to work himself into the fold.
Heading into the season, with Dirks, Iglesias, and Rondon all set to miss significant time, if not the entire season, I was starting to feel like this team might be the one that was snakebitten, the version that would defy those rosy predictions and somehow falter. Now – granted itâ€™s still really early and theyâ€™re in the midst of a euphoria-inducing winning streak – Iâ€™m starting to think this may be the best Tigers team weâ€™ve seen in recent years. And thatâ€™s saying something, considering how strong the franchise has been since its 2006 World Series run.
Austin Romine has been serviceable at shortstop, Castellanos has done everything Tigers fans could have hoped for at third base, Rajai Davis has been a revelation, and even Robbie Ray – he of the much-maligned offseason Doug Fister trade – managed to capably fill in for the injured Anibal Sanchez on Tuesday, collecting his first major league win. Right now, itâ€™s hard to find fault with any aspect of this team, and there are few, if any, other clubs in baseball who you can say that about right now. And with the Astros in town followed by the Twins, it doesnâ€™t look like the partyâ€™s going to end any time soon.
Of course, this is sports. This is baseball. A week or even a month does not a season make. But right now, itâ€™s hard to fault Tigers fans for being on Cloud 9.