The Detroit Tigers have begun the 2015 regular season in fine fashion. A 17-9 record through the first month puts them in familiar territory atop the American League Central Division.

Their advantage, however, is of minuscule proportions. Kansas City (16-9) currently sits only a half-game adrift of the Tigers. The two sides have swapped leads on several occasions already, and the 2014 AL champion Royals figure to be neck and neck with Detroit all year long.

So what’s the deal with these first-place Tigers?

“Detroit” and “defense” were two words that used to go together like oil and water. Things have sure changed. Jose “The Human Highlight Reel”, Iglesias is healthy again this season, and his impact has been profound on the team’s fielding. 

The gifted shortstop is not the only player who has returned from 2013 to provide a boost. First baseman Miguel Cabrera is back, too.

Say what?

Indeed, Cabrera was very much present last season, playing in 159 games for Detroit. However, he simply wasn’t the Miggy of his MVP days. That colossal figure has returned in 2015 to lead a stud-laden yet inconsistent Detroit offense.

As for the pitching, starters David Price, Anibal Sanchez, Shane Greene, Alfredo Simon and Kyle Lobstein have arguably been the best starting quintet in the league. Considering that the exits of Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello created a talent vacuum, this is a major surprise.

With plenty to examine after one month, it’s time to grab the microscope and zoom in on the five major happenings in Tigertown.

*Rankings are based on how significant its impact has been to the team.


5. Joakim Soria is providing rare ninth-inning security

It’s been a while since Detroit has felt good about its closer—four seasons, to be exact. Not since Jose Valverde was mowing down hitters in 2011 has Detroit had a reliable ninth-inning stopper.

Not until now, anyway.

Soria has been lights out with Detroit this season, much to the delight (relief?) of most Tigers fans.

Bringing his Mariano Rivera-esque composure to the hill, the 30-year-old is a perfect 10-of-10 in saves since Tommy John surgery shut down former closer Joe Nathan for the season. It is a noteworthy turnaround for Soria, who had a terrible start to his Tigers career after Texas traded him last July.

According to starter Sanchez, Soria’s presence exudes confidence through the ballclub, per James Schmehl of “He just goes out there relaxed and throws the ball in the right spots. Everybody feels comfortable (with him around).”


4. Miguel Cabrera is back on top of his game

By any mortal’s standards, Cabrera had a very fine season in 2014. Most big league hitters would gratefully accept a .313/.371/.524 slash line with 25 dingers and 101 RBI if you offered it to them before the season.

But this is Miguel Cabrera we’re talking about.

Last year was quite a regression from his .348/.442/.636 line of 2013.

But this drop-off must be put in perspective. Cabrera entered the 2014 campaign after undergoing core surgery, and then ankle and foot injuries beset him during the regular season.

Healthy again now, the veteran slugger is discarding to the trash heap any thoughts of a decline. His .366 batting average (third in the AL) and a career-high 1.083 OPS unequivocally show that the old Miggy is back.

Another indicative sign is that pitchers are fearing him again. Cabrera is third in the AL with 17 walks already, including four intentional passes.

Just imagine if Victor Martinez gets going behind him. Scary stuff.


3. The starting rotation has excelled

This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

Subtracting Scherzer and Porcello while adding Greene and Simon should equal certain regression, right? Not so far.

Through 26 games, Detroit’s staff ranks first in the AL in wins, innings and quality starts.

Remarkably, no Tigers starter ranks in the top 10 in the league in ERA. But barring an off day or two, the rotation has been excellent as a group.

Its prospects should only get better, too. 2011 AL MVP Justin Verlander is still absent due to an injured triceps, and his return will provide an enormous boost.

The performance of the rotation pips Cabrera and Soria due to the need for it to step up after two substantial offseason departures. It has also been very timely considering…


2. The offense has been prone to slumps

With a lineup including Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Yoenis Cespedes and Ian Kinsler, you’d almost expect Detroit’s offense to be slump-proof. Not so.

During the first month, the Tigers have failed to score runs on a consistent basis. They currently rank eighth in the AL with a mediocre 4.5 runs per game.

Some nights, the bats are barely showing up at all. The Tigers have scored two runs or less in 11 of their 26 games (42 percent).

While Nick Castellanos, Alex Avila and the strikeout-prone J.D. Martinez have caused their share of head scratches, the biggest concern has been Victor Martinez. The designated hitter’s major league-high .974 OPS in 2014 has nearly halved this year to an unflattering .544.

He hasn’t been himself at the plate after February knee surgery interrupted his preparation for the season. While still bothered by it, Martinez has shown some signs of improvement lately, according to manager Brad Ausmus, per Chris Iott of

“He seems to be progressing. The limp’s not as noticeable. When he’s taking pitches, he looks more normal, more comfortable, so I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

This takeaway grabs second, as its scoring rate (3.5 per game in their last 20) must be improved if Detroit is to be a genuine contender this year.


1. The Tigers can now play defense

While great offense and starting pitching have been staples of Detroit teams over the years, defense has never been its forte. This year, it’s a transformed unit.

Opposing teams would know this as well as anybody. After facing the Tigers six times already, Indians manager Terry Francona has certainly taken notice, per Dave Hogg of Fox Sports Detroit:

They’ve gotten so much more athletic on defense, especially up the middle, which makes them even tougher to beat. They’ve had great center fielders here for a while, but (Anthony) Gose and (Rajai) Davis can both fly out there, (Jose) Iglesias is obviously a great defensive shortstop and (Ian) Kinsler is really good at second.

The numbers back him up. Detroit’s .990 fielding percentage is second in the league, and only the Tampa Bay Rays have given up less unearned runs.

Watching the Tigers play defense is not hard on the eye, either. Take a look at Iglesias in action:

Detroit’s improved glove work gets top spot, as it arguably makes it a more complete team than it has been during any of its contending years. What do you think?


Stats in this article are courtesy of FanGraphs and

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