There is no denying the Detroit Tigers are a vastly different team than they have been the past few seasons.
Besides less beef in the lineup and less smoke in the locker room, the key indicator could be the team’s 35 stolen bases in 36 games. For comparison, the Tigers stole 35 bases all of last season.
Now stealing bases doesn’t guarantee success.
The MLB leader a year ago, Kansas City, had 153. Milwaukee was third with 142, San Diego fifth with 118 and the New York Mets were eighth with 114. None of those four teams made the postseason. In fact, only Boston and Cleveland were inside the top 10 in stolen bases and reached the playoffs.
Why the drastic change this season?
New manager Brad Ausmus and his philosophy is one reason. Ausmus is aggressive and is not afraid to take chances. His two suicide squeezes this year is a good example.
The other main reason for the change is the team’s new personnel.
Dave Dombrowski is one of the best general managers in the game. His fleecing of opposing teams in trades, his ability to lure star free agents and his obsession with power arms has transformed the Tigers from worst to first.
And despite four playoff appearances, including two World Series appearances, the Tigers have not won the ultimate prize, the end goal of winning a World Series for the first time since 1984.
Because of that Dombrowski retooled on-the-fly this past offseason.
Starting with the trade of Prince Fielder, the Tigers began the transition of slimming down and speeding up. Unfortunately, Fielder had worn out his welcome in Detroit, mostly because of bad playoff performances and a lackadaisical attitude.
His replacement, Ian Kinsler, has been a tremendous addition to the top of the lineup. His ability to get on base is great, but his ability to move on the base paths is even better.
Dombrowski then traded Doug Fister, to the dismay of anyone not named Dombrowski, for two young pitchers, one of which will spend most of this season in the minors.
Because of Domrowski’s history, I said let’s give this a chance. And sure enough, so far at least, the trade is working out.
Fister has made two starts in Washington, one bad and one no decision, while Ian Krol (a much needed lefty presence) has pitched well in the bullpen and Robbie Ray has made two great spot-starts and has lit up Toledo.
But the main reason for the trade was to get lefty Drew Smyly into the rotation. Smyly is 2-2 with an ERA of 2.70 with 30 strikeouts in 33 innings. Needless, to say he is pitching very well.
While the fans choice to be traded out of the rotation was Rick Porcello, all he has done is start the year 6-1 with a 3.22 ERA. Porcello, after five years in the rotation, is becoming the pitcher the Tigers envisioned drafting him out of high school and dropping him into the big leagues at the tender age of 20.
Dombrowski then signed Joe Nathan and Joba Chamberlin to help shore up the bullpen and signed speedster Rajai Davis.
Davis was set to platoon in left field until Andy Dirks was lost for a few months. Well Davis has stepped up, hitting near .300 and leading the team with 13 stolen bases.
Gone are the days of getting four hits in an inning and not scoring a run. Gone are the days of waiting for a home run to win the game, although it was nice to see Miguel Cabrera do just that on Tuesday.
Welcome to the days of getting on base, going first-to-third, sacrificing with bunts and moving runners over, squeezing and manufacturing runs to win baseball games.
Now if only the bullpen can holdup and with the signing of Joel Hanrahan, Dombrowski isn’t going to sit back and watch the bullpen give away a playoff series like last year.
At 24-12, the Tigers are on their way to a fourth consecutive Central Division title and are the early favorites in Vegas to win the World Series championship.
The Tigers are a different team, but the goal has always been the same.