43 games in, a bit over a quarter into the season, we're sitting pretty at 25-18, good enough for first place and a 4 game lead in the divison. Eat that, MLB experts. Imagine where we'd be if we had a bit of offense along the way, huh? But here's my votes on a few individual catagories early in the year.
There's a few decent contenders here including Brandon Inge, Fernando Rodney, and Edwin Jackson, but I'm going to go with the offensive play of our shortstop duo, Adam Everett and Ramon Santiago. Combined, they are hitting .319 with 4 homers and an impressive 35 RBIs. Who'd have projected that for the first quarter? These guys have been awesome in the field, as advertised, but providing the offensive spark that's been missing from most of our big names is a large part of why we're in first place. A close second place, in my opinion, has been Young Dreamboat Rick Porcello, who's looked much better than a guy that hasn't pitched above A Ball.
It's odd to have so many disappointments on a first place club. From Guillen to Ordonez, to Granderson and Polanco, we have a bunch of guys off to slow starts at the plate. But overall, I'm going with a pitcher, Armando Galarraga, here. He started well, but he'd been dreadful the past few weeks. Armando was probably our "ace" on last year's underwhelming staff, but this year, he's become the weak link. He's 3-4 with a 5.74 ERA and in danger of leaving the rotation when Jeremy Bonderman returns in the coming week or two. Basically, Armando's become this year's Nate Robertson...not a good thing.
Comeback of the Year
If Dontrelle Willis continues to impress, he may well wrap this award up for the entire league by season's end. But right now, I'm going with Justin Verlander. JV's pitching like the ace we all hoped he'd become once again. After today's stellar performance, he's 5-2 with a 3.55 ERA, leading the AL with 85 strikeouts. Last year's 11-17, 4.84 ERA performance is becoming a distant memory as Verlander's been baseball's best pitcher not named Zach Greinke the past month.
Coach of the Year
When the pitching's good, the pitching coach looks like a genius. When it's bad, the pitching coach becomes a scapegoat. Ask Chuck Hernandez about that. We've been outstanding this year, so Rick Knapp gets this award. He came to us from the Twins organization with a reputation of harping on guys about throwing strikes. And that's just what he's done with guys like Verlander, Jackson, and Zumaya. Walks and ERAs are down and wins are up. Thank you, Rick Knapp.
With all due respect to Mr. Verlander's May success, Edwin Jackson has been top notch all season. EJax is 4-2 with an unbelievable 2.55 ERA in 9 starts so far. His wildness has been a thing of the past and he's finally living up to the potential the Dodgers thought he had as a youngster. The man much of Tiger Town groaned about when Matt Joyce was traded to Tampa has been having a career year in Motown. Here's to hoping he keeps it up.
The "Nate Award" so far this year goes to Brandon Lyon. The man was acquired to be our closer and instead has an ERA of nearly 6 while giving up 19 hits (4 homers) in only 19.2 innings. Worse, the man who was known for his good control has given up an alarming 11 walks so far. The Tigers took a chance on Mr. Lyon this offseason, and he just hasn't panned out. Luckily, while looking scary at times, Fernando Rodney has gone 8/8 in save opportunities so far to be the man Lyon was supposed to be.
You can't stop Miguel Cabrera...you can only hope to contain him. Entering today, the big man was hitting .367 with 9 homers and 33 RBIs. If we could get some hitting in front and/or behind him, those numbers could be even scarier. The man is simply a beast and a yearly MVP candidate while still being in his mid 20's. Getting Cabrera for a bunch of prospects that have yet to work out in Florida might be the best deal Double D has ever pulled off. On top of that, Cabrera has shown huge improvements on defense over at first, putting the icing on the cake for him.
Mr. Misty-May was on his way to winning this award going 0-13 as a Tiger before ending his season with an injury, but I'm going with his replacement, Dane Sardinha. Dane's hitting a dismal .095, 0, 2, in 21 at bats so far. I've never seen a major league player look more lost than Sardinha does at the plate. He's also struck out 10 times in those 21 at bats. The kid called "Pineapple" calls a decent game, but we might as well have our pitcher hitting on the days Gerald Laird needs a rest.
Cabrera's an easy pick here, but...God help me...I'm picking Brandon Inge as the MVP of the first quarter of the 2009 season. The guy is playing way over his head hitting .271 (slugging .556) entering today with 12 homers, 31 RBIs, and most importantly, playing a Gold Glove third base. Inge has become Mr. Web Gem this season. He's getting the big hit when most guys not named Cabrera aren't getting the job done. What else can I say? Maybe the 13 year old girls were right all along.
It's been a fun start to the 2009 season in Tiger Town. The Tigers are winning with pitching and defense, something that never seems to happen in Detroit. Things continue to look up with Bondo and Thames coming back from injury and Magglio Ordonez starting to heat up at the plate. If we can get Granderson hitting again and get something out of Carlos Guillen when he comes back, perhaps this team can fulfill the expectations that last year's team had coming into the season. But I'm getting WAY ahead of myself here...keep up the good work, guys.