Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Last season, the Detroit Tigers set a record in the American League with 119 defeats, one loss short of the major league mark established by the 1962 New York Mets.
Tigers owner Mike Ilitch was fed up with the losing and his moves in the offseason proved he was serious about taking the fast track to rebuilding. The additions of veterans such as Rondell White, Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Guillen and Fernando Vina have already paid dividends.
While the Tigers aren't expected to come anywhere close to winning the AL Central this year or even finish .500, the team's quick start has shocked most pundits.
Detroit won its 10th game of the season Friday night in dominating fashion, crushing Cleveland, 17-3, at Comerica Park. The team showed great patience in the game, especially in an 11-run sixth inning when Detroit drew seven walks. The Tigers then won Saturday, 5-2, before managing only two hits and falling by a run in the series finale Sunday.
However, it's already a major change from last year for the Tigers. The good mixture of veteran leadership combined with Alan Trammell having a year under his belt as skipper has given Tigers fans hope that the team will remain competitive for most of this season.
Although the Tigers have played only Toronto, Minnesota and Cleveland to this point, there are a couple of statistics that prove Detroit is heading in the right direction. So far this season, the Tigers have scored 119 runs. Last April they scored 55. The team has a collective .283 batting average, a sharp contrast to last season when the squad hit .240.
"We've got a better team now, so there isn't as much pressure on the guys down the order," catcher Brandon Inge said. "Now we know that if we don't come through, someone else will. We didn't have that last year. From the beginning of the season, I could tell how much more patient this team was. Last year, we swung at the first pitch we saw, but this year, we know to wait for something good."
The progress the Tigers have made in one year is eye-opening and most of it has to do with the attitude of the players and especially management. Last year, Detroit didn't win its 10th game until May 22 and by then the team was buried with a 10-35 record. Now the Tigers are on the verge of winning more than 11 games in April for the first time since 1993, when they posted a 15-7 record. That's the last season Detroit had a winning record.
"This is a completely different team from last year," third baseman Eric Munson said. "We're taking professional at-bats now."
Inge came into this season batting just .198, but as of Monday he was hitting above .381, an incredible resurgence.
The experiment of trying to win with a vast array of young players came to a crashing conclusion last season. Omar Infante (22) is no longer the team's everyday shortstop, as Guillen (28) has taken over. Ramon Santiago is gone at second base and Vina, 35, has proven to be a solid defensive addition, although he could step up his offense.
The real catalyst in the clubhouse is Rodriguez, who has proved to be one of the Tigers' offensive leaders early this season. As of Monday, Pudge was hitting .355 and had hit safely in all but three of his games with Detroit. Having a 10-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove winner, as well as a player who was named MVP of last year's NLCS, is helping Detroit's cause in a huge way. Pudge's success seems to be rubbing off on other players like Inge and 27-year-old centerfielder Alex Sanchez, who is already hitting .327.
And then there's White, who has torn the cover off the ball. Despite an 0- for-3 performance on Sunday, the leftfielder is hitting .333 for the season. He headed into Monday's action leading the American League with 19 RBI.
"We talk a lot about Pudge and the infielders, but if I've overlooked Rondell, I need to apologize to him," Trammell said. "He's been huge for us. He's a professional hitter and he does whatever we ask."
The rest of the Tigers have followed suit and strong veterans like White and Rodriguez will surely help the Tigers in their pursuit to maintain at a competitive level throughout the 2004 season.