It’s just two games.
So nobody is going crazy here.
But there is a lot to like about how the Detroit Tigers have started their season, winning two straight against the Cleveland Indians. Here are 10 things that have been encouraging:
Hey, it’s against Cleveland
Any win against Cleveland means something.
So two of them? That qualifies as a fantastic start. Over the past two seasons, the Indians have run up a ridiculous 26-4 record against the Tigers, outscoring them by a crazy 176-79 margin. Basically, the Indians have kicked the Tigers’ butts for years.
But in 2021, the Tigers have already clinched a series win over the Indians in Comerica Park for the first time since 2018
“It’s really big, especially against them,” Jonathan Schoop said after the Tigers 5-2 win Saturday. “Because we’ve had trouble against them in the past.”
That’s putting it kindly.
NO RUST, BELT: Why Tigers’ Derek Holland bought WWE, UFC belts for teammates
MORE FROM SEIDEL: Detroit Tigers bring back some normalcy: Chilly fans on Opening Day; Miguel Cabrera shining
SHOTS, SHOTS, SHOTS: ‘Majority’ of Detroit Tigers’ players, coaches get COVID-19 vaccines
Starters navigate the lineup
Watching right-hander Julio Teheran navigate Cleveland’ left-handed lineup was like watching somebody in a movie trying to dismantle a bomb.
Every walk felt like a potentially massive mistake. Every swing felt dangerous. But the Tigers got out of trouble with some double plays.
In the end, Teheran cut the right wires and survived.
“The middle of this order presents a lot of problems,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “I know in two games we’ve been able to kind of work our way around it a little bit and avoid sort of the big swing a couple different times.”
Lucky? Maybe. But it’s working.
Relief about the relief
The bullpen has been encouraging.
Yes, Gregory Soto gave up a homer on Opening Day. But for the most part, the bullpen has been impressive.
It seems as if half of the relievers are former starters — or guys who want to start — but they look dang good coming out of the ‘pen.
Fulmer looks great
Michael Fulmer was particularly impressive on Saturday, pitching a perfect inning of relief.
“He was excellent,” Hinch said. “He thought the velocity was really good. Obviously, it’s a new environment for him to be able to come into a leverage-type role where he didn’t know he was going to pitch until the evening before.”
But he handled it. “We’re kind of ripping the Band-Aid off of some of these guys and just letting them know I’m going to use them whenever,” Hinch said.
You just have to root for somebody like Fulmer.
If he continues to pitch like this, he is going to help them in a huge way in the late innings.
[ Opening Day win told us a lot in a little: Wins will rarely be easy ]
Hinch has an aggressive approach. And again, it worked out.
“We’ve seen it the first couple games,” Hinch said. “We can put pressure on them from the very get-go.”
Consider this moment in the first inning Saturday: With Jeimer Candelario on first, Willi Castro lined a ball into the gap. Once again, third base coach Chip Hale was aggressive, sending Candelario home to score. Meanwhile, Castro was running hard and got to third.
That allowed the next batter, Miguel Cabrera, to knock him home with a soft grounder.
Castro took off on contact. No hesitation. That’s the Hinch philosophy.
Suddenly, the Tigers had a 2-0 lead.
The top of the order looks legit
Robbie Grossman grounded out in his first appearance Saturday, then walked in three of his next four times up.
All the offseason signee does is get on base, with three walks in each of his first two games in Detroit.
Candelario, batting second, has four hits in his first eight at-bats.
And Castro looks fine as the No.3 hitter.
Those three have the potential to set the table nicely for Cabrera.
All the right buttons for Hinch
Think about Hinch’s decision to start Schoop at first base Saturday.
Schoop, who had never played first in a regular-season MLB game, caught a ball nearly inside Cleveland’s dugout, looking like he has played first his entire life.
In the third inning, with two on and no outs, Schoop scooped up a nasty grounder and turned a 3-6-3 double play.
[ Tigers’ Schoop proves he can be a ‘difference maker’ at first base ]
Then, when Niko Goodrum bounced a ball on a double play attempt in the fourth, Schoop scooped it no problem. He made it look easy.
Just a great day for Schoop.
And another noteworthy move by Hinch.
“I love the fact that the players are stepping up and making plays,” Hinch said.
And it’s giving him all kinds of options.
The Miggy factor
Cabrera looked rejuvenated playing first in the opener.
And he has embraced Hinch’s aggressive approach. He legged out a ball in the first game and slid into second … OK, so it was a homer. But the intent was there.
BIG MIG: Why Cabrera is boosted by playing first base, seeing fans in the stands
And on Saturday, he lined a ball in the gap and took a turn like he was going to second. But stopped.
But it just showed how good he’s feeling.
Interesting tidbit: he actually has a higher lifetime batting average batting cleanup (.323) than third (.311).
Working the shift
Hinch loves the shift.
And it helped the Tigers get out of a jam in the third, when Goodrum fielded a ball in shallow right and fired to first, ending a Cleveland threat with a runner on third.
MORE FROM SEIDEL: A lighthearted look at the Tigers with some help from Abbott and Costello
Just plain fun
This team has a fun factor.
From the championship belt to the way they are playing.
Then again, every team looks good with good defense, timely hitting and solid pitching.
I know it’s early, but it’s been entertaining. And we haven’t even seen the youngsters —lefty Tarik Skubal (who starts Sunday) and righty Casey Mize (set to take the mound Tuesday).
One other thing to note: The Tigers will honor Al Kaline before Tuesday’s game.
That sounds like a must-see event.
Idle thought: During the winter, who would have predicted Cabrera and Schoop to start the first two games at first?
That team has a surprise factor, that’s for sure.
Contact Jeff Seidel: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.