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Tigers are in good place after KC showdown

Defending AL Central champs feel their best baseball yet to come
MLB.com @TracyRingolsby

KANSAS CITY -- Four weeks into the season, it is a little early to get too excited. The four-time defending American League Central champion Detroit Tigers, however, have to be feeling pretty good about the way things are coming together.

After losing the first two of a four-game weekend series against the Royals, the Tigers responded with a 2-1 victory on Saturday night behind the complete-game effort of David Price and claimed a split in the series with a 6-4 win on Sunday.

Full Game Coverage

KANSAS CITY -- Four weeks into the season, it is a little early to get too excited. The four-time defending American League Central champion Detroit Tigers, however, have to be feeling pretty good about the way things are coming together.

After losing the first two of a four-game weekend series against the Royals, the Tigers responded with a 2-1 victory on Saturday night behind the complete-game effort of David Price and claimed a split in the series with a 6-4 win on Sunday.

Full Game Coverage

Detroit flew to Chicago for a day off on Monday sitting atop the AL Central by a half-game over Kansas City, just like when the Tigers arrived in the City of Fountains for the weekend showdown.

So what's to get excited about? Plenty.

The Tigers are 17-9, the second-best record in the Major Leagues (behind the 18-7 Astros and 18-6 Cardinals) and:

Justin Verlander hasn't even thrown a pitch. He will undergo an MRI in Chicago this week, hoping to get clearance to begin rehabbing the strained right triceps that has sidelined him. Verlander is supposed to be the right-handed complement to Price in a 1-2 AL Cy Young Award punch at the top of Detroit's rotation.

• Cleanup hitter Victor Martinez is hitting only .213, still looking for his first home run and having driven in only nine runs, but he is giving signs that he is bouncing back from the Feb. 10 surgery for a torn meniscus in his left knee. It's the same knee that required surgery for a torn ACL three years earlier. "The last 10 days, he has started to look like himself [in his movements]," manager Brad Ausmus said. "He has been swinging better. His hobble has disappeared."

Video: DET@KC: Sanchez allows three runs in 7 1/3 innings

Anibal Sanchez had his third solid start in a row, being charged with three runs in 7 1/3 innings of a game in which he retired the first 15 batters he faced, and had a shutout through six innings. He has a string of three quality starts after back-to-back outings in mid-April, when he allowed a combined 14 runs in 9 2/3 innings.

• And catcher Alex Avila, who arrived at the ballpark on Sunday morning hitting .167 with only four RBIs this season, provided the early offensive impetus, doubling home the Tigers' first run in the second, and singling in the second and third runs in the fourth.

Video: DET@KC: Avila drives in the first run of the game

See why the Tigers have to glance at the standings, see that record and their position atop the division, and feel pretty good about themselves? They have pieces to this puzzle that haven't fit in where they are supposed to yet, and they are still having success on the field.

"You don't usually have everyone hot at the same time," Ausmus said.

No, but with a hitter like the switch-hitting Martinez, you don't usually have him stone cold, either. He's a career .305 hitter, who has hit .317 since joining Detroit for the 2011 season. Martinez hit 32 home runs last year and drove in 103 runs, the fifth time in the last 10 seasons that he drove in more than 100.

Victor Martinez's struggles -- along with the fact J.D. Martinez, who hits fifth behind Victor, is hitting only .240 -- underscores what the offense is capable of once the Martinez non-brothers heat up, what with Miguel Cabrera in front of them in the third spot and Yoenis Cespedes behind them hitting sixth. Cespedes is hitting .444 with runners in scoring position, but he's only had 25 at-bats with a runner on second and/or third, which explains why he has only 17 RBIs.

Video: DET@KC: Miggy drives a two-run homer off Guthrie

"With Cespedes where he is, if they get on base in front of him," Ausmus said with a grin.

Then you throw in a rotation in which Price can dominate, Sanchez has rebounded to provide quality efforts the last three times out, and could have Verlander return to action by the end of the month.

And don't overlook the resurgence of Joakim Soria, acquired to work in a setup role last July, but flourishing in a chance to close (10-for-10 in saves and a 1.54 ERA) with Joe Nathan on the disabled list.

Video: DET@KC: Soria gets the final out to earn the save

But then that was what general manager Dave Dombrowski had in mind in the building of this roster, which actually began last July with the acquisitions of Price and Soria.

There are windows of opportunity to succeed, and Dombrowski knows that the window is closing on this group of Tigers if they are going to win a World Series championship that has eluded the franchise since 1984.

Price, who turns 30 on Aug. 26, is the youngest member of the starting rotation.

J.D. Martinez, the No. 5 hitter, is the youngster (at 27) in the top six spots in the lineup when Rajai Davis (34) hits leadoff in front of the regular alignment of Ian Kinsler (32), Cabrera (32), Victor Martinez (36), J.D. Martinez and Cespedes, who like Price turns 30 in August.

And in addition to Price, Cespedes, Soria, Davis, Avila and starting pitcher Alfredo Simon are potential free agents at season's end.

These Tigers are looking to celebrate before they turn out the lights and declare the party over.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.

 

Detroit Tigers, Alex Avila, Miguel Cabrera, Yoenis Cespedes, Victor Martinez, David Price, Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander