Detroit — It isn't supposed to be this easy and it can't possibly stay this easy. Questions don't get answered in the first two weeks of a baseball season, do they?
Not usually. But the Tigers are doing an outstanding job of throwing everyone off the scent of concern. So far, all the offseason acquisitions that stirred uneasy inquisitions are looking smart.
Take Shane Greene, for instance. The Tigers swiped him from the Yankees, threw him into the rotation and asked him to throw a lot of strikes. Greene did it again Sunday in a 9-1 rout of the Chicago White Sox that explicitly showed how different — and more stable — these Tigers might be.
It's not that their scorching start is unusual. They're 10-2, which means they still have to go 17-10 just to match last year's high-water 27-12 start. That wasn't necessarily a mirage, but it wasn't an accurate representation of how the season would unfold.
Now the Tigers are the hottest humble team in baseball, or the humblest hot team. This might look the same but it isn't, with newcomers such as Greene, Yoenis Cespedes, Anthony Gose, Alfredo Simon and a healthy Jose Iglesias. A year ago at this time, the Tigers also didn't have David Price and rejuvenated closer Joakim Soria, and certainly didn't have a defense talented enough to alter games.
Brad Ausmus is dishing perspective, as he should. So is Greene, who wasn't even a prized major league prospect early last season. Now he's 3-0 with a 0.39 ERA, and while the Tigers expected him to be good, no one expected this much, this soon. The Tigers expected Cespedes to show power, but no one expects two-home run, six-RBI muscle flexes like he displayed Sunday.
The offense has been clutch. The starting pitching has been excellent. And eye-popping numbers have been compiled by a guy who was shuttling between New York and the Yankees' Triple A affiliate in Scranton-Wilkes Barre a year ago. Greene allowed his first earned run as a Tiger Sunday, and in 23 innings here, has given up 12 hits and five walks and struck out 11.
"Maybe it's a little bit of a Cinderella story," Greene said. "But I'm just trying to win, trying to throw strikes."
So what did you think when Cespedes clubbed his first-inning grand slam?
"I was thinking we were up 4-nothing and now I gotta do my job."
Eager to adjust
He's a man of many strikes and few words, often an effective combination. I don't think Greene says little to be standoffish, but he's probably adjusting, at 26, to suddenly being someone people want to hear about.
This is a transitional period for the Tigers, which usually is a euphemism for a tough period. But one important thing about the Tigers and GM Dave Dombrowski is, they've been contenders for nearly a decade because they'll take chances to improve, unafraid to make moves that might be unpopular. Consider this staggering fact: From the team that lost the 2012 World Series, only five players — Miguel Cabrera, Alex Avila, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Al Alburquerque — remain (Victor Martinez missed that season with a knee injury).
The Tigers will churn their roster, by design or necessity. Max Scherzer left as a free agent. Rick Porcello was traded for Cespedes, and if you enjoy way-too-early assessments, you might notice Porcello was rocked Sunday and is 1-2 with a 6.63 ERA for the Red Sox. Cespedes is a much more feared hitter than Torii Hunter, and Iglesias has made a gigantic impact at shortstop, not just with his glove (.436 batting average).
"I liked the moves at the time," Ausmus said. "Despite losing Ricky, I thought Cespedes made our offense more potent and our defense better. Greene was a little bit more of a wild card, not as much of a finished product. We don't know wholly what we got until we get a full season, but we certainly liked what we saw when we faced him."
Greene started 14 games as a rookie for the Yankees and stuffed the Tigers twice, allowing two earned runs in 15 innings. You can bet that was a factor when Dombrowski and his staff opted to grab Greene and let Porcello go.
"It's his aggressiveness in the strike zone," pitching coach Jeff Jones said. "Just seeing it on a daily basis is very impressive. He comes after hitters, and if he gets beat, he gets beat."
Ausmus calls it a laser focus. Greene essentially calls it self-preservation. He had Tommy John surgery while pitching at the University of West Florida in 2008, and then in the minor leagues, lost command of his slider. It forced him to develop a cutter, which he calls his "small slider," while rediscovering his "big slider."
If that's too complicated, let Greene simplify it.
"Strikes — it's been my backbone since Day 1," he said. "When I was struggling in the minors, I couldn't throw the ball over the plate. I was walking four or five or six guys every time. Throw the ball over the plate and make them earn it."
Greene is so devoted to the philosophy, he says he'd rather give up a home run than a walk. With the Tigers' vastly upgraded defense — it turned four double plays Sunday — he can be especially effective. That was Porcello's strategy, too, although he had a weaker defense behind him.
So all the standard pleas for perspective apply today, with the Tigers 10-2, as they did last season when they were 27-12. It's way premature to declare issues resolved and the grass Greener than ever. But it's not too early to say you like what you see, and didn't see some of it coming.