DETROIT – It's happening again. Here we are, midway through the month of April, and Brad Ausmus' Tigers are clicking on all cylinders. The offense is mashing, the starters are winning and the bullpen is playing out just like Al Avila imagined.
Detroit won three of four against the Pirates (98 wins last season), split a pair with the Yankees (87 wins last season) and knocked off Jose Fernandez, who was undefeated at home in his career. Seems like everything is going just how the Tigers planned, right?
But fans in Detroit might not be buying in just yet, and rightly so. The 2014 Tigers started 27-12 in Ausmus' first season. They were 11-2 last year before plummeting into last place.
Is this season's team a contender? Some signs say yes, but others raise red flags. The season is only 10 days old, so many of these trends will change. But here are 10 of the most important numbers so far for the Tigers.
.385 -- Ian Kinsler's OBP
Graph: Ian Kinsler's hits and runs scored by game this season.
Ian Kinsler's hot start is largely responsible for the Tigers' torrid start on offense. He's only drawn two walks through eight games, but he has 13 hits and leads the team with 10 runs scored.
Kinsler's job is to get on base for the heart of the order. His four extra-base hits are an added bonus, but more importantly, he's averaging nearly two hits per game. That would allow him to score well over 100 runs on the season.
1 -- J.D. Martinez's K:BB ratio
Graph: J.D. Martinez's improvement from 2014 to 2015.
In two seasons since joining the Tigers, J.D. Martinez has been the team's best hitter, batting over .290 with 61 home runs and 63 doubles.
The only concern with Martinez's offensive game has been strikeouts, which rose to 178 last season. In 281 games with the Tigers, Martinez struck out 304 times while drawing only 83 walks. His OBP was still right around .350, but the whiffs were an obvious hole in his swing.
Thirty at-bats into the 2016 season, Martinez is showing signs of better discipline, walking five times to go with five strikeouts. He's made consistent, hard contact every game and sports an inflated .633 slugging percentage as a result.
.706 -- Victor Martinez's slugging percentage
Gauge: Victor Martinez slugging percentage by season.
It might not seem like much, but Victor Martinez's three extra-base hits were an encouraging sign for the Tigers last week.
Martinez has only started half of the team's games, but he's already looking more like the Martinez who piled up 65 extra-base hits and slugged .565 in 2014 and less like the oft-injured Martinez who slugged an abysmal .366 last season.
If he can stay healthy and provide some extra-base pop, he'll fit right into that powerful middle of the order.
14 -- Justin Upton strikeouts
Chart: Justin Upton at-bat results in 2016.
The newest Tiger slugger has gotten off to a feast-or-famine start, picking up 11 hits but striking out 14 times.
Upton struck out at least once in each of the first eight games and whiffed three times twice. His power will come, but the Tigers can't have him averaging nearly two strikeouts per game in the No. 2 hole.
Upton is one of the streakiest hitters in the game, so he'll go through stretches where he doesn't strike out at all. Luckily for the Tigers, the offense survived his shaky first week.
5 -- Nick Castellanos first-pitch hits
Graph: Nick Castellanos career OPS by at-bat count.
Nobody knows why the Pirates kept throwing Nick Castellanos first-pitch fastballs, but the young third baseman certainly took advantage.
Castellanos swung at the first pitch three times Thursday, hitting a double, then a single, then a home run. He's now 5-10 with two home runs, a double and three singles when he puts the first pitch in play. When he doesn't hit the first pitch, Castellanos is just 5-20 with no extra-base hits.
Look for opposing teams to stop giving him good first pitches to hit.
5 1/2 -- Starters' innings per game
Table: Tigers starters innings per game.
One unit that hasn't been very good so far is the starting rotation, which is allowing more than a run every two innings and struggling go deep into games.
The Tigers need guys like Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez to pitch more effectively in the late innings. Ducking out before the end of the sixth inning puts too much strain on an already overused bullpen.
Sanchez, Verlander and Mike Pelfrey have combined for one quality start in five outings. That won't get the job done over an entire summer.
10 -- Justin Verlander earned runs
Most fans agree Verlander has to be an ace for the Tigers to make a run at the postseason. He got off to a fast start, no-hitting the Marlins for five innings in the opener, but has since allowed 10 runs and 13 hits in 5.1 innings.
It's only two starts, but some of the trends that haunted Verlander in 2014 resurfaced against the Pirates. He couldn't put batters away with two strikes and he finished with only two strikeouts. Verlander is a notoriously slow starter, but both trends obviously need to improve
13 -- Scoreless innings for Jordan Zimmermann
Graph: Jordan Zimmermann K's and BB's per season.
Jordan Zimmermann has been a bright spot for the starting rotation, tossing 13 straight scoreless innings and picking up two wins.
The 29-year-old righty hasn't been overpowering -- just seven strikeouts -- but he's breezed through several quick innings and worked out of a few jams.
Zimmermann walked five batters in his first two starts, a trend that goes against his career walk numbers. Once his K:BB ratio settles back into his career 4.05 range, he'll be even better.
31 -- Strikeouts by starting pitchers
Chart: Strikeouts by AL starting pitching staffs.
Remember when the Tigers had an embarrassment of strikeout riches in the rotation, with Max Scherzer, Verlander and Sanchez averaging more than eight per nine innings? Now the staff has a whole different feel.
Pelfrey has never been a high strikeout pitcher, but the rest of the Tigers' rotation has a history of averaging at least seven K's per nine innings. Right now, the staff as a whole is averaging fewer than 6.5, good for 14th in the AL.
4 - Holds by Justin Wilson
Graph: Justin Wilson career stats.
The starting rotation is getting away with short outings largely because of the work Justin Wilson is doing out of the bullpen.
Wilson has appeared in five of the eight games and has yet to allow a run. Only three batters have reached base during his 4.1 innings of work and he's striking out nearly two per inning.
Wilson's job is to get the ball to Mark Lowe and Francisco Rodriguez in the late innings, but so far, he's been much better than all of his fellow relievers. Ausmus may have found the dominant bullpen piece he desperately needed the last two years.