DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers have returned home with a winning record after starting the season with a series split in Toronto and a surprising series win in New York.
The main reason for the Tigers' early success is the pitching staff, which has been led by Matt Boyd.
At 28 years old, Boyd is coming off a bit of a breakout season, though his final season numbers didn't reflect the flashes of brilliance.
Going into 2018, the biggest knock on Boyd was a low strikeout rate. Since becoming an MLB starter, Boyd had never whiffed more than 7.6 batters per nine innings in a season.
That started to change late last season when Boyd averaged more than a strikeout per inning in July and again in September, but the overall results suffered. Instead of preventing runs and struggling to miss bats, Boyd was missing bats but allowing more runs.
If he could demonstrate an improved strikeout rate and pair it with his ability to cruise through opposing lineups, Boyd might actually be a part of the Tigers' future.
Ridiculous strikeout rate
Boyd was electric in his first start but looked like the late 2018 version of himself, striking out 10 batters while giving up four runs (three earned).
Wednesday might have been the best start of his career, though, as he struck out 13 batters over 6.1 one-run innings. Boyd allowed five hits and three walks against a strong, albeit injury-riddled Yankees lineup.
Boyd induced an incredible 22 swinging strikes Wednesday, bringing his season total to 37 swinging strikes in 11.1 innings.
He's faced 48 batters this season and 23 of them struck out. Only 14 have reached base.
Just a hot start?
Tigers fans have been fooled by fast starts before. Remember Shane Greene's first three starts in 2015?
In 23 innings, Greene allowed just 12 hits while striking out 11 and allowing one earned run. He was 3-0 and looked like an exciting piece of the future starting rotation.
Greene allowed 20 earned runs in his next three starts, lasting just 11 innings. At the same time the following season he had become a permanent reliever.
There are reasons to have legitimate hope for Boyd, though. He's already shown an ability to both limit runs and miss bats for extended stretches -- he just hasn't done them at the same time.
It's only been two starts, but the results have been so extreme that it's clear Boyd is making a concerted effort to be more of a strikeout pitcher. If that continues, he will have more room for error when he gets in a jam.
Boyd posted a 1.16 WHIP over 31 starts last season, so he's already established himself as someone who can have success in the big leagues. It wouldn't be a shock to see him take another step forward after his first full season of somewhat consistent results.
The Tigers' starting pitchers are all performing over their heads. Boyd isn't going to sustain his statistically impossible -0.07 FIP or strike out 18.3 batters per nine innings. Matt Moore and Jordan Zimmermann will probably allow some runs this season.
But for a team that isn't competing for a playoff spot, these are the most exciting stories of the season. Through the first seven games, Boyd looks like the most likely breakout candidate.