Detroit Displays Dominance.

The Tigers dismantled more pitching last night for their 4th straight victory leaving them as the only undefeated team in the American League. Chris Shelton's home run, his fifth, was the team's 16th in four games, a Major League record. As far as records go, that ranks pretty high on the useless meter. Everyone knows about Shelton's hot start, but as impressive is the way Ivan Rodriguez has jumped out of the gate.

Last year Rodriguez had arguably his worst season since becoming a regular in 1992. His .290 on-base percentage was his worst since his 1991 debut, when he was 19. The .276 batting average was his first time under .297 since 1993 (.273). The lack of production combined with a much-slimmed physique brought on rampant talk of steroid abuse in his past including when he won two MVP Awards back in Texas. Not to be deterred, Pudge refocused himself and came back aiming to return to his previous levels of excellence. Pudge told the Detroit Free Press that he has moved on from last year:

"You put things behind you and get better as a person," an upbeat Rodriguez said after the game. "Last year's over. Done. It was tough, playing like that. I went through a lot in my personal life. Now, everything's OK."


Tigers manager Jim Leyland knew that a little encouragement could go a long with a veteran like Rodriguez, "When you see him do it [go through a patient at-bat], you remind him that it's good," Leyland said.

So far, the returns have been excellent with Pudge hitting .438, including a 5-for-5 offering against the Royals on Wednesday. His five runs batted in already equal 10% of his entire output a season ago. Initially, the patience appears to have returned too with Pudge drawing two walks to counter his two strikeouts.

Joining Shelton and Rodriguez are Placido Polanco (batting .389), Brandon Inge (.353, 2 HRs), and fourth outfielder Marcus Thames, who has made the most of his early season opportunities. In nine at-bats, Thames has five hits (.556) and two home runs.

On the other side, the starting rotation has been masterful combining for 23 and 1/3 innings and yielding a 2.31 earned run average and allowing less than one runner on per inning (0.99 WHIP). Critics immediately pointed to the anemic Kansas City Royals lineup as the reason, but Nate Robertson and Mike Maroth have faced the Texas Rangers' star-laden lineup the last two evenings and been just as good. The bullpen has been solid in 12 and 2/3 innings of work with Jordan Tata being the lone blemish yielding three runs in three innings in Thursday's 10-6 victory in Texas. Overall, the pen has tallied a 4.27 earned run average with a 1.11 WHIP and a 2.75 K:BB ratio (11 strikeouts against four walks).

It has been a great opening week for an upstart ballclub that can only benefit from building confidence early. For the third straight season, the Tigers have been a chic pick for success, but this year they could deliver and top the .500 mark for the first time since 1993. One of the main factors linked to the likeliness of a .500 season for the Tigers toes the rubber tonight against Kevin Millwood when fifth-starter Justin Verlander makes his 2006 debut.


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