Over the past few months, J.D. Martinez has seen his abbreviated first name mentioned with plenty of other superlatives thanks to his surprising hitting prowess. One such example? The ever popular Just Dominating Martinez.
However, after making a pair of outstanding plays back to back in the field on Sunday afternoon and looking good there on the whole as well, there might be a new one to add to the list: Just Defense.
The Detroit Tigers didn't close out the first half with a sweep of the Kansas City Royals, but they asserted their control of the Central Division taking three of four games and continued to get several excellent and positive performances. Justin Verlander, though he eventually fell apart in the seventh inning, continued upon a turnaround.
Martinez, though just as good at the plate going 3-4 with an RBI, impressed most of all in the field. In the fifth inning, he snagged a hot line drive off the bat of Raul Ibanez. The play looked to be good, until he made another excellent catch in the sixth, leaping high while tracking another hit near the corner.
When Martinez came to Detroit, there wasn't much of an indication of what type of player he'd be offensively or defensively. Given he had long been touted as an up and coming prospect with the bat, the fact that Martinez's defense has evolved so well is a major additional positive for Detroit.
With a .987 fielding percentage, 75 putouts and only one error in the outfield so far this season, Martinez is playing above average defense to help out his pitchers. This fact cannot be lost even amongst the wild starring role Martinez is playing at the plate, considering the Tigers were concerned about outfield defense and weren't sure what would be provided.
A player getting comfortable in the field is another sign they're gelling and coming into their own. Anybody can hit, but it takes a special level of mental hustle to compete every play in a nine inning game on defense. That's exactly what Martinez did Sunday, and has also been doing for the better part of two months, though few will truly notice given the amount of significant hits he's had.
The more Martinez does, the easier it is to see how lucky the Tigers got when the Houston Astros gave up on him prematurely. "It seems that every team that does well has someone you don't expect to do well," Brad Ausmus said Sunday. "This last month and a half, that's been J.D. for us."
That's now proving true both at the plate and in the field.
First Half MVP: Victor Martinez. Given his age, it was hard to say exactly what the Tigers would get from the other notable Martinez this season, but the returns have been excellent. Hitting behind Miguel Cabrera, Martinez has cleaned up, pounding 21 homers and 55 RBI while also hitting .328. Those are outstanding numbers. Additionally, most of the hits have been clutch when Detroit's needed them most, which is the sign of a great hitter. Though an injury slowed him a bit prior to the break, the hope is that Martinez will return even stronger with another week off.
Play Of The Year (So Far): Rajai Davis's Grand Slam Beats Oakland. It's hard not to call Davis's titanic blast the moment of the season thus far. The Tigers were sleep walking through a game against the Athletics in front of a sellout crowd there to cheer the 30 year anniversary of the 1984 Tigers. With nothing to cheer about, a wild rally turned up the volume in the ninth inning, capped off by Davis's major connection to left field with the bases loaded sending the stadium and team into pandemonium. Since, Detroit has caught fire, and extended their lead in the Central Division. The story is yet to be finished, but it's possible that the blast itself might have turned around the fortunes on Detroit's struggles.
Stat Of The Year (So Far): 8, the number of times Detroit's offense has scored 10 or more runs in a game during the first half. Not surprisingly, that correlates with a winning record, as the team is 7-1 in such affairs, with the only loss coming on a messy day for the bullpen in Cleveland. Detroit's offense has shown the ability to be potent, and have twice scored 14 runs or more in the last week alone. If Detroit's offense breaks out, chances are they will continue to win.
Most Valuable Pitcher: Rick Porcello. Nobody could have figured that Porcello would have more wins at the All-Star break than Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez, but with 12, he does. Porcello has also turned in two of the finer performances by a Detroit pitcher in recent memory, going back to back with complete game shutouts. Given Verlander will likely figure things out eventually, Sanchez will pick up the wins and Scherzer will remain himself, Porcello's outstanding season has helped propel the Tigers' staff early.
The Lingering Issue: Bullpen unsteadiness. While the bullpen wasn't completely to blame for Detroit's 5-2 loss on Sunday and have been much better lately, some issues do remain. Joe Nathan looks inconsistent in the ninth inning, and when called upon to get clutch outs, it's difficult for the group to do so. The bullpen probably needs one or two additions to look capable of backstopping a championship run this fall.
Max DeMara is the editor of @tigers_101. Follow the site there on Twitter, or like it on Facebook to connect with him.Tags: Baseball, Brad Ausmus, Detroit, Detroit Tigers, J.D. Martinez, Joe Nathan, MLB, Rajai Davis, Rick Porcello, Victor Martinez