JimLeylandLineupCardThe 2011 Tigers finished with a 95-67 regular season record, an AL Central Division championship, and an appearance in the ALCS. Even with the loss of designated hitter Victor Martinez, the team was supposed to be even better with a full year from Doug Fister and the addition of Prince Fielder.

But we’re now through the first month and change, and still the Tigers find themselves with a .500 record and in a tie for second place in the division. What’s wrong with the team? Why is such a loaded roster struggling to meet expectations?

There’s chatter around the internet and on talk radio about Jim Leyland needing to be fired, Ryan Raburn’s sub-.200 batting average, and the lack of Victor Martinez’s clubhouse presence. It’s true that this team has had some issues, most notably with hitting and relief pitching, but is it really time to blow everything up? Isn’t our panic premature?

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We needn’t look any further than last year, the very season we compare the team to while proclaiming “how good they should be doing” to see that, yes, the fan base is overreacting. Through 24 games a season ago, the Tigers had an identical 12-12 record. They would go on to lose five more games in a row before turning things around, and they didn’t finally climb above .500 for good until game #53 was completed.

Every win and every loss seems like such a huge deal at this time of the year because they can cause wild swings in winning percentage. But really, for all the talk about how badly this Tigers team is struggling, they’re really only two games off last year’s (final) .586 pace (that percentage would yield a 14-10 record in 24 games). Is that really all that big of a deal, especially when considering (1) the team’s #2 starter has only pitched two innings (leading to three starts for Adam Wilk) and (2) 14 of the 24 games were against clubs that won 90 or more games a season ago?

Players sometimes slump. And when multiple players slump at the same time, the team often slumps. It seems like the end of the world because it’s April and there’s no buffer in the W-L record yet. I’m not trying to excuse away all the struggles – the team truly hasn’t been playing very well – but the toughest stretch of schedule is probably in the past already.

Ups and downs have always happened in baseball but, more often than not, players end up hitting and pitching just like they always have. This team will be fine – they have too much talent not to be – and I’m still confident in their ability to win the division by a double-digit margin.

Matt Snyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.