The Dog Days Are Over – A Detroit Tigers Preview

It’s hard to feel too bad for Detroit Tigers fans. From 2006-2014, they logged the third-most wins in Major League Baseball and fielded some of the most exciting offenses the AL Central division has seen since Cleveland in the 90s. Yet, there is something especially sad about 119-loss and 114-loss (second- and sixth-most all time, respectively) happening just 16 years apart to the same team. What are your worst memories about the dark years of the White Sox? Number-two hitter Jeff Keppinger? Cleanup hitter A.J. Reed? Closer Ronald Belisario? 45-game starter Dylan Covey? Designated Hitter Cody Asche? None of those horrid memories contributed to a season in which the win total started with ‘4’. What Tigers fans just went through was multiple degrees worse than the 2010s White Sox at their most futile.

Just two 2019 non-pitchers on the Tigers — Nicholas Castellanos (105) and reserve outfielder Victor Reyes (101) — finished with an OPS+ above 100. Their TEAM wRC+ was 77, just a couple of ticks higher than Yolmer Sanchez (74) last season. Only the 2013 Marlins and 2004 Diamondbacks were more futile offensively this century. Compounding matters, Detroit pitching staff finished with the third-highest ERA in baseball. How does a team even begin to get their fans excited about the following season?

At the very least, we can say that this year’s team is considerably stronger than the one that preceded it. C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop aren’t anyone’s definition of baseball saviors, but the Tigers signed this left-side-of-the-infield duo away from the Minneosta Twins this past offseason to give their offense a much-needed boost of power and competence. Backstop Austin Romine fits a similar mold; Gary Sanchez‘ former backup can hit close to league average with competent enough defense to free the Tigers’ catching position from the horrific clutches of Grayson Greiner, John Hicks, and (shockingly) worse. Cameron Maybin isn’t a major league starter, but at least belongs on a major league roster, which is more than one can say for the dreck that replaced Castellanos in right field after he was dealt to the Cubs. Though unexciting, these improvements must feel like a miraculous salve for Tigers fans.

Of course, the team is still really bad, and that’s because the holdovers from last season aren’t any more inspiring now than they were then. Jeimer Candelario was exciting when he first came over to the Tigers, but the learning curve seems to be going the wrong way. Prior to a hot weekend series, he was carrying an OPS+ of 4. Niko Goodrum is a handy supersub who can play all over the diamond and would be a great fit on a contending team, but since this is the Tigers, he’s their everyday shortstop. Goodrum has decent pop for a middle infielder and is surprisingly capable at short for someone tabbed as a utility guy, but has been catastrophically easy to strike out this season.

Much was made of the venerable Miguel Cabrera‘s weight loss heading into this season and it’s a little early to tell whether it’s had a positive impact on the 37-year-old. So far, it seems he’s traded some batting average for power, and an xwOBA of .391 suggests he might not be cooked and that his strong series this past weekend (5-12, 2B, HR) might be a sign of things to come. JaCoby Jones feels like he’s intermittently patrolling center field for the Tigers forever, and while never known for his hitting, he’s been easily the most dangerous bat in the Detroit lineup in the early going. “Christin Stewart” is no more descript than the last time I wrote about him. He’s still the starter in left field somehow. Good for him.

The Tiger rotation is more interesting than the lineup at the moment, though it still features a couple familiar faces. Matthew Boyd‘s evolution into a strikeout pitcher last season by leaning heavily on his slider was a shocking turn of events, and he would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for that meddling AL-leading home total. Pitcher wins and losses should ordinarily be chucked into a supervolcano, but when Spencer Turnbull posts a 3-17 record in 2019, that seems worth a mention. Shockingly, the won-loss record was deceiving! Turnbull is actually a decent pitcher with a legitimate swing-and-miss 94 mph fourseam. His main issue is that he often has no idea where the ball is going; he hit an AL-leading 16 guys last year and walks are a problem.

Tyler Alexander entered the game in the third inning on August 2nd and struck out ten Cincinnati Reds, including nine in a row (!!!) at one point. The rules of baseball mandate that this means you take the rotation job of Rule 5 pick Rony Garcia. Michael Fulmer has recovered from Tommy John surgery, and while reportedly his pitches have regained their former luster, he’s a bit lacking in the command department, as his lone start this year resulted in three home runs in fewer than three innings.

* * * * * * * * *

The Tigers have a LOT of help on the way from the minor leagues, most notably in the starting pitching department, and most most notably in the form of top prospect Casey Mize. In all likelihood, they’re going to be bad for a couple more years, but there’s a path to an interesting Detroit team not too long from now. Cabrera’s massive contract is up after 2023. His potentially rejuvenated form, actual prospects replacing the Christin Stewarts and Ivan Novas on the roster, and even (who knows) the batty 2020 postseason format could mean that he hasn’t played his last postseason game in a Tiger uniform. A hot 8-5 start and prospect promise means that the dog days are over for Detroit fans. We don’t know how long away respectability is, but we can be pretty sure the Tigers are through the worst of it.

Probable Starting Pitchers:

Probable Lineup:

  1. Niko Goodrum – SS
  2. Jonathan Schoop – 2B
  3. Miguel Cabrera – DH
  4. C.J. Cron – 1B
  5. Christin Stewart – LF
  6. Jeimer Candelario – 3B
  7. Victor Reyes – RF
  8. Austin Romine – C
  9. JaCoby Jones – CF

Pitching

  • SP1: Matthew Boyd – LHP
  • SP2: Ivan Nova – RHP
  • SP3: Spencer Turnbull – RHP
  • SP4: Tyler Alexander – LHP
  • SP5: Michael Fulmer – RHP
  • CL: Joe Jimenez – RHP
  • RP1: Gregory Soto – LHP
  • RP2: Buck Farmer – RHP
  • RP3: Jose Cisnero – RHP
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John SF

None of those horrid memories contributed to a season in which the win total started with ‘4’. What Tigers fans just went through was multiple degrees worse than the 2010s White Sox at their most futile.

But would you trade ~15 wins per year (~45 total) the last 3 years, along with Madrigal, Vaughn, and Crochett for Spencer Torkleson, Riley Greene, and Casey Mize?

I have to think that I would.

Though unexciting, these improvements must feel like a miraculous salve for Tigers fans.

And this is the main reason why. What’s exciting about baseball is the changes year over year— not the monotony of losing. The Sox has about 10-20 games at the start of the last few years where they could dream of being competitive (but deep down we knew we weren’t.). After that, it was just watching prospects develop and dreaming of the future.

That’s basically the same experience the Tigers had the last 3 years. Plus the Tigers got to win all those games in the years before that.

Mired in mediocrity was an instant classic of a phrase because it hit the points so well. I would rather be extreme boom/bust.

Edit: I want to add that I’m excited we finally get to face a lefty starter in this series. But I’m slightly disappointed we don’t get to face two of them.

As Cirensica

Mired in mediocrity was an instant classic of a phrase because it hit the points so well. I would rather be extreme boom/bust.

Was?

tommytwonines

I remember when the Sox had a LOT of pitching help just around the corner – Carson Fulmer, Alec Hansen, Zack Burdi, Reynaldo Lopez, Michael Kopech.

Doesn’t look quite so rosy now, but maybe two of them will be serviceable or better. At least the Sox are getting help from off-the-radar pitching prospects.

BTW, no mention of Carson in your preview? He hasn’t been awful.