Detroit Tigers 2021 predictions: Here’s why we like the over on their wins (barely)

Detroit Free Press

No one can see the future, not even those guys on Shark Tank. But that didn’t stop some of us at the Free Press from peering into the gloom to try and figure out what’s in store for the Detroit Tigers during the 2021 season. Five Free Press sports writers — Evan Petzold, Carlos Monarrez, Jeff Seidel, Shawn Windsor and Ryan Ford — answered the burning questions we know you have. (No, not “How much will a Hot ‘N’ Ready cost at Comerica Park this season?” We already know it’ll be too much.)

Are these locks you should take with you to the nearest sportsbook? Heck, no! But they should get you thinking about the Tigers’ potential as Major League Baseball looks for a return to normal. (Hey, look, the Yankees are great again!) Anyway, here are our predictions:

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How many games will the Tigers win?

Petzold — 72. The additions of Wilson Ramos and Robbie Grossman should help the Tigers improve offensively and cut down on strikeouts, while pitching prospects Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal continue to develop. But this team is nowhere near a finished product. To stay out of the bottom of the division, the Tigers need their starting rotation to ditch its struggles from 2020 and lead the way.

Monarrez — 69. Call me an optimistic fool, but I think the Tigers have enough in their lineup to win their most games since they won 86 in 2016. It’s still not enough to get them out of the division basement, but AJ Hinch’s arrival should help spark a few more winning streaks.

Seidel — 70. Vegas has the over-under at 68.5 and I’m taking the over because of Hinch. The young pitchers will have plenty of ups and downs, which is natural, but this is a better team than last year with more offense. As Jim Leyland said, ‘this isn’t the homecoming game anymore.”

Windsor — 72. They were on pace to win 64 games a year ago, and they should be a bit better this season, so a jump of eight wins isn’t crazy. Health is critical, obviously, and so are a couple of youngsters finding their way.

Ford — 69. Nice? Well, it’s better than the 64-win pace they’ve been on for three of the past four seasons. Even if the young pitching comes around, it’s tough to forecast much offensive improvement by a team shut out five times last September when the plan at first base is basically a “shoulder shrug” emoji.

Who will be the Tigers’ breakout player in 2021?

Petzold — Nomar Mazara. The Tigers have a handful of prospects slated to play in the majors, and surely one of them will impress, but Mazara wants to get paid next winter. After just one home run in 2020, he is trying to become the slugger he was for the Texas Rangers from 2016-19, when he averaged 19.8 homers per season.

Monarrez — Tarik Skubal. It’s tempting to say Akil Baddoo, but his youth and lack of at-bats above Class-A make a breakout unlikely. Instead, it will be the young left-hander who had an impressive spring. His excellent fastball is setting up his other pitches. If he can have more consistent control of his heater, it could be a special year.

Seidel — Akil Baddoo. Going into spring training, I said to myself: “Don’t believe spring training stats.” So he could be just another Grapefruit League phenom. I realize most Rule 5 picks don’t do anything, and he could be gone in a month. But he is so strong, so fast and he looked so good in Lakeland that I’m willing to gamble here. And besides, I root for stories. And this would make for one heck of a story.

[ Baddoo was surprise of spring for Tigers. It was a no brainer to keep him. ]

Windsor — Willi Castro. He surprised everyone a year ago, and it’s easy to dismiss his .349 batting average because of his .448 average on balls in play. Yes, that number is likely to fall. No, Castro isn’t likely to hit .350 this season. But if he comes close to the same production, he will consolidate his status as a breakout player. Now, about those throws to first.

Ford — Gregory Soto. Closer or not, the 26-year-old lefty has an electric fastball and a filthy slider – plus a manager who’ll use him when those attributes do the most good. The four walks in 6⅔ innings in the spring were worrisome, but his 10 strikeouts show his potential.

Who will be the Tigers’ All-Star selection?

Petzold — Teheran. It’s easy to take a guess at Miguel Cabrera or an up-and-comer like Skubal. But let’s get risky and go with Teheran, who signed with the Tigers on a minor-league contract this offseason and won a spot in the rotation. In spring training, the 30-year-old’s fastball velocity and slider movement resembled his 2016 season — the last time he made the All-Star Game.

[ Why Julio Teheran looks like his old self with the Tigers this spring ]

Monarrez — Matthew Boyd. Jeimer Candelario might be more deserving, but Alex Bregman, Matt Chapman and Jose Ramirez are tough to beat among AL third baseman. Boyd’s a solid choice because of a strong spring that warranted his second straight Opening Day start. He has the stuff to be a strikeout machine and should be motivated to make up for last year’s struggles.

[ Why Boyd’s Opening Day start for Tigers is a nod to his leadership ]

Seidel — Willi Castro. I could make an argument that it will be Candelario or Jonathan Schoop. And I think Skubal is going to have a fantastic year. I could see Mazara if he suddenly finds his groove again. But I’m going with Castro. All he does is hit and he’ll have solid stats. Offensive. Not defensive.

Windsor — Candelario. The 27-year-old finally showed his potential last season. Here’s betting it wasn’t a fluke, and that he will bump his power numbers as he continues to hit for average.

Ford — Boyd. OK, I’ll bite: THIS is the year Boyd doesn’t lead the AL in homers allowed. (He still gives up too many, but somebody else gives up more, and the AL always needs lefties in the Midsummer Classic.)

[ Why Miggy will start at first base on Opening Day ]

Will Miguel Cabrera join the 3,000-hit club, the 500-homer club, both or neither this season?

Petzold — Both. Across the last three seasons, Cabrera hit 25 home runs in 231 games, putting him at 18 homers per 162 games. Getting to No. 500 shouldn’t be tough if he stays healthy. After all, a healthier Cabrera crushed 10 of those 25 long balls in 57 games last year. If he can boost his batting average, even to .275, he should reach No. 3,000 in September.

Monarrez — 500 homers. He just needs 13 homers and he still has plenty of bat speed to hit one out at any moment. But 134 hits will be trickier at age 38. The past two seasons he’s averaged about a hit per game, which means he would have to play a lot this year with possibly several games at first base.

Seidel — Neither. In essence, all he has to do is replicate 2018 when he had 139 hits and 12 home runs.  But he has played more than 150 games one time in the last six seasons. So it’s going to be more about his health than his ability. And he has reached an age when Father Time remains undefeated.

Windsor — Both. If Cabrera stays injury free — or relatively so — he should reach both milestones. He’s 38, but he only needs 134 hits and 13 home runs. He hit 10 home runs during last year’s shortened season and he had 139 hits in 2019. If he gets his at-bats, he gets the numbers.

Ford — 500 homers. Cabrera homered once every 40 at-bats in his last full season (2019), once every 20 at-bats in 2020 and once in in 29 at-bats during spring training this year. Even if he keeps that spring pace during the season, he should get homer No. 13 sometime in the second half of the season. His quest for 134 hits could come down to the final week, especially if he hits .250 like he did last season (or sub-.200 like he has this spring).

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