Detroit Tigers’ 2021 schedule: Predicting all 162 games this season

Detroit Free Press

I’m going to fail at this.

I have a simple goal: To predict the Detroit Tigers’ final record for 2021.

It will not go well — both my effort, and probably the Tigers’, as well. After all, the statistical projections are in, and they’re not pretty. Baseball Prospectus has the Tigers going 65-97. (65.2-96.8, technically, but we’ll round that down just like we do with the money left on Miguel Cabrera’s contract extension.) Fangraphs is a bit kinder, with its thousands of simulations landing the Tigers at 72-90. (72.2-89.8, but, yeah, rounding.)

The sportsbooks – with money on the line – are in that range as well, with MGM putting the Tigers’ over/under for wins at 69.5, Barstool at 68.5, William Hill at 68 and Fan Duel at 67.5.

Me, I’m just going with my gut, ample though it is.

Still, there are just too many moving pieces in a major-league season — too many small samples that don’t go according to plan — to perfectly predict any team’s final record, especially the Tigers. After all, we’re just a few days from Opening Day, and we’re still not sure who’ll get the nod at first base and third base. (Well, we’re pretty sure Jeimer Candelario will be at one of those spots. The other one, though …)

I’ve tried, though. In 2019, I broke down the Tigers’ second-half schedule and projected them to go 20-55 down the stretch. They came close, with a 19-56 record to wrap up the second-most losses in franchise history (114) and the No. 1 overall pick in 2020 (Spencer Torkelson).

In 2020, with just a 60-game schedule, you’d think I’d have fared better with a series-by-series look. Nope. I picked the Tigers to go 20-40, and instead they went 23-35 (with a pair of COVID-19 cancellations).  Moreover, they were within view of a winning record, at 16-16 heading into September, before cratering with seven wins in their final 26 games.

But hey, I’ve been watching a lot of Tigers games over the past few years, so I’m no stranger to an “If you don’t succeed, try, try again” ethos — so let’s go big with all 162 games, and see where we end up. You’ve been warned.

April 1, 3-4: vs. Cleveland

The buzz: Cleveland’s starting trio for this series: reigning AL Cy Young winner Shane Bieber (who struck out 21 Tigers in 54 batters faced in 2020, and then 12 of 27 on Thursday) and Zach Plesac (11 of 28 in 2020) sandwiched around Aaron Civale (three of 27 in 2020).

The record: 1-2 (1-2 overall).

April 5-7: vs. Minnesota

The buzz: The Twins’ rotation got a mini-makeover once again — out go Jake Odorizzi and Rich Hill, in come J.A. Happ and Andrelton Simmons. And, yes, we know Simmons is a shortstop, but his vacuum cleaner should help out Kenta Maeda (49%), Jose Berrios (40.4%) and Happ (44%) who all had more than 40% of their balls-in-play hit on the ground.

The record: 1-2 (2-4 overall).

April 9-11: at Cleveland

The buzz: The Tigers are 9-32 at Progressive Field over the past five seasons, though they managed to win their lone series there last season, two games to one.

The record: 0-3 (2-7 overall).

April 12-14: at Houston

The buzz: Justin Verlander will be at Minute Maid Park in plastic form — the ’Stros are giving out JV bobbleheads to the first 10,000 fans at all three games — though likely not in physical form, as the veteran rightly is set to miss all of 2021 after Tommy John surgery. (Instead, the Tigers will likely face Zack Greinke and Jake Odorizzi, who have a combined 2.81 ERA in 227⅔ career innings vs. Detroit.)

The record: 1-2 (3-9 overall).

April 15-18: at Oakland

The buzz: The defending AL West champs seem like they’re in a rebuild year after parting with DH Khris Davis, OF Robbie Grossman, RHP Liam Hendriks, 2B Tommy LaStella, RHP SS Marcus Semien and RHP Joakim Soria. Adding 1B Mitch Moreland (a one-time Tigers target) and RHP Trevor Rosenthal doesn’t seem like enough, but it’s Billy Beane at GM, so who knows?

The record: 2-2 (5-11 overall).

April 20-22: vs. Pittsburgh

The buzz: The Pirates were the worst team in baseball last year — by 50 points of winning percentage — and dealt away arguably their best hitter in Josh Bell (Nationals) and their best pitcher in Joe Musgrave (Padres). And we thought the Tigers’ rebuild was tough to watch.

The record: 3-0 (8-11 overall).

April 23-26: vs. Kansas City

The buzz: Noted Tiger-killer Alex Gordon is retired, and Red Sox castoff Andrew Benintendi takes over in left field. The 26-year-old is three seasons removed from finishing second in AL Rookie of the Year voting (behind some guy named Aaron Judge) in 2017, but one of those seasons was his putrid 2020, in which he posted a .103/.314/.128 slash line in 14 games before an August rib injury shut him down.

The record: 2-2 (10-13 overall).

April 27-29: at Chicago White Sox

The buzz: The Sox were set to have all their key hitters return (except for Edwin Encarnacion and Nomar Mazara, who stretched the definition with their 2020 performances), but they’re now facing six months without left fielder Eloy Jimenez. The 24-year-old won a Silver Slugger award last season, but ruptured  his left pectoral March 24.

The record: 1-2 (11-15 overall).

April 30-May 2: at N.Y. Yankees

The buzz: The rotation looks great on paper, but after Gerrit Cole, the Yanks are relying on three pitchers who combined for one inning thrown in 2020 — Corey Kluber (shoulder tear in 2020), Jameson Taillon (Tommy John in 2019) and Domingo German (domestic abuse suspension in 2020).

The record: 1-2 (12-17 overall).

May 4-6: at Boston

The buzz: AJ Hinch won’t be the only manager potentially drawing boos on the road this season — the Sox re-hired Alex Cora (who was suspended for a season for his role in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal and fired by the Sox in January 2020) after going from 2018 World Series champs to virtually tied (at 24-36) with the Tigers last season.

The record: 1-2 (13-19 overall).

May 7-9: vs. Minnesota

The buzz: The Twins also boosted their bullpen, adding ex-White Sox closer Alex Colome. He probably won’t repeat his 0.81 ERA from 2020, but the 32-year-old should still be an improvement over the mix of Taylor Rogers (still on the roster), Trevor May and Sergio Romo (departed via free agency) the Twins used to close out wins last season.

The record: 1-2 (14-21 overall).

May 11-13: vs. Kansas City

The buzz: It only feels like Carlos Santana has been in the AL Central since the turn of the century. Instead, he’s only in Year 12 of his big-league career (with 10 of the first 11 in Cleveland). The bat was a bit wobbly last season, with 43 strikeouts and a .199 average in 60 games, but he still led the AL in walks with 47 at age 34.

The record: 2-1 (16-22 overall).

May 14-16: vs. Chicago Cubs

The buzz: Righty Yu Darvish, who has 47 strikeouts in 46⅔ career innings vs. the Tigers is gone. Replacing him is righty Zach Davies, who has three whiffs in four innings against the Tigers.

The record: 1-2 (17-24 overall).

May 17-19: at Seattle

The buzz: Despite being in contention for a playoff spot until the last week of last season, the Mariners are basically on the Tigers’ timetable for contention. Still, they’ll serve as a comfy landing pad for “The Big Maple,” James Paxton, to prove his health on a one-year, $8.5 million contract.

The record: 2-1 (19-25 overall).

May 21-23: at Kansas City

The buzz: Ever gone to a concert for a band playing its new album and yelled out, “Play the hits”? Then you’ll enjoy the Royals’ bullpen this season, which brings back 2015 studs Greg Holland (in the second season of his second stint in K.C.) and Wade Davis.

The record: 1-2 (20-27 overall).

May 24-27: vs. Cleveland

The buzz: The good news for Cleveland fans when they dealt shortstop Francisco Lindor to the Mets: They received two solid shortstop options in return in Amed Rosario (.755 OPS in 2019) and Andres Gimenez (.732 OPS in 2020). The bad news: There’s only one shortstop position. And so Rosario has been getting work in center field this spring.

The record: 1-3 (21-30 overall).

May 28-30: vs. N.Y. Yankees

The buzz: The 2020 Yankees infield of  C Gary Sanchez, 1B Luke Voit (who’ll miss the first month after knee surgery), 2B DJ LeMahieu, SS Gleyber Torres and 3B Gio Urshela hit .271 with a .500 slugging percentage. And all the Yanks had to do to bring back that group intact was pay LeMahieu, who finished third in AL MVP voting, $15 million a year. Life isn’t fair, is what we’re saying.

The record: 0-3 (21-33 overall).

May 31-June 1: at Milwaukee

The buzz: After leading the NL in batting average and OPS in both 2018 and 2019, Christian Yelich had one hit (a homer) and one walk in his first 28 plate appearances, for a .037/.071/.148 slash line over six games. After the Brewers’ July 31-Aug. 2 series was wiped out by the Cardinals’ COVID issues, Yelich delivered a .231/.393/.474 line over 52 games.

The record: 0-2 (21-35 overall).

June 3-6: at Chicago White Sox

The buzz: After nine seasons out of the dugout, Tony La Russa returns to manage the White Sox at age 76. By the time the oldest player on his roster, first baseman Jose Abreu, was born in January 1987, La Russa already had 567 wins as a manager, a division title and been fired by current team owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

The record: 1-3 (22-38 overall).

June 8-10: vs. Seattle

The buzz: Right after Spencer Torkleson at No. 3 on MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects, the Mariners have 21-year-old outfielder Jarred Kelenic and 20-year-old outfielder Julio Rodriguez at Nos 4-5. Both could be in the majors by June if the M’s decide to be aggressive to counter offseason accusations of service-time manipulation (hahahahahahahaha).

The record: 2-1 (24-39 overall).

June 11-13: vs. Chicago White Sox

The buzz: The Sox were set to break camp with their top pick from 2019, Andrew Vaughn (taken No. 3 overall out of Cal), as their starting designated hitter even before Jimenez’s injury; Vaughn had a .279/.375/.459 slash line in 61 at-bats this spring.

The record: 1-2 (25-41overall).

June 14-16: at Kansas City

The buzz: When Jorge Soler hit 48 homers in 2019, he not only led the AL, he also set the Royals’ franchise record. He also struck out 178 times, also leading the AL and setting the Royals’ franchise record. What about 2020? Soler had just eight homers in 43 games, which translates to 30 homers in a 162-game season. But he also struck out 60 times — the equivalent of 220 strikeouts over 162 games, which would have been the third most in major-league history.

The record: 2-1 (27-42 overall).

June 17-20: at L.A. Angels

The buzz: Former Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias is on his fourth team in four seasons, thanks to an offseason trade from Baltimore. Iglesias hit .379 over 150 plate appearances (about 35 short of qualifying for the title) in his 39 games with the Orioles – and walked three times.

The record: 3-1 (30-43 overall).

June 22-23: vs. St. Louis

The buzz: The Cards went dumpster-diving at third base this offseason, picking up Nolan Arenado who finished in the top eight of NL MVP voting every year from 2015-19 in a trade with Colorado. The Cards are on the hook for five of the final seven years of Arenado’s contract, but the Rockies will pick up the entirety of his $35 million for 2021.

The record: 0-2 (30-45 overall).

June 24-27: vs. Houston

The buzz: Only two active players — Carlos Santana and Jose Abreu — have more career extra-base hits against the Tigers than the Astros’ Michael Brantley, who signed a two-year, $32 million contract this offseason.

The record: 1-3 (31-48 overall).

June 28-30: at Cleveland

The buzz: Franmil Reyes hit nine home runs in 59 games last season; four of those came in the 10 games he played against the Tigers.

The record: 2-1 (33-49 overall).

July 2-4: vs. Chicago White Sox

The buzz: Vaughn won’t even be the Sox’s youngest player on the roster; that would be Garrett Crochet, who went from being drafted 11th overall (out of Tennessee) in 2020 to making six appearances in the regular season and playoffs with 10 strikeouts and no earned runs in 6 ⅔ innings.

The record: 1-2 (34-51 overall).

July 5-7: at Texas

The buzz: The Rangers will finally get to host their own fans at brand-new Globe Life Field after playing in front of an empty house in Arlington, Texas, in its first season. (The stadium hosted fans for the World Series between the Dodgers and Rays in October, through.)

The record: 2-1 (36-52 overall).

July 8-11: at Minnesota

The buzz: Righty Randy Dobnak, who pitched in the independent United Shore Professional Baseball League in Utica in .2017 — he was a Utica Unicorn — enters the season with a spot in the rotation (eventually) after posting a 4.05 ERA in 46 2/3 innings in 2020. (He also signed a five-year, $9.25 million extension Sunday.)

The record: 1-3 (37-55 overall).

July 12-15: ALL-STAR BREAK

July 16-18: vs. Minnesota

The buzz: With Alex Gordon’s retirement, the crown for top Tiger killer is a three-way tie between Jose Abreu, Salvador Perez and the Twins’ Nelson Cruz, who each have 23 homers in the regular season against the Tigers. (Though Cruz has eight playoff homers vs. the Tigers, if you need a tiebreaker.)

The record: 1-2 (38-57 overall).

July 19-22: vs. Texas

The buzz: Large human (and outfielder) Joey Gallo has cooled off a bit since his back-to-back 40-homer seasons in 2017-18, but there’s still an exciting race buried in his stats: Over 473 games, Gallo has 120 home runs and 122 singles.

The record: 3-1 (41-58 overall).

July 23-25: at Kansas City

The buzz: We wouldn’t put money on this five years from now, but Royals righty Brady Singer (the No. 18 overall pick) has been the most productive member of the 2018 draft class, with a 1.1-0.9 WAR edge over No. 3 pick Alec Bohm (according to baseball-reference.com).

The record: 1-2 (42-60 overall).

July 26-28: at Minnesota

The buzz: Left fielder Alex Kirilloff will likely have made his MLB debut by now, a few months after his real major-league debut. Confused? The 23-year-old, who was drafted No. 15 overall in 2016 and is MLB Pipeline’s No. 26 prospect this spring, got the start in Game 2 of the Twins’ Wild Card Series against the Astros, going 1-for-4. But the Twins sent him to minor-league camp to open the 2021 season. It won’t last long.

The record: 2-1 (44-61 overall).

July 29-Aug. 1: vs. Baltimore

The buzz: As if the Orioles’ quest for another No. 1 pick wasn’t ugly enough, they’ve given former Mets ace Matt Harvey — coming off an 11.57 ERA with the Royals in 2020 — a spot in the rotation after he struck out nine and allowed eight earned runs in 15 spring innings.

The record: 4-0 (48-61 overall).

Aug. 3-5: vs. Boston

The buzz: As much as Alex Verdugo, the prize of the 2020 Mookie Betts trade, was not Mookie Betts last season, he actually had a decent year, with a .308/.367/.478 slash line in 53 games. (Still, Dodgers fans will take their World Series, thank you.)

The record: 1-2 (49-63 overall).

Aug. 6-8: at Cleveland

The buzz: There are just two players on Cleveland’s roster left over from its 2016 World Series appearance: 3B Jose Ramirez and C Roberto Perez. (The Tigers also only have two players left on the roster who appeared in their final game of 2016: 1B Miguel Cabrera and RHP Julio Teheran, who started for the Braves in that ’16 regular-season finale.)

The record: 0-3 (49-66 overall).

Aug. 10-12: at Baltimore

The buzz: If the Orioles weren’t solidly in the “tear-down” phase of their rebuild, we might see 2019 No. pick Adley Rutschmann at catcher in this series. Instead, it’ll likely be some combination of Chance Sisco and Pedro Severino, who combined to hit .242 with a .393 slugging percentage in 2020.

The record: 2-1 (51-67 overall).

Aug. 13-15: vs. Cleveland

The buzz: This could be the Tigers’ last-ever series against the “Indians,” with the team potentially choosing a new name ahead of the 2022 season.

The record: 1-2 (52-69 overall).

Aug. 17-19: vs. L.A. Angels

The buzz: Is this the last appearance for Albert Pujols against the Tigers before he calls it quits after 21 seasons? The 41-year-old has a career .298/.373/.534 slash line against Detroit and a .333/.399/.591 line at Comerica Park.

The record: 2-1 (54-70 overall).

Aug. 20-22: at Toronto

The buzz: The Jays made the biggest splash of the offseason, handing 31-year-old $150 million over six years. Springer is coming off a 2020 in which he hit 14 homers in 51 games, all from the leadoff spot.

The record: 1-2 (55-72 overall).

Aug. 24-25: at St. Louis

The buzz: Former Tigers first-rounder Andrew Miller (2006) is in the final year of a three-year, $34.5 million contract with the Cards. The player he was traded away for in 2008, Miguel Cabrera, if 4-for-9 lifetime against him with a double, a walk and three strikeouts.

The record: 1-1 (56-73 overall).

Aug. 27-29: vs. Toronto

The buzz: The Jays also snapped up a potential bargain with a one-year deal for shortstop Marcus Semien, who had 33 homers and 43 doubles with the A’s in 2019 … then hit .223 with the A’s last season.

The record: 0-3 (56-76 overall).

Aug. 31-Sept. 2: vs. Oakland

The buzz: After allowing seven earned runs (and 11 walks) in nine innings with the Tigers in 2019 – an improvement from his 16 earned runs in 6 1/3 innings with the Nationals earlier in the year — Trevor Rosenthal landed in Kansas City and allowed five earned runs over 23 2/3 innings with the Royals and Padres in 2020, earning a one-year, $11 million paycheck from the A’s.

The record: 1-2 (57-78 overall).

Sept. 3-5: at Cincinnati

The buzz: Maybe Nick Castellanos’ problem wasn’t Comerica Park, but not getting to face Tigers pitching. In his first season of a four-year deal with the Reds, Castellanos had a slash line of .350/.435/.750 against the Tigers and a line of .212/.283/.460 against the other teams.

The record: 1-2 (58-80 overall).

Sept. 6-8: at Pittsburgh

The buzz: Pirates fans will have at least one reason to watch: 3B Ke’Bryan Hayes, who had a .376/.442/.682 line as a 23-year-old in 24 September games last season and enters this one as the No. 9 prospect in baseball (according to MLB Pipeline). He already turned down a long-term extension from the Pirates this month, so Yankees fans will have a reason to watch him, too, we guess.

The record: 3-0 (61-80 overall).

Sept. 10-12: vs. Tampa Bay

The buzz: Oakland U.’s Mike Brosseau had a .936 OPS last season while appearing at first, second, third, left field, right field and pitcher – then hit the postseason home run against the Yankees that sent the Rays to the ALCS. What did he do in the offseason? Take reps at shortstop, where he’ll back up ex-Tigers prospect Willy Adames.

The record: 0-3 (61-83 overall).

Sept. 14-15: vs. Milwaukee

The buzz: It was a small sample size, even by 2020 standards, but the numbers for NL Rookie of the Year Devin Williams are eye-popping: In 100 batters faced over 22 games, he struck out 54, allowed eight hits, nine walks and ONE EARNED RUN, for an ERA of 0.33 and WHIP of 0.630.

The record: 1-1 (62-84 overall).

Sept. 16-19: at Tampa Bay

The buzz: The Rays shipped ace Blake Snell to San Diego, but added plenty of experience at the back end of their rotation by signing ex-Wolverine Rich Hill. The well-traveled lefty is the oldest pitcher in baseball at 41 years, 21 days old on Opening Day, just 54 days younger than Albert Pujols..

The record: 1-3 (63-87 overall).

Sept. 20-22: vs. Chicago White Sox

The buzz: The Sox didn’t rest on their wild-card laurels in the offseason; they shipped young righty Dane Dunning to Texas for No. 3-in-name-only starter in righty Lance Lynn, who posted a 3.57 ERA over the past two seasons in Texas.

The record: 1-2 (64-89 overall).

Sept. 24-26: vs. Kansas City

The buzz: Does 2019 No. 2 overall pick Bobby Witt Jr. make an appearance in the majors this season? The infielder turns 21 in June and had a dynamite spring with three homers and a .289/.325/.526 slash line in 38 plate appearances before being sent to the minor-league camp.

The record: 2-1 (66-90 overall).

Sept. 28-30: at Minnesota

The buzz: Manager Rocco Baldelli enters his third season with the Twins with a 137-85 record and back-to-back AL Central crowns. He’s the winningest manager in franchise history by winning percentage, at .617, well ahead of No. 2 — ex-Tigers skipper Billy Martin (97-65, .599 in 1969).

The record: 1-2 (67-92 overall).

Oct. 1-3: at Chicago White Sox

The buzz: First baseman Jose Abreu won the AL MVP vote last season while hitting 19 homers and walking 18 times. He’s the first MVP to homer more than he walked since former Tiger Ivan Rodriguez  (35 homers, 24 walks) did it in 1999 for the Rangers.

The record: 2-1 (69-93 overall).

This projection is for entertainment purposes only. Don’t use it to bet, seriously.

Contact Ryan Ford at rford@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter

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