Facing a one-run deficit, rookie Akil Baddoo stood on third base with no outs in the bottom of the eighth inning against the Kansas City Royals on Monday. The electric 22-year-old had just tripled off the left-field wall, and the Detroit Tigers felt the momentum.
But the next three batters couldn’t drive him home.
Those costly mistakes represent a trend, as do the three consecutive strikeouts with two runners on-base in the seventh inning during Detroit’sthe 3-2 loss at Comerica Park. They went 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position. Because of pitiful offensive performances, the Tigers (7-16) have dropped 10 of their past 11 games, including five in a row. They own the worst record in baseball.
“The winning mindset on a day-to-day basis is absolutely necessary to play for the Tigers,” manager AJ Hinch said before Monday’s defeat concluded a 1-6 homestand. “I don’t think we need to carry yesterday’s loss into today. I know they’ve piled up over the last week. But I will not stand for us accepting it.”
[ What Tigers have learned about Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal in 2021 ]
You can blame the players, and you can blame general manager Al Avila. He didn’t give Hinch a roster worthy of a guaranteed boost in the standings — despite the rebuild dragging along in its fifth year. The Tigers are on pace for 112 losses, and they’re already in last place of the American League Central. It wouldn’t be shocking to see the Tigers in the cellar for the fourth time in five seasons.
That’s not progress, especially in a rebuild where owner Christopher Ilitch said this spring the Tigers possess a “win-now mentality” moving forward. Before last season, he promised to spend when “the time is right.”
In December, Avila said he was “resisting the urge” to lock in marquee free agents this offseason. His trades of Justin Verlander, J.D. Martinez, Ian Kinsler and Justin Upton to collect prospects haven’t worked out, either.
The Tigers clearly weren’t contenders for the postseason this year.
That’s a good thing, considering they have a 0.1% chance to make it, according to FanGraphs. The division rivals — Kansas City Royals (23.8%), Chicago White Sox (68.0%), Cleveland (17.7%) and Minnesota Twins (32.0%) — are in better shape.
But the Tigers didn’t plan to look this bad.
“You get into this mindset of like, ‘This is the way it has to be forever,’ ” Hinch said, adding his family and friends have questioned him about the Tigers’ woes. “Part of that is there are a lot of people around that have carried that baggage from the last couple of years into this season. I think it’s important for us to keep in perspective, without giving us a pass for underperforming.”
THE 1ST SEASON: Tigers’ rebuild far from done, but AJ Hinch is here to breed winning culture
THE MOMENTS: How AJ Hinch learned an epic lesson: ‘Pour the foundation before you build the house’
This is Detroit’s worst start to the season since 2003, when a 7-27 record turned into a franchise-record 119 losses. The 2019 Tigers had 114 losses in what was considered the darkest year of the rebuild.
The surplus of strikeouts this season is overwhelming. Had Jeimer Candelario not walked in the ninth inning of Sunday’s shutout, the Tigers would’ve gone without a walk in back-to-back games. He is one of the stronger hitters with a .276 batting average.
How many of the Tiger hitters would be on a competitive MLB team’s active roster? Not many. Would any player occupy the three, four or five spots in the lineup for a top-tier team? No chance.
There’s a case to be made that 38-year-old Miguel Cabrera shouldn’t be in the third and fourth slots in the lineup any longer. He has been inconsistent for three years, battled injuries, went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts Sunday in his return from the injured list and is hitting .129 through nine games this season.
But Cabrera is the best option.
“Obviously, we need a lot of guys to get warm and swing the bat a little bit,” Hinch said. “They’ve done it before, and they’re going to do it again. This is not a team that can’t hit. It’s a team that hasn’t been hitting.”
TIGERS NEWSLETTER: How ‘The Worst Team In Baseball™’ stacks up vs. 2019 Tigers
Jonathan Schoop carries a .174 batting average and .217 slugging percentage. Offense-first catcher Wilson Ramos boasts six home runs, with a .219 batting average, but seven of his eight RBIs are from homers. The 15 walks from Robbie Grossman — with a .203 batting average — would be encouraging, yet his 25 strikeouts put him side-by-side with Baddoo for the team lead.
Baddoo, the Rule 5 draft pick, is coming back to earth with a .259 batting average. He’s still the most intriguing player right now, but it might be too soon for Hinch to consider sticking him in the heart of the lineup.
Willi Castro doesn’t look like the player who tied for fourth in AL Rookie of the Year voting last year by hitting .349. This season, he has a .222 batting average without power.
“We haven’t controlled the fastball and controlled the strike zone,” Hinch said. “We chase quite a bit. We haven’t handled the pitching in really any of the series that we’ve played since (the three-game sweep over the Houston Astros).”
Here’s how the Tigers stack up with 29 other MLB teams, entering Monday: Batting average (.205, 30th), on-base percentage (.264, 30th), slugging percentage (.357, 28th), on-base plus slugging percentage (.261, 30th), home runs (25, 16th), runs (67, 28th), runs per game (3.05, 30th), walks (53, 27th), strikeouts (221, 27th) and stolen bases (five, 26th).
The Tigers are also last with an ugly 29.1% strikeout rate. They’re third-worst with a 7.0% walk rate. These were the big problems Hinch hoped to solve by bringing in Grossman as the leadoff hitter. Instead, the team swings and misses at 13.4% of pitches — the most in the majors. (The Tigers swing at 34.4% of pitches outside the strike zone, third-most.)
[ Tigers reveal timetable for Nomar Mazara’s return from left abdominal strain ]
Of the 69 runs scored, 36 have been produced by 25 home runs — 52% of runs scored.
“That’s probably too high of a ratio,” Hinch said.
The pitching staff’s 4.72 ERA is the third-worst in baseball. The team’s 4.90 FIP — which removes results on balls hit into the field and focuses on events a pitcher controls the most, such as strikeouts, walks, hit-by-pitches and home runs — is tied for worst in the majors.
The starting rotation commands a 3.83 ERA; the bullpen has a 6.11 ERA.
No matter how dominant the starters are, the offense isn’t doing enough. There isn’t an excuse for left-hander Matthew Boyd (and his 1.82 ERA through five starts) missing out on wins after pitching into the eighth inning in his past two outings. The Tigers lost both games — 3-2 to the Oakland Athletics and 2-1 to the Royals.
During the past 11 games, the offense has reached an all-time low: They are 65-for-339 (.191) with 20 runs, 18 walks and 112 strikeouts. In the four-game series with the Royals, they went 22-for-127 (.173) with five runs, nine walks and 48 strikeouts. It was Kansas City’s first four-game road sweep since 1999.
“The beautiful part of this stretch is there’s a beginning and an end,” Hinch said. “We haven’t reached the end yet and that’s why we have to continue to answer these questions. The only people that can end it are the people in this clubhouse. Today’s another opportunity to end the day better than we started.”
With 139 games remaining, the schedule doesn’t get easier.
[ Tigers might adjust roles for Michael Fulmer, Tarik Skubal entering road trip ]
The upcoming nine-game road trip: Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Last season, the Tigers lost nine of 10 games to the White Sox, including all seven matchups at Guaranteed Rate Field.
This could get uglier before it gets better. But the product shouldn’t be this poor five years into a rebuild.
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.