Did you think we were being harsh when we added the ™ to the Detroit Tigers’ title as “The Worst Team in Baseball™” in 2021?
All they did this week was lose five out of six while hitting .138 with 10 runs scored — five of them in one game — 12 walks and 74 strikeouts. They were held to seven extra-base hits in six games, or as many as Kris Bryant had for the Chicago Cubs this week. (He also drove in as many runs as the Tigers did, in case you’ve started your “2021 free agent wish list” already.)
Oh, and Saturday’s loss — one of 15 in 17 games since sweeping Houston to stand at 6-6 on the year — made them the first team this season to hit 20 losses.
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In fact, not only are the Tigers the first in 2021 to hit 20 losses (and 21 losses), it’s not that close. The next-worst team, the Rockies, are still two losses away, at 10-18 — meaning the Tigers, at 8-21, have a 2½-game lead in the race for the No. 1 overall pick in 2022. Huzzah. (Then again, the Rockies, host of this year’s draft in July, are paying Nolan Arenado $35 million this season alone to man third base for the Cardinals — he had six extra-base hits this week — and their GM has already quit. It could be worse, is what we’re saying.)
But we’re only 29 games into the season: The Tigers can’t be a lock for the No. 1 pick already, can they? Let’s look back at the “first-to-20-losses” teams from the past five seasons….
2020: The Red Sox and the Angels got to 20 losses on the same day (Aug. 23, following a July 24 Opening Day), in an identical 29 games. And both finished strong: The Red Sox went 15-16 to jump up to the fourth-worst record in baseball (one spot better than the Tigers), while the Angels went 17-14 down the stretch to finish with the No. 9 pick in this year’s draft.
2019: The Marlins beat the Royals to 20 losses by a day, making it in 28 games. They improved a bit over their final 134 games, though, going 49-85 — remember, the Tigers only won 47 games in 161 tries that season — to finish with the third pick in the 2020 draft.
2018: The Reds needed just 25 games to hit 20 losses (thanks to a 1-13 stretch in late April that seems awfully familiar), a couple days ahead of the Royals. From there, though, they went an almost-respectable 62-75 — that’s a .452 winning percentage — to end up with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2019 draft.
2017: Another tie on the calendar, with the Blue Jays and Giants both hitting 20 losses on May 6, in 30 and 31 games, respectively. Their paths from there diverged greatly, though; the Giants continued to bottom out with a 53-78 record to finish tied with the Tigers as baseball’s worst — the Tigers “won” the tiebreaker for the right to draft Casey Mize based on one fewer win in 2016 — while the Blue Jays went 66-66 to wind up with the No. 12 pick. (What changed in Toronto? Slugger Josh Donaldson’s return from the IL in late May, with a subsequent .267/.382/.557 slash line, may have had something to do with it. No pressure, Nomar Mazara.)
2016: Yet another tie, this one on May 4, with the Braves and Twins doing it in 27 and 28 games, respectively. Those franchises also diverged in their finishes, with the Braves posting a respectable 61-73 finish for the No. 5 overall pick, while the Twins went 51-83 to lock up the No. 1 pick. (And, baseball karma being what it is, the Braves’ pick, RHP Kyle Wright, already has a playoff victory, while the Twins’ pick, SS Royce Lewis, is out for all of 2021 with an ACL tear.)
To sum up: Of the eight teams to hit 20 losses first in a season over the past five years, just two finished with baseball’s worst record — and two played .500 ball the rest of the season. So maybe, just maybe, we can’t pencil the Tigers in for the No. 1 pick in Los Angeles in July 2022.
Still, it seems pretty likely they’ll be adding a blue-chipper — though not a Blue Chipper Jones — to their farm system (in addition to the No. 3 pick they’ve got this July). The Freep’s Evan Petzold broke down the Tigers’ top prospects, from Nos. 1-15, here. Not only that, but we should be able to actually see these prospects <ahem, Spencer Torkelson, ahem> play with their respective teams, as Our Man Petzold has the Tigers’ minor-league rosters here.
Master of the mound
The Tigers’ pitchers weren’t great, either, what with 34 runs allowed in 45 innings this week. But at least one starter stood out: Jose Ureña, who had back-to-back seven-inning quality starts on Tuesday and Sunday. Ureña is at four straight starts with at least seven innings pitched; it’s the longest streak of seven-inning starts since Michael Fulmer did it in six straight from May 5-June 2, 2017 — which should tell you something about the rebuild right there. Our Man Petzold has the story here of Ureña’s fruitless start Sunday, just in case you slept through it along with the Tigers’ bats.
Jeimer for joy
Speaking of lone standouts, have we mentioned Jeimer Candelario? He struck eight times and didn’t walk, but he was one of four Tigers to homer this week and the only one to hit above .300. (Offensive MVP runner-up goes to Niko Goodrum, who had 10 strikeouts and four hits, but two of them were homers, at least.) Our Man Petzold caught up with Candelario here after he homered Saturday in New York to find out why succeeding in Yankee Stadium meant so much to him.
Off the Matt-hew
Thursday’s doubleheader in Chicago added injury to insult, as veteran lefty Matthew Boyd left early in the second inning of Game 2 with left knee tendinitis. Fear not, though, as Our Man Petzold has the reason why Boyd didn’t go on the IL right away, and why he might be back in time for Mother’s Day. Click here to find out why.
Mark your calendar
It’s another six-game week, with three against the Red Sox in Boston beginning Tuesday followed by three against the Royals at Comerica Park beginning Friday. <scans starting pitchers> You guys! YOU! GUYS! We did it, you guys … we’re getting a “Cinco de Mize-O” on Cinco de Mayo, as Casey Mize, the Tigers’ second-year starter, is set to take the mound at 7:10 p.m. Wednesday. As we wrote last year, “Cinco de Mize-O” is “technically a celebration of a historic achievement south of the border, but really just an excuse for Detroiters to wear hats and drink.” So, stock up on your favorite beverage and celebrate the 2018 No. 1 overall draft pick AND the Mexican army’s victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.
3 to watch
It was a rough week, but here are three Tigers who can’t help but have a better time starting Tuesday:
MIGUEL CABRERA: Slugger is just two hits from passing Babe Ruth
Happy birthday, Big Pasta!
It’s a light week on birthdays, so we’ll give a shoutout to Alfredo Simon, who turns 40 on Saturday. Simon, aka “Big Pasta,” spent one season wearing the Old English “D” with a 13-12 record and 5.05 ERA in 187 innings in 2015. He’s remembered, of course, for the 2014 season that sent Eugenio Suarez to the Reds. Suarez hit 143 homers over the next five seasons, which only feels like the Tigers’ total over that span. (Blame Dave Dombrowski for that one, folks, not Al Avila.) Then again, proving that no one eve remotely associated with the Tigers gets to hit this season, Suarez is struggling with the Reds, posting a .149/.237/.337 line with an NL-worst 44 strikeouts in 26 games. (We’ll note here that Suarez’s four doubles, five homers and 12 RBIs would still all be good for second on the Tigers roster right now.)
Other Tigers birthdays this week: Ian Krol (30 on Sunday), Prince Fielder (37 on Sunday).
The French lost the Battle of Puebla largely because their artillery ran out of ammunition, which, yep, sure sounds like the Tigers offense. Good luck, Casey.