Detroit Tigers Newsletter: Settle in for a marathon … and a summer sing-along

Detroit Free Press

It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

That’s what we have to remember about this Detroit Tigers season — it’s the opposite of last year, which tried to crush the usual drawn-out drama of a 162-game schedule into just 60 games (and just 58 for the Tigers, thanks to the Cardinals’ COVID-19 issues).

Because here we are, at the 60-game mark for 2021 — well, that’ll be Tuesday for the Tigers — and it feels like there’s so much baseball to be played.

Because there is.

Hello, and welcome to the Detroit Tigers Newsletter.

But before we get to the reasons to enjoy the next 103 or so games (COVID likely won’t cancel any more contests, but there’s no vaccine for rain in the summer), let’s check out how this season matches up with similar stretches in 2019 and 2020:

2019 (59 games): At 23-36, the Tigers were in fourth place in the AL Central, 16.5  games back of the first-place Twins and five games up on the last-place Royals. At the plate, the Tigers were hitting .228 with 52 homers, 586 strikeouts and 164 walks in 2,205 plate appearances. On the mound, Tigers pitchers had a 4.73 ERA with 472 strikeouts and 89 homers allowed in 526⅔ innings.

2020 (58 games): At 23-35, the Tigers finished last in the AL Central, 12 games back of the first-place Twins and two games back of the fourth-place Royals. At the plate, the Tigers hit .245 and averaged 4.3 runs a game, with 62 homers, 567 strikeouts and 147 walks in 2,076 plate appearances. On the mound, Tigers pitchers had a 5.63 ERA with 444 strikeouts and 91 homers allowed in 492⅓ innings.

2021 (59 games): At 24-35, the Tigers are tied for last in the AL Central, 12 games back of the first-place White Sox and even with the Twins. At the plate, the Tigers are hitting .225 with 59 homers, 604 strikeouts and 180 walks in 2,144 plate appearances. On the mound, Tigers pitchers have a 4.37 ERA with 487 strikeouts and 72 homers allowed in 509 innings.

So … yeah, half a game better from 2020 and a full game better than 2019. At this rate, the Tigers will work themselves into playoff contention around 2060 (which is also the year Miguel Cabrera’s contract is up).

Then again, that 24-35 record for 2021 is comprised of two wildly different runs: An 8-19 April, followed by a 16-16 May/June. Think of it as the inverse of 2020, which the Tigers started 16-16, then went 7-19 in September. This is a good thing; it means the Tigers still have more than 100 games — probably — to get better (or at least keep a .500 record within sight).

Is that too optimistic? Perhaps. After all, things can always go the other way, as they did in 2019 when the Tigers won just five games apiece in June and July en route to 114 losses. But it doesn’t feel like that’ll happen this June and July.

Why? Reader, we’re so glad you asked, as we break out our summer playlist ….

Sku’s out for summer!

Let’s start with Saturday’s win over the Chicago Southside … er, White Sox (no matter what their jerseys say) and Tarik Skubal’s 11-strikeout performance. It was his fourth straight game with at least eight strikeouts, making him just the fifth rookie since 2010 with that many consecutive eight-whiff games. The others? Noah Syndergaard, Jose Fernandez, Yu Darvish and Stephen Strasburg. That’s a decent club. But Skubal isn’t stopping there. The Freep’s Evan Petzold took a look here at what the left-hander’s next goal is. (Hint: It involves the sixth inning.)

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He’s a Brick … Haase!

Saturday’s other star was catcher/left fielder Eric Haase, who homered twice against the Sox and drove in three of the Tigers’ four runs. In all, Haase had five homers by the shores of Lake Michigan last week. But the Dearborn Divine Child alum’s power stroke actually got its start some 225 miles east of the Best Coast, in a barn in Westland, as the Freep’s Jeff Seidel covers here.

Private Mize (clap clap), He’s Watching You …

Thursday was Casey Mize’s seventh straight start allowing three or fewer runs, covering a 44-inning stretch in which he has a 2.45 ERA. Unfortunately, the three runs he allowed that night all came on solo home runs, leaving him “pretty pissed” in the words of manager AJ Hinch. Click here to find out from Hinch (via Our Man Petzold) why he’s happy about Mize’s sour disposition following the start.

Old MacAvila Had A Farm…

We’re also a full month into the minor-league season, and Tigers prospects are starting to warm up. That’s music to Our Man Seidel’s ears, as he opined here that wants to see the Tigers go even younger.  And hey, they must have heard him, as GM Al Avila moved three prospects up the organizational ladder. Click here to find out who moved on.

The Candy Man Can …

The Tigers’ offense still needs some … let’s say tweaking* … but the one consistent hitter has been Jeimer Candelario, who’s hitting .266 with 13 doubles and four homers in 218 at-bats. Our Man Petzold broke down here how Candelario is still learning in his sixth big-league season and how Miguel Cabrera is mentoring him.

*also known as “a chunk of change on the free-agency market this winter”

Nothing Compares 2 U(rena) …

Jose Urena and the Tigers didn’t get the win on Sunday in his return from the injured list, but the righty mostly repeated his early season success (especially after accounting for some questionable defense behind him in the second inning). Our Man Petzold reports here on why the outing had Urena feeling ‘pretty good” afterwards.

Easy As A-B-C, 1-2-3…

Speaking of players getting the call, here are three Tigers fresh off the farm this week:

JASON FOLEY: How the righty went from undrafted in 2016 to the majors in 2021

BRYAN GARCIA: A short stint in Triple-A has him throwing strikes again

DEREK HILL: had a .417 on-base percentage in 21 games with Toledo this year

Won’t You Take Me To … Funky Town?

You didn’t think we were gonna break out the playlist and not include a little Funk(houser), did you? Yes, Kyle Funkhouser has quietly become one of the Tigers’ go-to relievers in higher-leverage situations. Our Man Petzold has the reason here why the 2016 fourth-round pick has made it work after missing out on the Opening Day roster.

Happy Birthday, Dear McCannon!

(Feel free to sing your favorite public-domain birthday song here; we’re on a newspaper budget, y’know?) Anyway, former Tigers catcher James (McCannon) McCann turns 31 on Sunday; maybe he’ll get the Mets’ day game at home against the Padres off. McCann is in the first year of a four-year, $40.6 million deal with the Mets, and, uh, so far he’s looking a lot more like “Tigers non-tender James McCann” than “2019 White Sox All-Star James McCann.” He finished the week with a .227/.288/.362 slash line; he posted a slash line of .220/.267/.314 in 2018, his final year in Detroit.

Other Tigers birthdays this week: Al Alburquerque (35 on Thursday), Avisail Garcia (30 on Saturday), Drew Smyly (32 on Sunday).

Put Another ‘X’ On The Calendar …

No need to Panic! At The Disco — the Tigers are back at Comerica Park (which will be at full capacity* beginning Tuesday) for a six-game stretch. First up, the Mariners visit from Tuesday-Thursday, followed by a Friday-Sunday appearance from the White Sox (who presumably won’t be packing their “City Connect” or 1980s throwback uniforms).

Tuesday’s matchup is especially notable, with a mound meeting between two pitchers from the Pacific Northwest: Matthew Boyd, a Seattle-area native and Oregon State alum, vs. Marco Gonzalez, a Gonzaga University alum. It’ll be the fourth meeting between the duo, dating back to their college days. Here’s how they went:

Feb. 16, 2013: Boyd’s OSU squad won, as he allowed two runs over seven innings while Gonzalez gave up six runs over six innings.

May 12, 2018: Boyd’s Tigers won, as both pitchers went six innings; Boyd allowed three runs, Gonzalez four.

May 17, 2018: Boyd’s Tigers won in Detroit, as he allowed two runs over six innings and Gonzalez allowed one unearned run over 5⅔ innings.

Consider this a good omen, as Boyd has been beat up over his past four starts, with a 7.84 ERA over his past 20⅔ innings. Our Man Petzold has the scoop here on why Boyd isn’t worried yet.

*The park will be back to its 2019 capacity of 41,083, but we’ll point out that just two games that season featured ticket sales above 30,000: the home opener on April 4 and a July 24 visit from the Phillies. Who knew there were that many Phanatics in the Metro Detroit area?

TL;DR

Speaking of Tigers who should be happy to see the Mariners again, Harold Castro has a career 1.000 OPS in six games against the M’s, with 12 hits (11 singles) in 25 at-bats. Just saying.

Contact Ryan Ford at rford@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford.

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