The Detroit Tigers’ doubleheader sweep of Cleveland on Wednesday marked the 81-game halfway point in the 2021 season. Another midsummer milestone isn’t far away: The MLB All-Star Game is looming, with the starters announced Thursday, the reserves’ announcement coming Sunday (5:30 p.m., ESPN) and the game itself set for July 13 in Denver.
MIDSEASON GRADES: Coaching, starting pitching star but low grades elsewhere
Although the Tigers have strung together two consecutive winning months, going 14-13 in May and June, their putrid April — 8-19 with a minus-58 run differential — likely leaves them with just one spot on the All-Star squad again. (Honestly, on April 30, when the Tigers were already four games worse than the next-worst AL squad, you probably could have argued they shouldn’t even get that spot.) Detroit hasn’t sent two players to the All-Star game since 2017, when Michael Fulmer and Justin Upton both earned a nod. The 2021 Tigers won’t have two All-Stars — no Tiger even made the top three in voting (or the top nine in outfield voting) — but they do at least have some deserving candidates. (Though we may have to put a little more weight on their stats since the start of May.)
Indeed, you could argue that the most deserving candidate from Detroit — at least the only one to win a Player of the Week award this season — can’t go to Denver. Spencer Turnbull got the leaguewide honor in late May after he threw the franchise’s eighth no-hitter, against the Seattle Mariners, but he’ll be spending the All-Star break on the injured list (as will Fulmer).
So who’ll represent the “Old English D” (but, for the first time, wearing an American League uniform in the game itself, rather than the Tigers’ road grays) at the Midsummer Classic? Here’s the odds on our five favorites, from least to most likely …
OF Akil Baddoo: 500 -1
Baddoo has outperformed most expectations for a 22-year-old — in the non-Guerrero/Tatis category, at least — much less someone who hadn’t played above High-A previously. (Though that lack of experience has shown in his defense at times.) But the Tigers’ Rule 5 draft pick has made the most of his semi-guaranteed roster spot. His first 10 games were epic, with seven extra-base hits — including four homers — in 33 plate appearances. His next 10 games were epically bad, with a .464 OPS salvaged only by two doubles and two triples — his only hits — in 33 plate appearances.
But since then — May 1, to be exact — he’s been, well, good; he entered Friday’s game with a .312/.433/..440 slash line and an .873 OPS that ranks 25th in the AL over that span. No, 25th isn’t exactly All-Star worthy, and there’s a lot of bad teams with one good outfielder (we’re looking at you, Texas and Baltimore). But, hey, somebody’s gotta go, and Baddoo has been one of the baseball’s best stories this season.
RHP Jose Cisnero: 250-1
Speaking of good stories, there’s Cisnero, the 32-year old who has been one of the steadiest options in AJ Hinch’s bullpen in his third season with the Tigers. Cisnero got his start in Houston in 2013-14 but just missed Hinch there, signing with the Reds in November 2014. From there, he fell all the way to the Mexican League in 2016 before working his way back to the majors with the Tigers in 2019.
This season, his 37 appearances are tied for fifth-most in the AL, and he’s been effective as well, with a 2.83 ERA, 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings (22nd among AL relievers) and nine holds. He also has been great when entering the game with runners on base, with just three of 13 inherited runners for a 23.1% scoring rate. Yes, the All-Star Game no longer decides which league gets homefield advantage in the World Series, but AL manager Kevin Cash still wants to win, and Cisnero can help with that.
1B/2B Jonathan Schoop: 50-1
If we’d have said two months ago we’d be including Schoop on a midseason list, you’d have thought it would be “Biggest free-agent busts.” An 0-for-5 game at Boston on May 4 left Schoop hitting .181 with three extra-base hits and 30 strikeouts in 100 plate appearances. The next day, he got a hit. The day after that? Two hits. And in all, a 51-game span entering Saturday, Schoop has 67 hits, 26 of them for extra bases (including 10 homers in June) in 227 plate appearances, which is roughly a third of a season. (Perhaps not coincidentally, the Tigers are 28-23 during Schoop’s hot streak.)
He’d also pay dividends for late-inning moves, with 50 games this year at first base and 20 more at second (with short stints at shortstop and third base in his past). Schoop has only made the All-Star Game once, in 2017. That year, he hit.297/.353/.541 from May 5 to the break; this year, Schoop has hit .325/.379/.583 since May 5. That’s not just hot, that’s “an argument for the existence of climate change” hot.
LHP Gregory Soto: 10-1
Speaking of Tigers who’ve been scorching lately, there’s Soto, who entered Saturday riding a 10-game scoreless streak. In fact, since giving up two runs in his Opening Day save against Cleveland, Soto has allowed just six more over 32 innings (in 34 appearances), with 38 strikeouts — that’s a 1.69 ERA in non-Opening Day appearances.
No Tiger has been as valuable, by Baseball Reference’s Win Probability metric, as Soto, who has added 1.6 wins by WPA. (If you’re more comfortable with WAR, Soto has 1.4 WAR in just 33 innings; Casey Mize leads the team with 2.7 despite nearly three times as many innings.) Soto would be a solid option for Cash to play the platoon advantage in the late innings, with a .190/.292/.238 slash line for opposing lefties. Plus, it’s just plain fun to watch him bring the heat, and isn’t fun part of what the All-Star Game is about?
RHP Casey Mize: 2-1
Speaking of a Tiger who’s glad April is long gone … After his first five starts of 2021, Mize’s ERA sat at 5.06 over 26⅔ innings. And that included a dominant start in Houston, in which he held the Astros to four hits and no runs over seven innings. But on May 5 — yes, “Cinco de Mize-O” on Cinco de Mayo — Mize started that game against the Red Sox in Boston and got into a jam in the sixth inning. But he escaped with a groundball to make it through six innings with a 3-1 lead.
It was the start of an 10-game streak in which he pitched at least five innings and gave up three runs or less, posting a 2.77 ERA that was tied for 10th among qualified AL starters over the same span. That streak ended Friday night, when Mize again only gave up two runs, but was pulled after the third inning as the start of his inning-management program. The short outing raised his ERA since May 1 to 2.92, with a 1.021 WHIP and 55 strikeouts in 64⅔ innings.
Still, that start was a microcosm of his season: An early struggle (two runs allowed with two outs in the first) followed by domination (eight batters faced with seven retired, including three on strikeouts). He threw 27 pitches in the first, then 29 in the next two innings combined. In short, even in an awkward, abbreviated outing, he looked like a pitcher taken No. 1 overall.
And more than that, he looked like an All-Star.