Detroit Tigers Newsletter: 7 milestones to watch for in the final seven games

Detroit Free Press

Look, we understand: It’s been 155 games, and you really weren’t expecting the Detroit Tigers’ season to last this long.

Last year’s run was just 60 games — well, it was supposed to be, but the Tigers only got to 58 before MLB told them to quit showing up.

And before that? In 2019, the Tigers were 16½ games back by Memorial Day, leaving plenty of time in September to pay attention to the Spartans and Wolverines and Pistons and Red Wings and, yes, even the Lions, should you have a taste for that Honolulu Blue-flavored weekly self-immolation.

In 2018, same deal —11½ out by July 4. And 2017? They were 18 games back by the time they traded Justin Verlander at the end of August — and finished the year with the worst record in the majors.

And yes, the Tigers were finally knocked out of playoff contention – officially at least, mainly thanks to that 8-19 April — last week. But still, they’re 75-80 going into today’s home finale against the Chicago White Sox, which means a winning record — above .500 — is still in play, with a 7-0 finish.

Hello, and welcome to the “Are You Still Watching?” Newsletter.

Even a 6-1 run — say, three out of four from the White Sox and a sweep of the Twins while we’re dreaming – lands them right at 81-81, and it might even be enough for second place in the AL Central. (Though Cleveland, a game up on the Tigers, is finishing out its pre-Guardians run with three games against the Royals and three against the Rangers. Don’t expect much help from the cellar dwellers, is what we’re saying.)

Yes, chasing .500 isn’t exactly the most compelling reason to pay attention to the Tigers’ final week, even considering the franchise is a combined 147 games under .500 over the previous four seasons. But hey, we’ve made it this far; what’s seven more days?

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And if you need some more convincing, here are seven OTHER milestones within reach for the Tigers this week:

3,000 hits! Yeah, it’s unlikely Miguel Cabrera gets to the big milestone this season; he’s 16 hits away with a likely maximum of 28 at-bats remaining in 2021. Still, it’s not impossible: Cabrera has had six separate seven-game spans in his career with at least 16 hits, though the most recent came in August 2015. (A related question: How often will Cabrera take the field at 1B this week; as the Freep’s Evan Petzold noted here, Cabrera hits much, much better when he has defensive responsibilities.)

A doubles champ! Third baseman Jeimer Candelario doubled in Saturday’s win over the Royals, bringing him to 42 on the year and putting him one up on the Cardinals’ Tommy Edman for the MLB lead, and two up on the Red Sox’s J.D. Martinez (everyday, he is hustling). Both St. Louis and Boston have just six games remaining (barring a Game 163 for a wild-card spot), which helps Candelario’s campaign to become the first Tiger to lead the AL in doubles since Cabrera did it in 2014. Also helping is the peace of mind he should have about next season; as Our Man Petzold reports here, the Tigers are, yeah, sweet on Candy’s future at the hot corner.

A triples champ! Rookie Akil Baddoo has seven three-baggers in 388 at-bats this season, which has him tied for No. 1 in the AL with Shohei Ohtani (who is second in the AL in homers, fifth in steals and also a decent pitcher, in case you were looking for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Newsletter of Anaheim, California). Baddoo and Ohtani are one triple behind the Diamondbacks’ David Peralta for the MLB lead. Baddoo’s road to a triples title may be damaged by, well, the road; six of his seven three-baggers have come at Comerica Park (which is hardly a surprise, considering a Tiger has led the AL in triples five times in the previous 21 seasons of the CoPa’s existence).

A 20/20 season! Outfielder Robbie Grossman already has 23 homers; he needs two more steals to become the seventh Tiger in the 20/20 club, which, as Our Man Petzold reported here, he’s fully aware of. One good sign for Grossman’s quest: Three of his 18 swipes have come against the White Sox, including No. 18 last week. (Oh, and if you’re curious about the other six Tigers in the 20/20 club, click here to relive those seasons.)

100 walks! Grossman is also on the verge of joining another elite club — he’s five walks away from 100, which no Tiger has reached since Cabrera had 108 in 2011. Other than Cabrera, only Mickey Tettleton (1991-93), Tony Phillips (1992-93) and Dwight Evans (1987) have walked 100 times for the Tigers over the past 50 seasons.

30 starts! Right-hander Casey Mize, assuming he makes his scheduled start Wednesday or Thursday against the Twins — mark your calendar in pencil — will be the lone Tiger to reach 30 starts. That start will also make him just the 14th Tiger in franchise history to start 30 times as a rookie, a club that has only inducted Spencer Turnbull (2019), Rick Porcello (2009), Justin Verlander (2006), Brian Moehler (1997) and Vern Ruhle (1975) over the past 50 seasons.

A strikeout king! Left-hander Tarik Skubal leads all rookies with 163 strikeouts (over 146 innings). He’s two up on the Astros’ Luis Garcia, who is set to make his final start of 2021 on Wednesday against Tampa Bay. Skubal, meanwhile, should get one more start — three or four innings, depending on his efficiency — Thursday or Friday to claim the crown.

Don’t worry, though; if none of these come though, well, the Lions have at least 13 more games after Sunday.

2021 vision

Of course, individual milestones aren’t all the Tigers are playing for. As manager AJ Hinch said to Our Man Petzold, the team is pushing for a strong finish in September: “There’s no magic potion. There’s no silly method that we’re trying to accomplish. We don’t want to get beat, so we show up ready to play. I’m proud of it, but I don’t necessarily know how to describe it.” Click here to find out what the Tigers are trying to take from a potential winning September. (At 13-9 this month, one win from Monday-Thursday would clinch the franchise’s fifth winning month of the season.)

IL pill

It won’t be an easy finish to the season, though, as the injuries have started to pile up. Even seemingly minor dings are essentially season-ending at this point. Let’s run though the key players the Tigers won’t likely have this week:

Matthew Boyd: The veteran lefty is slated for surgery on his flexor tendon in his left arm today, Our Man Petzold reports. He’s confident in a 2022 return, but first, he and the Tigers will have to work out some contract details as he enters his final arbitration-eligible offseason. Click here to find out how that could shake out.

Jose Cisnero: His recovery from getting eight stitches after a fall at home suffered a setback, with swelling at the cut, reports Our Man Petzold here. Click here to find out the difference in him returning this season or not.

Victor Reyes: The outfielder left Saturday’s game early with a groin issue and hit the injured list Sunday morning. Click here to find out who replaced him on the 26-man roster.

‘Wait till next year!’

OK, we put it off as long as we could, but, yes, there’s been a bit of looking ahead to 2022. Hinch, Tigers owner Christopher Ilitch and GM Al Avila all spoke Friday about what they’re hoping to see in the offseason and 2022. A new shortstop? A Verlander reunion? The playoffs? Click here for Our Man Petzold’s assessment of the plans.

Gark knight

The franchise already got a headstart on its 2022 plans with Thursday’s hiring of Ryan Garko as vice president of player development. Garko played six seasons in the majors (with Cleveland, San Francisco and Texas) before managing at the University of Pacific and in the Dodgers organization (where he worked with Tigers pitching coach Chris Fetter). Most recently, he was an assistant focused on analytics with the Angels for two seasons. Click here to find out what the Tigers hope he brings to the organization.

No average Joe

Speaking of analytics and 2022, there’s a Joe Jimenez-shaped question mark in the Tigers’ bullpen for next season. The 26-year-old’s 5.82 ERA (and his 7.15 ERA  a season ago) suggest he’s a candidate for non-tendering this offseason. But he feels this season has been his best in the majors — and, as Our Man Petzold discovered, the advanced metrics tend to agree. Click here to find out why some stats you won’t find on the back of his baseball card suggest he might be primed for (another) breakout season.

3 to watch

It’s not all injuries and analytics, though. Here are three Tigers who can use the final week of the season to build for 2022:

DAZ CAMERON: His goal is just to be himself, finally.

ALEX LANGE: He ‘always wanted to be a closer.’ On Monday, he got his first big-league chance.

WILY PERALTA: His 16-inning scoreless streak came to an end Sunday.

Happy birthday, Riley Greene!

Yes, Riley Greene, the Tigers’ No. 2 prospect (according to MLB Pipeline), finally turns 21 on Tuesday. The No. 5 overall pick in 2019 has done nothing but rake this year; he enters Triple-A Toledo’s final five games with a .295/.380/.524 slash line in 120 games in Double- and Triple-A. That includes seven homers and seven doubles for the outfielder in 36 games with Toledo. Can Greene get to double figures in doubles or homers? The Mud Hens’ final stretch of the Triple-A “Final Stretch” (in which the team with the best record in the final 10 games is crowned champion) begins Wednesday with five games against the St. Paul Saints in Toledo. (Click here to find out how to watch the games online for free.)

Other Tigers birthdays this week: Rob Deer (61 on Wednesday), Travis Demeritte (27 on Thursday), Danny Worth (36 on Thursday), Carlos Guillen (46 on Thursday), Jose Lima (would have been 49 on Thursday; died in 2010), Robbie Ray (30 on Friday), Alex Lange (26 on Saturday), Eric Munson (44 on Sunday).

A party for Miggy

It wasn’t his birthday, but there were plenty of gifts — and hugs. SO MANY HUGS — for Cabrera on Friday  night (the 24th, of course) at Comerica Park as nearly 25,000 turned out to celebrate Miggy’s 500th homer. The Freep’s Jeff Seidel was there, too (though we don’t think he counted in the official attendance); click here to find out what he thinks was the best gift Miggy received.

TL;DR

The Tigers might not get seven wins this week, or even six. But we still think they’ll get there before the Lions do.

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

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