Chicago — You can break it down and analyze it any way you want, but it’s doubtful you will find any singular root cause for the Tigers’ season-long struggle within their division. As the Dawes song goes, it’s a little bit of everything.
“Every team is going to match up differently within the division,” manager AJ Hinch said. “Every win counts the same, but we focus on our division because we play them the most. Quite honestly, it’s the motivation leaving the season.”
With two games against the Central Division champion White Sox left, the Tigers are 29-45 against them (6-11), the Indians (7-12), Royals (8-11) and Twins (8-11).
But when you start looking for flaws in roster construction, bring a wide lens. They haven’t pitched consistently well enough or hit nearly enough to just break even in those 74 games. Here’s the hitting and pitching slash-lines against each team in the division.
►Tigers vs. White Sox, 17 games: .221/.292/.356, 91 OPS-plus, 176 strikeouts.
White Sox vs. Tigers: .283/.369/.455, 117 OPS-plus, 5.56 runs per game.
►Tigers vs. Indians, 19 games: .202/.273/.338, 68 OPS-plus, 185 strikeouts.
Indians vs. Tigers: .267/.336/.471, 126 OPS-plus, 4.86 runs per game.
►Tigers vs. Royals, 19 game: .256/.324/.377, OPS-plus 88, 182 strikeouts.
Royals vs. Tigers: .245/.305/.387, OPS-plus 97, 4.01 runs per game.
►Tigers vs. Twins, 19 games: .259/.324/.434, OPS-plus 97, 161 strikeouts.
Twins vs. Tigers: .256/.347/.466 OPS-plus 120, 5.39 runs per game.
The Tigers have also lacked what we might as well call the Dude Factor.
When the Tigers were dominating the division between 2011 and 2014, they had all the dudes – Miguel Cabrera in his prime, J.D. Martinez, Prince Fielder, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, Anibal Sanchez.
This year, the dudes are elsewhere: Tim Anderson and Jose Abreu, Lance Lynn, Craig Kimbrel, Liam Hendriks in Chicago; Jose Ramirez, Franmil Reyes, Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac in Cleveland; Salvador Perez and Whit Merrifield in Kansas City; Byron Buxton, Josh Donaldson, Jorge Polanco, and Nelson Cruz for much of the year, in Minnesota.
But they have also lost games to lesser dudes in the division this year: Indians’ Triston McKenzie has beaten them a couple of times, as has Eli Morgan. They’ve recently been shut down by Royals Kris Bubic and Jon Heasley. The Twins have beaten them with Charlie Barnes and Matt Shoemaker starting games.
“We’ve not played well in the division in general,” Hinch said. “And we’re going to need to do better if we expect to give ourselves the best chance of winning.”
Though this interdivisional malaise goes deeper than matchups, the Tigers will attack the winter with an eye on acquiring players that can strengthen their weaknesses against their divisional foes, especially the White Sox.
“I look at some of the left-handedness of both the pitching and hitting of our opponents. I don’t think we’ve controlled that,” Hinch said. “We’ve been good, not great, against some of the (pitchers with) spin in the division. Certainly some of these teams are built with incredible pitching staffs.
“I think year to year it might fluctuate a bit, but this should wake us up to addressing some needs that we have, to play better within our division, since a lot of these teams in this division are going to return a large portion of their team.”
Yes, signing Carlos Correa or Marcus Semien in the offseason would greatly improve the Tigers’ ability to win games in the division next year. If it were only that simple.
Hinch also noted that all five teams in the division, the Tigers certainly included, are enjoying an influx of fast-maturing young talent, which means all five teams are on the rise.
“These young players who have come up this year, we’re going to see it in Kansas City, they are talking about it with us in Detroit, Chicago has already arrived and they’re the class of the division,” Hinch said. “But you can’t sleep on Minnesota, Cleveland, Detroit or Kansas City – we’re all trying to dethrone the White Sox.
“There’s a lot of buzz about the young talent in this division and for good reason. I think this division is going to get stronger and stronger as the young talent gets here.”
Which means the Tigers had better get cracking.