Detroit Tigers Newsletter: Don’t Javy, be happy — there’s 159 more games this season

Detroit Free Press

Going by the numbers, the Detroit Tigers’ opening weekend was something of a disaster.

Nineteen runs allowed. (Fourth-worst in the American League.) Eight runs scored. (Third-worst in the AL.) Thirty-one strikeouts for Tigers hitters. (Third-worst in the AL.) Seventeen hits for Tigers batters. (Worst in the AL.) Fourteen strikeouts for Tigers pitchers. (Worst in the AL … is there an echo in here?)

And, of course, the biggest issue: In 26⅔ innings, over three full games, no Tiger came to the plate with a lead. Thanks to a generally toxic combo of first-inning runs by the visiting White Sox — the Tigers’ 15.00 ERA in the first is tied for third-worst in the AL — and slumbering Tiger bats, just five of the Tigers’ 107 plate appearances (4.7%) came with the score simply tied: two in the eighth inning Friday, and three more to end the ninth that day with a walk-off win … or a WALL-K-off win, if you’re a headline writer with a penchant for awkward puns. (Which is to say, a headline writer, full stop.)

Timing is everything.

Hello, and welcome to the TigersGame 4 of 162 Newsletter.

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And so, the Tigers are 1-2. It could be worse. No, really, it could.

That’s the same record as their opponent in the series starting today, the Boston Red Sox. The BoSox led in all three of their games against the hated New York Yankees — sometimes for multiple innings! — and still lost two of them. And the one they won, on Sunday night, might have been their worst performance at the plate of the weekend: Just five hits — only two for extra bases — and no hits at all in their final 14 plate appearances. Of course, those all came after Bobby Dalbec hit a solo homer to open the sixth inning and break a 3-3 tie.

Timing is everything.

Just a quick spin around the MLB standings on Monday morning shows plenty of teams with disappointing starts. There’s the L.A. Dodgers, who have won something like 98% of their games over the past decade (OK, 59.9% — we counted). Still, the Dodgers, who have more 104-win seasons in the past five seasons (three) than the Tigers have in their franchise history (one), are sitting at 1-2, too. And the Milwaukee Brewers, who are coming off four straight seasons in the playoffs and who — more importantly — some enlightened pundits picked to rule the NL Central again? (Hint, hint.) They’re 1-2, too.

Even some of the 2-1 teams might not be feeling too good; consider the co-AL Central leaders in Kansas City — they eked out two wins by a combined three runs, then got bombed 17-3 on Sunday afternoon. By Cleveland! Honestly, we didn’t think this version of the Guardians could get to 17 runs in a game if you spotted them the first 10. Then again, that’s exactly what the Royals did, so … yeah, timing is everything.

And with that in mind –while consulting the very best experts, running superior mathematical projections and completely ignoring the first three games — we’re going to look ahead, rather than behind, in this here newsletter. Again, it could always be worse: The Twins and Texas Rangers are 1-2, too, and you should see what they’re paying THEIR shortstops…

We had questions … we also had answers

Let’s start with the big picture stuff, like how many games are the Tigers going to win? We polled six Freep sports writers and got an average of 85 wins, which would be an eight-win jump from last season, and right in range of a run at the postseason. Click here to find out how we got to that number, along with our answers to four other burning questions (such as whether Riley Greene or Spencer Torkelson will fare better in 2022) facing the Tigers this year.

Time to sweat the small stuff

Eighty-five wins? Are we crazy? Granted the Tigers haven’t won that many since taking 86 back in 2016. But there’s a method to our (or at least one Freeper’s) madness; we broke down the season, series by series, taking a look at the key players and trends by team. (Let’s go, Seth Beer!) The good news: Our highly scientific guesses have the Tigers with a winning record in the AL Central. Of course, they also had the Tigers going 2-1 against the ChiSox in the opening weekend. Timing is everything. Click here to read what else we got wrong.

Meet the squad

Rosters were expanded to 28 players for May to allow teams to carry extra relievers to make up for the shortened spring training. The Freep’s Evan Petzold took a look at the Tigers’ roster and came up with a question facing every player this season, from Akil Baddoo’s ability to hit lefties to Casey Mize’s ace potential. Get the lowdown on both here.

The Javy Way

No new Tiger carried more buzz into the weekend than the Tigers’ new shortstop, Javier Báez. (Perhaps you’ve heard of him.) Báez went 4-for-12 (all singles) with three strikeouts (all swinging) and an error in the field against the ChiSox. It wasn’t all bad, though; one of those singles drove in the winning run on Friday, and Báez also had a few nice defensive plays in the hole at short. That’s just part of the duality of “The Javy Way” as the Freep’s Jeff Seidel opined this week. Báez also carries a deep well of grief over lost family members. Find out more about them here.

Tork, at last

The other big debut? That would be the big rookie at first base, Spencer Torkelson. The righty out of Arizona State is still looking for his first hit in 11 plate appearances, with six strikeouts. But he also has three walks and several out-saving plays at first base already. Our Man Petzold has the scoop here on why Torkelson says he’s not intimidated by the pressure yet.

Three-letter words

Also still looking for his first hit as a Tiger? That would be catcher Tucker Barnhart, who, admittedly, was acquired from Cincinnati more for his catching ability than his bad. He also brings an edge to the team’s attitude, according to Our Man Petzold, who had Barnhart’s dad sum up his son in 10 words: “”He’s got a whole lot of ‘Screw you’ about him.” Find out why here.

Peace of Candy

Continuing around the infield, we hit the hot corner with Jeimer Candelario, who has found his inner cool in his sixth year in Detroit. “Candy,” as his teammates call him, has two hits in 11 at-bats so far, but he’s not worried. Why? Our Man Seidel has the answer here.

Austin powers

And, finally, in the outfield, there’s the one Tiger who kept hitting all weekend: Austin Meadows, who came over from Tampa Bay on Monday in a late trade and is 4-for-9 with a triple and three walks already. Meadows addresses two big holes in the Tigers’ lineup, as Our Man Petzold reports here: 1.) The outfield, where rookie Riley Greene was set to debut until he fractured his foot a week before Opening Day; and, 2.) Hitting right-handers — Meadows is a career .273/.353/.527 hitter against righties (but don’t ask about lefties).

The deal is also a sign that the Tigers are all-in, and that the rebuild is all over, at least according to the Freep’s Shawn Windsor, as he opined here.

Even more than that, Our Man Seidel noted here, the Meadows trade is just the latest version to get excited about this season, as he gives the Tigers plenty of options going into the summer.

And of course we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out the off-the-field guy who made all this optimism possible. Al Avila? Nope, try Christopher Ilitch, wrote the Freep’s Carlos Monarrez, even if it is, as Monarrez says, a little like cheering for Thanos.

Opening Yay

That trip through the Tigers’ hitters brings us to the Tigers’ lone win. Even though it was just one game, Our Man Windsor wrote, the result sure looks like a precursor to a summer of fun at Comerica Park this year. And as Our Man Seidel wrote here, it was the perfect ending to a day that started with a perfect tribute.

Three to watch

Wow, that was a lot of bats to review for a team that, again, managed eight runs over three games. What about the arms?

DREW HUTCHISON: An afterthought on the Opening Day roster turned out to be the unsung hero.

CASEY MIZE: Why the trouble early on Saturday? Mize says he was “pulling” too much.

WILY PERALTA: The sneaky-good starter from last season could make his big-league return this week.

Happy birthday, Jose!

Speaking of relievers, José Cisnero turns 33 today. Unfortunately, the righty started this season on the 60-day injured list with a shoulder strain. Last season, which he finished with a 3.65 ERA and 62 strikeouts over 61 2/3 innings, he was the fourth-oldest Tiger on the roster; this year, assuming Michael Pineda is called up from Triple-A first, Cisnero will be the … fourth-oldest Tiger on the roster.

Other Tigers birthdays this week: Charlie Furbush (36 on Monday), Barney McCosky (would have been 105 on Monday; died in 1996), Brennan Boesch (36 on Tuesday), Woodie Fryman (would have been 82 on Tuesday; died in 2011), Mark Leiter (49 on Wednesday), Jacob Barnes (32 on Thursday), Kyle Farnsworth (46 on Thursday), Steve Avery (52 on Thursday), Brad Ausmus (53 on Thursday), Fernando Vina (53 on Saturday), Ryan Raburn (41 on Sunday).

Mark your calendar

The Tigers have a full week, with three games at home against the Red Sox (including today’s 5:10 start) followed by four games in Kansas City against the AL Central-leading Royals. (Look, we don’t know how long that will last, so we’re using the phrase as often as possible.) But before the Tigers head out to the land of barbecue and NCAA basketball championships, let’s take a moment to appreciate Comerica Park, which is entering its 23rd season. (For now, every player on the Tigers’ roster was born before it opened. That’ll change once Greene is healthy.) Our Man Monarrez certainly digs the place. He stood up for the CoPa this week when a sister publication of ours dared to rank it in the bottom third of MLB parks. Find out why here.

TL;DR*

*Too long; didn’t read: Back to the beginning, so to speak — we’re pretty sure the Tigers’ first-inning ERA of 15.00 will come down some. The worst such mark over the past 100 seasons belongs to the 2000 Texas Rangers, who posted a 7.89 ERA in the first frame. No. 2? That would be the 1998 Tigers — featuring, among others, Frank Castillo, Seth Greisinger, Brian Moehler and Justin Thompson — who were half a run better, at 7.39.

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

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