The Detroit Tigers were hoping for a hot start to the season.
Instead, they have been burned by a struggling offense, defensive mistakes that make you cringe and injuries everywhere you turn. It can’t get worse, can it? Wait. Don’t answer that.
Just 18 games into this season, here are 18 thoughts on this miserable start:
1. Worse than 2021
First, let’s put things into perspective. Do you remember last year when the Tigers struggled through a 7-11 start? Well, this is actually worse. The Tigers are 6-12 and have fallen 4½ games behind the Minnesota Twins in the American League Central.
“We’re going to play the 140-plus games we have left, so I don’t want to rush to too many judgments,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch told reporters on Thursday. “It is what it is. We’ve earned the situation that we’re in, the hole that we’re in. We’ve got to play better. Yeah, it’s been tough. So be it.”
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2. But it could get worse
The Tigers entered Friday with just two wins in their past 10 games. But here’s the scary part: They are heading into an even more brutal stretch. The Tigers are heading to Los Angeles to play the Dodgers, who are 12-6 and are probably the best team in the Majors.
That’s not exactly the team you want to play when you are struggling. To make it worse, the Tigers are stuck in a brutal stretch of travel. After coming home for a quick two-game series at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates, they head back on the road to play four against Houston (9-10), the defending AL champs. I know the Tigers were 5-2 against the Astros last year. But this brutal stretch of tough teams and tough travel brings the danger of making this worse.
3. Glove hurts
Defensive mistakes have been alarming. But it’s not just the physical errors. It’s the mental ones. Making bad decisions. Missing cut-off men. And ugh — that Eric Haase blunder is still burned in my mind.
The Tigers committed three errors in the fifth inning alone Thursday in an ugly-fest against the Twins. “We completely fell apart defensively in the fifth inning,” Hinch said. “When you do that and you give extra chances and give a little momentum, when things are going bad, it keeps going bad.”
Yes, consider it bad.
4. Bedeviled in the outfield
The Tigers’ outfield defense has been … this is a family newspaper, so I don’t think I can use any of the words I’m thinking of. And I don’t know if it’s considered a mental error, or a physical one, but how many times already this season have you seen a Tigers outfielder struggling reading a ball? Or turning the wrong way? Or letting it fly over their head? It’s infuriating.
Will it help that they are going to sunny California? Maybe. But Hinch doesn’t think it has anything to do with the weather.
“If we don’t play clean in any weather, we are not going to win,” Hinch told reporters. “That’s the bottom line.”
5. Going batty
I know offensive production has been down across baseball but the Tigers’ offense has been pathetic. The Tigers have scored just 58 runs, which ranks 29th of 30 teams, and just one more than the last-place team. They also have just eight homers, which is the worst in baseball.
6.Hinch looking for hope
I haven’t lost faith in Hinch. I think he’s a master at pushing buttons. The problem is, what buttons can he push right now? Who does he put out there when half the team isn’t hitting?
He is left trying to find small slivers of hope. “We did see better things today, not good enough to win,” Hinch said Thursday. “Some better balls put in play, some better at bats. A couple of key walks, but we didn’t get the big hit.”
7. Walking wounded
You can’t talk about the Tigers’ bad start without talking about the injuries. The multitude has been staggering (though some date back to last season). The list so far: relievers Andrew Chafin (groin), Jose Cisnero (shoulder) and Kyle Funkhouser (lat), outfielders Derek Hill (hamstring) and Riley Greene (foot), starters Matt Manning (shoulder), Casey Mize (elbow) and Spencer Turnbull (elbow), catcher Jake Rogers (elbow) and shortstop Javier Báez (thumb).
In addition, outfielder Robbie Grossman was slowed with a hip injury, missing a couple games. Hinch would never make excuses. But the injuries have played a significant role in this start, just by putting players in positions that they shouldn’t be in.
8. Arm trouble
Of all the injuries, Mize and Manning are the most concerning. Anytime you talk about an elbow (Mize) or a shoulder (Manning), you hold your breath, especially when they are foundations of the Tigers’ rebuild. They are both in Lakeland, Florida, and there is no firm date when they might return.
9. Bullpen boost
Not all is gloom and doom. The Tigers’ bullpen has been outstanding. Quick thought: My goodness, where would this team be without all these relievers? On second thought, don’t answer that. There’s too much ugly in the world.
Rookie first baseman Spencer Torkelson looks like he belongs and actually leads the team with three home runs. Defensively, he has made several fantastic scoops, saving even more errors. Torkelson is hitting .216. But compared to some of the other starters, it doesn’t seem so bad. In a weird way, their struggle is taking the focus off him.
11. Beau to go
All the pitching injuries brought Beau Brieske to Detroit sooner than I expected and he looks like he belongs. What a rocket the former 27th-round pick has taken to the big leagues.
12. Ex-Ray of hope
Right now, the Austin Meadows trade looks like a steal. Meadows has been outstanding, hitting .302 with two doubles and two triples.
13. Not gross, man
Grossman has been invaluable, hitting .298 and giving this team leadership.
14. Left behind
Tarik Skubal has been outstanding, even if he hasn’t gotten much help defensively.
15. Ful house
I’m just so happy for Michael Fulmer, who has outstanding, pitching in eight games without giving up a run.
16. A Hall of Fame lesson
It was seriously amazing watching Miguel Cabrera get his 3,000th hit. I think there will be a strong residual for young players such as Torkelson to see something like that.
17. The Javy yay
Báez has been just as advertised. He has made some outstanding defensive plays. He has shown a flare for the dramatic. He swings out of his shoes, showing power (two homers) and plenty of swing-and-miss (seven strikeouts). More than anything, he’s just fun to watch. And he has an impressive baseball IQ. When he’s not in the game, the defense takes a massive step back.
18. It’s still early
I keep reminding myself: It’s just 18 games.
It’s still just 18 games.
I still haven’t given up on this team. They are going to play better defense. They are going to hit better. Some who are struggling the most have strong track records, such as Jeimer Candelario and Jonathan Schoop. And they still have Hinch.
If they get some injured players back — specifically, Mize and Manning — and if the rest of the order starts to hit like expected and if the defense improves, they can still play strong the rest of the way. Obviously, that’s a bunch of ifs. It’s going to be a difficult climb because they’ve put themselves in a cold, dark hole.
But even though this has been a horrible start — in just about every way you can imagine — they are still, again, only 4½ games back.
But if they don’t get these injured pitchers back, and if Greene takes longer than expected to return, ugh. This is gonna be a long summer.
Contact Jeff Seidel: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.