Detroit Tigers Newsletter: Trying to get to the bottom of why the offense is so bad

Detroit Free Press

It’s easy to forget when watching the individual games of a long, long, oh-gawd-isn’t-there-a-fast-forward-button MLB season that the best offenses are like a Crock-Pot, producing slow and steady heat that eventually fuses a multitude of flavors into a hearty meal.

And then you have the 2022 Detroit Tigers, who are apparently trying to cook Thanksgiving dinner using only a Zippo lighter. (Or maybe we’ve just been watching too many TikToks on cooking.)

Chowing down, or the lack thereof, seems appropriate after watching the Tigers offense waste away to nearly nothing, from three runs in a win over the Pirates, to two runs (for four straight games, ugh) and, finally, to none Sunday. From nine hits in Thursday’s series opener in Houston, to two on Friday night and, finally, to one hit Sunday afternoon. ONE!

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Somehow, the only batter who stood between the Tigers and an early May no-hitter was Jonathan Schoop, who entered the day mired in an 0-for-17 slump and hitting .128 over 94 at-bats. If not for his double down the right-field line in the second inning, an Astros clubhouse attendant might still be trying to get postgame Powerade stains out of Jake Odorizzi’s uniform. (Then again, considering the Astros’ every-Sunday tribute to their “Tequila Sunrise” uniforms of the 1970s and ’80s, would we even have been able to tell the difference?)

It was a rare moment to savor from a Tiger whose at-bats this season have all too often resembled trying to eat soup with a fork. That’s not to place all of the Tigers’ woeful 8-19 record through the first 27 games of 2022 on Schoop’s slow start — there have been too many bad breaks, boneheaded plays and fruitless at-bats across the board for that. Shoot, they lost just fine while he was benched Thursday for the first time this season.

But his struggles — nearly three strikeouts for every two hits — have seemed almost a microcosm of the team’s woes. This year AND last, actually, as Schoop got off to an awful start in 2021, just as the Tigers also started 8-19 a year ago.

But as bad as he was then, he became one of the Tigers’ best hitters for nearly three months, and the Tigers went 69-66 over their final 135 games.

The big question is, can he do it again? (And, by extension, can the Tigers?) Let’s take a look at the “slash lines” — batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage — from the first two 26-game slices from his seasons dating back to 2019:

2019: .269/.313/.516 with 20 strikeouts and three walks in 99 plate appearances.

2020: .287/.315/.495 with 26 strikeouts and three walks in 109 plate appearances.

2021: .191/.221/.270, with 29 strikeouts and four walks in 95 plate appearances.

2022: .134/.176/.196 with 20 strikeouts and four walks in 102 plate appearances.

That … is not an inspiring trend. The good news for the Tigers (and anyone who shelled out for a Schoop jersey after he signed a two-year extension last summer) is that the second 26-game slice for Schoop has been much better in his previous three seasons:

2019: .253/.321/.485 with 29 strikeouts and six walks in 109 plate appearances.

2020: .262/.338/.443 with 13 strikeouts and five walks in 68 plate appearances (in only 18 games, due to injures and the shortened season);

2021: .302/.368/.500 with 20 strikeouts and 10 walks in 117 plate appearances.

Does that mean Schoop will, to borrow a turn of phrase from a Detroit favorite in another sport, heat up like a microwave against the A’s today? Maybe not. These 27-game/one-sixth of the season slices are pretty arbitrary dates on the calendar. But considering Schoop’s career OPS by month goes .668, .706 and .834 from April-June, he could be turning out some tasty treats sooner rather than later.

Or, as Schoop told the Freep’s Evan Petzold on Friday: “It’s time for me to make adjustments and hit now. I got all my outs already. It’s time for me to get my hits and help my team win.”

Tweaking Tork

Remember how we mentioned that Schoop isn’t the only Tiger struggling at the plate? At first base, there’s Spencer Torkelson, who’s hitting .167 this season. He’s a rookie, and a notoriously slow-starting hitter, too, so we’re not too worried. But since going 2-for-5 in the first game of April 23’s doubleheader (aka, the Miggy3K game), he has just four hits — all singles — in 39 at-bats over 12 games. So what’s his approach? Our Man Petzold has the answer here, and it involves a home run king from the Tigers’ recent past.

The slow burn

Because, really, the MLB season is REALLY long. The Tigers’ 27 games so far is the equivalent to Week 3 of the Lions’ season, as the Freep’s Shawn Windsor pointed out this weekend. And while inviting comparisons to the Lions should tell you just how disappointing these Tigers have been, there’s still reasons for hope, he argued, including potential help from Casey Mize and Riley Greene (remember him?). Check out his full reasoning here.

(And while we’re mentioning the Lions, noted Freep Stafford-stalker Carlos Monarrez weighed in on the Tigers’ plight … and was actually positive! Find out why here.)

Candy’s sweet again

And then there’s Jeimer Candelario, whose April numbers — .159/.237/.203 — looked like the result of eating too many sugar-free gummi bears. But in May? Candelario is 8-for-26 with two doubles and two homers, for a .923 OPS. Click here to find out what had Candelario telling Our Man Petzold, “”It’s difficult with one swing. But what about two swings? I’m a switch hitter. I got to continue working really hard.”

Mom’s spaghetti

Ope! The weekend wasn’t all doom and gloom; Sunday brought Mother’s Day and a wealth of warm feelings toward all the matriarchs in our lives. That includes the only mom with two sons in the Tigers organization: Staci Meadows. Austin joined the Tigers via trade last month (though he sat out most of the series in Houston with a non-COVID illness), while Parker, a Tigers draft pick in 2018, was promoted to Double-A a couple weeks ago. The Freep’s Jeff Seidel talked recently with the whole family about the thrills (and spills) of having two sons in the pros.

Miggy’s milestones continue

It was also a big weekend for Miguel Cabrera, who finally picked up double No. 600 Saturday to join Hank Aaron and Albert Pujols as the only big-leaguers with 500 homers, 600 doubles and 3,000 hits. (In case you were getting ready for the Kentucky Derby and missed it, you can check out Our Man Petzold’s report on it here.)

But Cabrera’s not satisfied with milestones. He was vocal Sunday about caring more about wins and losses than doubles and homers, telling Our Man Petzold, “It was nice to see my name with theirs, but at the same time, I’m focused right now on winning games.” Click here to find out what Cabrera thinks the Tigers’ problems are.

Three to watch

Let’s step away from the plate for a minute…

JAVIER BAEZ: Even when the hits aren’t there, his glove is.

ALEX FAEDO: A challenging debut Wednesday has the 2017 first-rounder in line to start again this week.

EDUARDO RODRIGUEZ: The bullpen couldn’t hold on, but the lefty finally showed why the Tigers nabbed him in the offseason.

Happy birthday, Skip!

Manager A.J. Hinch turns 48 on Sunday. He’s up to 85 wins as the Tigers’ skipper, which is almost eight times the wins he played in as a Tiger (during the woeful 2003 season). It’s also the 26th-most wins in franchise history (among 41 managers; some fellas didn’t stick around too long). Next on the list is Ed Barrow, who won 97 games from 1903-04. We think Hinch will pass him sometime before Flag Day, at least. At least the native Oklahoman got a trip “home” to Houston for his birthday; click here to find out why the Tigers’ Texas visit made Hinch “super happy.”

Other Tigers birthdays this week: Ian Krol (31 on Monday). Prince Fielder (38 on Monday), JaCoby Jones (30 on Tuesday), Walt Terrell (64 on Wednesday), Charlie Gehringer (would have been 119 on Wednesday; died in 1993), Lou Whitaker (65 on Thursday), John Smoltz (55 on Sunday).

Mark your calendar

The first ripple from the boulder that was the postponement of the first week of games this season hits the schedule this week, as the Tigers will pack an eight-game homestand — five vs. the Oakland Athletics, three vs. the Baltimore Orioles — into just seven days. Well, technically, a seven-game HOMEstand, with an extra game playing as the visitors against the “home team” A’s to open Tuesday’s straight doubleheader. It’s likely to be the A’s largest home crowd so far this season; with the team cutting payroll, raising ticket prices and mulling a move to Las Vegas, fans have been staying away from games in Oakland. The A’s have averaged 7,715 fans a game over 13 home dates, with a high of 17,503 (for their home opener in mid-April). Head here to get the rundown on the series opener against the A’s and find out why their starter might be just what the Tigers’ bats are in need of.

TL;DR

Come to think of it, you probably could cook a turkey with a Zippo, but not without a lot of burnt fingers and a pretty big risk of getting sick to your stomach. Which actually describes a lot of Lions seasons. (Enjoy the NFL schedule reveal on Thursday, everybody!)

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

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