The Detroit Tigers’ 2022 season of misery received a brief respite Friday night, as their offense scored four runs against the Baltimore Orioles and held on for a two-run victory. The win improved their record to 10-23 this season.
Even so, it’s still the 10th time since 1901 they’ve opened a season with wins in fewer than a third of their first 33 games; the 10-23 record is tied for the third-worst start in franchise history. Of course, they still entered Saturday’s action with nearly 80% of their schedule left to play. But is the season over already?
We took a look at the nine previous awful starts to find out whether there is still hope.
It’s not exactly encouraging: The nine Tigers teams combined to go 483-636 after the 33-game mark, for a .432 winning percentage. There were some mild successes, with three teams — including two this century — posting winning records over that span. (Though only Ty Cobb’s 1925 squad won enough to finish the season with a winning record overall.) Here’s how the nine teams’ seasons break down:
The start: Baseball was changing as Babe Ruth and a few other power pioneers dragged the game out of the dead-ball age. The Tigers had Hall of Fame hitters Cobb and Harry Heilmann on the roster, as well as Bobby Veach, who slashed
.355 (batting average)/.398 (on-base percentage)/.519 (slugging percentage) in 1919. Heilmann started 1920 strong, but Cobb posted a meager .364 slugging percentage over the Tigers’ first 33 games, while Veach came in at .406. Accordingly, the Tigers averaged 3.48 runs per game while giving up 5.36. (Some awful defense likely played a part, as the Tigers committed 47 errors, leading to 37 unearned runs over the early span.)
The finish: Cobb missed four weeks in June and July, but found some semblance of his stroke again with a .362/.437/.485 slash line; The Tigers went 36-42 with him in the lineup after their dreadful start, and 15-18 without him to finish 61-93 — 37 games out of first place, but 13 games ahead of the last-place Philadelphia Athletics (48-106, after starting out 12-21). Record: 61-93.
The start: Baseball’s power revolution was in full bloom, though you might not have known it from the Tigers’ start in Cobb’s fifth season as manager; they managed just 12 homers over their first 33 games. Still, 60 doubles and 16 triples, combined with a .363 on-base percentage, was enough to power an offense averaging 5.41 runs per game. The pitching staff allowed 5.68 runs a game, spurred by nearly four dozen errors.
The finish: The Tigers finished May with eight wins in the final 11 games of the month, then ripped off a nine-game winning streak in late June. That was followed by a 10-game winning streak from Aug. 24-Sept. 7. Tigers hitters pounded the ball even more, at 5.89 runs a game, while the pitchers to a more manageable 5.21 runs a game — lining up with the AL’s full-season average of 5.19 runs allowed per game — and the Tigers finished on a 71-50 tear that landed them in fourth place in the eight-team AL, 16½ games behind the first-place Washington Senators. Record: 81-73.
The start: The Tigers had spent most of 1951 struggling for offense, averaging 4.45 runs a game, good for sixth in an eight-team league; the bottom fell out early in 1952, as the Tigers managed just 3.29 runs to open the season. It might have been even worse if not for an All-Star-caliber performance from 29-year-old George Kell; the future Hall of Famer opened with an .811 OPS (buoyed by his .393 OBP). The pitching staff was aging rapidly, with the best years of stars such as Hal Newhouser and Dizzy Trout far removed; Tigers pitchers opened the season by allowing 3.91 runs a game. Still, there was one early season highlight: On May 15, 35-year-old Virgil Trucks no-hit the Senators in Detroit. Then again, the final score was a microcosm of the Tigers’ woeful start: 1-0.
The finish: Neither the Tigers bats nor their arms improved much, scoring just 3.65 runs and allowing 4.95 a game from May 28 forward, as the team finished with a 40-81 record to wind up 50-104 — setting a franchise record for losses by 11, one that would last for another 44 seasons. Manager Red Rolfe was fired 73 games in, replaced by 32-year-old Fred Hutchinson. Still, there was one late-season highlight: On Aug. 25, Trucks no-hit the Yankees in New York. The final score? Yep, you guessed it: 1-0. Record: 50-104.
The start: The Tigers opened the season — the first 162-game season since 1993 due to labor strife — with a new manager for the first time since 1979, after Sparky Anderson retired following the 1995 season. Buddy Bell’s early tenure looked like a success, as the Tigers sat at 8-7 on April 16 following a split two-game series in Toronto. But as the road trip continued on the West Coast, the season went horribly awry: two losses in Seattle by a combined 19-6 score, followed by four straight one-run losses in Anaheim. It got worse, somehow, in the Tigers’ return home: A 24-11 loss in which the Twins not only scored in eight of nine innings, but scored at least three runs in six of them. In all, from April 17-May 6, the Tigers won two games in 18 tries, scoring 3.78 runs a game and allowing 7.44.
The finish: After that run, the Tigers won just three more games in May, and yet the worst was yet to come — two separate 12-game losing streaks (one in May, and another in September). A series win over three games in Milwaukee from Sept. 20-22 was followed by six straight losses at home to end the season as the Tigers set a franchise record for losses that would stand for another 16 seasons. Record: 53-109.
The start: After the disaster of 1996, the Tigers rebounded under Bell to go 79-83 in 1997, making it above .500 as late as Sept. 23 before losing their final five games. It seemed like reason for optimism, but instead was a harbinger for the pain of ’98. The Tigers got the gift of playing the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays in their first game, an 11-6 win. Detroit then dropped the next two in Florida by a combined 18-9 score. That was followed by a sweep by the Orioles in Baltimore. Detroit held the Rays and O’s to two runs combined in the first two games of the season at Tiger Stadium — and then lost 12 of their next 13. The Tigers averaged 4.3 runs a game over their first 33, a disastrous start considering the AL averaged 5.01 runs per game all season. Tigers pitchers, meanwhile, averaged 5.76 runs allowed, and, well, you can see how that math wasn’t going to work out in the Tigers’ favor.
The finish: The pitchers improved over the final 129 games — 5.22 runs a game — but it wasn’t enough to make up for the still-anemic offense (4.5 runs a game, still half a run below league average). And yet, as bad as that was, the Tigers went the whole season without a double-digit loss streak, topping out at nine games from Aug. 4-12. Two and a half weeks later, Bell was fired and replaced by Larry Parrish; he led the Tigers to seven wins in their final 10 games to finish 65-97 and avoid the fifth 100-loss season in franchise history. Record: 65-97.
The start: The hot finish earned Parrish the full-time job in 1999, the Tigers’ final season in Tiger Stadium. He went 69-92 and was replaced with Phil Garner ahead of the Tigers’ move to Comerica Park, starting a new era. Well, sorta: The Tigers won their opener in Oakland, and the Comerica Park opener eight days later. In between? Five straight losses. Mid-April brought another 11 losses in 12 games. The culprit, once again, was the offense, which managed 3.7 runs a game over the first 33 games. Or, perhaps more accurately, the new dimensions of “Comerica National Park” — the Tigers scored just 40 runs in their first 14 games at CoPa, an average of 2.86 runs. The poster boy for the power outage was, of course, slugger Juan Gonzalez, acquired in a blockbuster offseason trade. After posting an .952 OPS in the Texas Rangers’ first 33 games in 1999, he had a .696 OPS with the Tigers over the same span in 2000.
The finish: We can’t say it fully got better for “Juan Gone” before he was, well, long gone after the 2000 season, but he posted an .887 OPS for the Tigers over his final 88 games. (He still finished the year with a .791 OPS at home and .888 on the road,) Likewise, the Tigers found their bats for the remainder of the season, averaging 5.43 runs over the final 129 games to finish just four games under .500 at 79-83, 16 games back in the AL Central. Record: 79-83.
The start: The youth movement was in full swing; gone were Trout and Trucks, and Newhouser made just seven appearances on the mound. In all, the Tigers’ pitching staff was by FAR the youngest in the AL; at 26.7, the Tigers were more than a year younger than the A’s, at 28.9, and three years younger than the AL average of 29.9. It showed in April and most of May, as the Tigers allowed 6.61 runs a game. The offense, meanwhile, could only muster 4.45 runs a game.
The finish: The pitchers finally settled down, allowing 4.38 runs a game as the Tigers under Hutchinson (who made three pitching appearances in relief during a particularly rough week at the end of August) rebounded — slightly — to finish with a 60-94 record, 40½ games out of first place, but still good for sixth in the AL. The improvement was also aided by shortstop Harvey Kuenn, who hit .311 over the season’s final 129 games to win the AL Rookie of the Year award. Of course, the most important event of the season came on June 25, when Al Kaline, aka “Mr. Tiger,” made his debut at 18 years, 188 days. Record: 60-94.
The start: This one should be fresh in everyone’s mind, as the Tigers averaged 3.15 runs a game while allowing 5.33 runs last year. Again, not a formula for success in manager A.J. Hinch’s first season, as the Tigers seemed destined for their third No. 1 overall pick in five seasons.
The finish: The Tigers suddenly found their mojo, ripping off nine wins in 11 games against the Twins, Royals, Cubs and Mariners. The pitching staff, led by Casey Mize, improved to allowing just 4.5 runs a game, while the offense averaged 4.6. The 68-61 finish, getting the Tigers to a 77-85 record, was the 13th best in the majors; 10 of the 12 teams with hotter finishes made the playoffs, prompting some sneaky hope for this season. Record: 77-85.
The start: We’ve saved the best … er, make that the worst, for last. In Year 2 of Dave Dombowski’s reign as GM, the Tigers were incredibly young, with the fourth-youngest set of hitters in the majors, at an average of 27.3 years old, and the youngest pitching staff, which at 25.3 was a year youngest than the next youngest squad. The Tigers even had a first-year manager in Alan Trammell. So it wasn’t exactly a surprise when they lost their first nine games. Nor, after a win over the Chicago White Sox on April 12, was another eight-game losing streak. The Tigers averaged 2.91 runs while allowing 4.97 a game over their first 33 matchups. (They weren’t any good in the field, either, with 23 errors leading to 22 unearned runs during that span.) The start actually could have been worse, if not for a four-game win streak in Games 29-32.
The finish: That, however, was the longest win streak of the Tigers’ season, part of a May in which they somehow won 11 games. They didn’t hit double-digit wins in any other month, and had a run differential of at least negative-49 runs in each of the final four months of the season. Again, it could have been worse; a 10-game skid in September appeared to lock up the most losses in MLB history, but the Tigers won five of their final six games — including two in walk-offs — to finish 43-119 (which is still the AL record for losses). Record: 43-119.