Tigers face sink-or-swim stretch of games heading into All-Star break

Detroit News

Detroit — The Tigers aren’t going to make the playoffs this year. That’s something we can agree on, right? The hole is too deep, the injury list isn’t shrinking fast enough, there’s probably not enough at-bats left in the season for the likes of Javier Báez, Jonathan Schoop, Robbie Grossman, Jeimer Candelario and others to get back to their career norms.

And yet, there are three months of baseball left.

What’s the plan? Should the Tigers (29-45) bail now and start offloading players in the final year of their contracts? Should they turn the rest of this season into an extended instructional league/tryout camp like they did in 2019 and 2020? Stick Kody Clemens at second base every day, bring up Ryan Kreidler and plug him in at third, give Daz Cameron one last extended look and let Akil Baddoo try to re-establish himself in the big leagues?

That’s a hard no. This is not the time to bail and go backwards. There are 88 games left. There’s time to get this thing at least back on the tracks and moving forward. There are signs, glimmers at least, that it’s starting to happen. They are 5-5 over the last 10 games, averaging 5.3 runs a game.

Báez in the last 10 games is slashing .366/.395/.805 with a 1.2 OPS, two doubles, two triples, four home runs and nine RBIs.

Grossman in the last 10 is slashing .316/.422/.553 with a .975 OPS, two home runs and seven RBIs.

Miguel Cabrera, consistent all season, is slashing .353/.370/.373 with a .743 OPS in the last 13 games.

Eric Haase has gotten hot, too, hitting .323/.344/.677 with a 1.021 OPS, three home runs and nine RBIs in his last nine games played.

And it’s not a coincidence that this recent burst started the day Riley Greene made his big-league debut. There is a different energy about this team now than there was even 14 days ago and Greene’s presence, as well as the resurgence of Báez, has been the catalyst.

It felt like this team turned a corner last year. It finally moved out of the shadow of the rebuild and the seeds of a true winning culture seemingly were sown. It seems like a bad idea to panic after 74 games, less than a half a season, and risk undoing all of that.

It’s never an exact science when you try to compare franchises, but the Tigers might want to heed what the Twins went through last year. After winning the division in 2019 and 2020, they finished last in the AL Central last season.

On Aug. 1 they were 44-62. They had moved some veterans who they knew were going to be free agents at the trade deadline — Nelson Cruz, J.A. Happ, Jose Berrios — but they didn’t panic with their young core players like Max Kepler, Byron Buxton and Luis Arraez, even though they were struggling.

They finished the 2021 season 29-27 and had took some positive momentum into last winter. The Twins (43-35) hold a 12-game lead over the Tigers in the division.

It’s not just, “Stay the course.” You can lose ground standing still, too.

The Tigers will almost certainly be active at the trade deadline. But it shouldn’t be a fire sale. If it is determined that Grossman or Candelario are not part of the plan in 2023, they could be on the block. If contending teams are hungry for leverage relievers, Michael Fulmer and Andrew Chafin could bring back useful assets.

But to just start trading younger core pieces like Gregory Soto or Tarik Skubal thinking they’re going to bring a franchise-altering haul is foolhardy.

That’s how it looks right now, anyway, with the trade deadline a month away. Check back in a couple of weeks.

Between then and now lies a fateful stretch of 19 games in 17 days, all against Central Division teams. It feels like a sink or swim stretch and we very well could be having a very different discussion by the time the All-Star break rolls around.

But the last thing any of us should be rooting for, after living through all those dark seasons (2017-20), is another three months of watching instructional league baseball at big-league prices.

We’re over that.

cmoccsky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

On deck: Royals

Series: Three games at Comerica Park, Detroit

First pitch: Friday — 7:10 p.m.; Saturday — 4:10 p.m.; Sunday — 12:05 p.m.

TV/radio: Friday-Saturday — BSD/97.1; Sunday — Peacock/97.1

Probables: Friday — RHP Brad Keller (2-9, 4.56) vs. RHP Michael Pineda, tentative (1-2, 3.22); Saturday — RHP Brady Singer (3-3, 4.50) vs. RHP Alex Faedo (1-4, 4.84); Sunday — LHP Kris Bubic (1-5, 7.45) vs. RHP Beau Brieske (1-6, 4.55)

Keller, Royals: His last two starts reflect the manic nature of his season so far. In Oakland, he blanked the Athletics on one hit over seven innings. Seven days later the A’s KO’d him in the fourth, five runs (four earned) and eight hits. The slider is his money pitch (.219 opponent average), which he throws off a four-seam fastball (93-94 mph) and a hittable two-seamer (.368 opponent average, .566 opponent slug).

Pineda, Tigers: He’s been out since May 14 with a broken finger on his pitching hand, but he’s completed his rehab assignment and is expected to be activated before the game. It will be just his sixth start of the season and in four of them he allowed two runs or less.

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