Spencer Torkelson’s struggles sum up this Detroit Tigers season perfectly

Detroit Free Press

Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” was blaring in the Detroit Tigers‘ clubhouse, and everybody was upbeat.

If not relieved.

As several Tigers sat at their lockers, packing their bags for a crazy-long road trip — 12 games in 11 days before the All-Star break — a Tigers official picked up a small basketball and shot at a rim hanging in the clubhouse. As the ball went through the hoop, Miguel Cabrera walked by wearing only a towel.

“Bet you $100, you can’t make that again,” Cabrera said looking back, holding the towel and cracking a smile.

Yes, everybody was in great spirits Wednesday after the Tigers won their fourth-straight game, beating the Cleveland Guardians, 8-2.

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“They are good wins,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “Obviously, we’ve been swinging the bat pretty well against a good team. These guys are ahead of us, and they’re really good. They’re really tough to match up against, and we put up a really good series against them.”

What a strange season this has been.

The Tigers have won four of their past five games, six of their last eight and seven of 11.

How have they done it? It’s simple: The offense has awakened. Finally! They have scored at least four runs in six straight games.

And yet, ugh.

This season has been “Stranger Things” — the baseball version. The Tigers reached 81 games, the midpoint of the season, with a miserable, painful, unacceptable 34-47 record.

Overall, the offense has been abysmal. There have been a ridiculous number of injuries. The vast majority of the offense (aka the parts not named Miguel Cabrera) has underperformed. Most of the offseason moves haven’t worked and the blame starts with general manager Al Avila and then flows downhill.

“Nobody’s happy right now,” Avila said in a meeting with reporters before the game. “We’re all responsible. The players have to be accountable. The coaching staff has to be accountable. The front office has to be accountable. And it all starts with me.”

Yes, you can blame all of them.

Even if so much of it doesn’t make sense.

Take, for example, the Austin Meadows for Isaac Paredes trade. I praised it at the time. But now, in retrospect, after Paredes has 13 homers in 43 games, I wonder why in the world were the Tigers unable to get that power out of him?

Ugh.

That’s just one in a series of head-scratching missteps, which have been well-documented.

So now, on the flip side, what has gone right?

Riley Greene has injected a youthful spark at the top of the lineup. “As he goes, we go,” Michael Fulmer said.

Jonathan Schoop and Eric Haase have started to hit.

And Cabrera remains a marvel, raising his average to .308 while knocking in three RBIs Wednesday.

“It’s amazing to see how calm he is,” Hinch said. “I mean, if I were Miguel Cabrera, I’d be pretty calm, too, so I get it, but I love how he’s executing his at-bats.”

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Who’s on first?

While this week brought signs of encouragement — and plenty of smiles in the Tigers’ clubhouse on Wednesday — this franchise is faced with a delicate question: What should the Tigers do about struggling Spencer Torkelson?

I found him sitting at his locker on Wednesday.

“What have you learned at the midpoint of your first season?” I asked him.

“I’m not over-matched,” he said.

Clearly, his confidence is not shaken. He has a deep belief in himself. But he just hasn’t performed.

Torkelson entered Wednesday hitting .172 since the start of June, with one homer and a .472 OPS over 28 games.

“We haven’t had that whole in-depth conversation about doing that with Tork,” Hinch said Wednesday on “The Stoney & Jansen with Heather Show” on WXYT-FM (97.1). “We feel like this is the best level for him, but I’d say it would have to be under consideration if if we don’t get that spark.”

Torkelson got a hit in the fifth inning Wednesday. But it wasn’t exactly a shot. Or a spark. It was just a little 81.1 mph low blooper to left-center.

He has played outstanding defense — and that shouldn’t be glossed over — but he just hasn’t produced as expected on offense.

“The All-Star break is a good reset,” Hinch said on WXYT. “We talked about resetting in that rotation. We’ll talk about resetting on the position-player side.”

Hmm.

I’m not exactly sure what that means.

Nobody is saying Torkelson is going to be a bust — he arrived with a crazy amount of expectation.

But in the short-term, you have to wonder what is best for him.

Is it taking his lumps in the majors or is it going down to Triple-A and getting his groove back?

“Right now, we’re evaluating that ourselves,” Avila said. “A.J. and I talk about that on a regular basis. Tork is going to be a good baseball hitter. He’s going to be a good hitter. He’s making himself into, I think, a Gold Glove first baseman. It’s just a matter of time. Right now, I’m not sure what we’re going to do. Which way is the best way to go? We’re still evaluating that. Time will tell what we do there.”

No, really, who’s on first?

Torkelson is emblematic of everything that has gone wrong this season.

But if the Tigers send him to Triple-A, what to they do at first base?

They could go with Jonathan Schoop at first base.

But the middle-infield defense is so good right now. It would be crazy to break it apart.

They could use Harold Castro at first — he has nine games there this season.

But the most logical move, if they send Torkelson down, is to use Kody Clemens more at first. He has played twice at first base in the month of July.

Since struggling through a 0-17 start, Clemens is finding his footing.

“The first week or so up here, obviously, you’re just trying to slow everything down and get used to the rhythm and routine of the team,” Clemens said. “After I got my feet wet a little bit, everything kind of slowed down.”

Since getting that first hit, on June 13, he’s hitting .281, including going 2-for-3 with a homer on Wednesday.

So yes, things are slowing down for him.

Interestingly enough, he also switched his walk-up music to The Who’s “Eminence Front.”

“My dad actually used that song when he would run out of the bullpen,” said Clemens, the son of seven-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens. “I don’t know if he’s heard it or not. I don’t know if they can hear through the TV or not.”

I mean, how cool, right?

So that’s where this team is.

There are wonderful stories on this team.

Clemens walking up to the plate to his father’s song.

Cabrera defying Father Time. Greene emerging as a wonderful player. This bullpen, which has been fantastic.

And yet, the Tigers have to fix Torkelson. That has to be the biggest priority of the second half.

These Tigers are not going to make the playoffs. So the big focus has to be on the young players.

It’s imperative for Torkelson to come out of this. He is vital to this rebuild, a cornerstone piece. And the Tigers have to figure out what’s the best way for him to reach his potential.

I’m not sure if that’s sending him down or keeping him up.

But whatever the Tigers do, they have to be right.

In this season when so much has gone wrong.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.

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