KANSAS CITY — The last time the Tigers were shut out 20 times in a season, Willie Horton carried the offense at age 32 with 25 home runs and 92 RBIs. Ron LeFlore led the team with 66 runs scored and swiped 28 bases in his first full season. Bill Freehan hit 14 homers in his final full season.
That 1975 offense was stuck in between aging hitters who were part of the Tigers’ glory years in the late 1960s and early 70s and youngsters who hadn’t arrived yet. That team lost 102 games, including two 1-0 decisions, but drafted a high school infielder named Lou Whitaker that summer.
Fast forward 47 years, and the 2022 Tigers have transitioned from a team aiming to win behind a mix of veterans and youngsters to a lineup filled with rookie hitters as manager A.J. Hinch tries to figure out who fits for next season. The growing pains are difficult, and they can come at unexpected times, though obviously nobody ever sees 20 shutouts coming.
Maybe it’s fitting that this season’s 20th shutout loss followed back-to-back wins in Kansas City, as the Tigers scored 18 runs and slashed line drives and home runs around the Kauffman Stadium outfield on Friday and Saturday night. The Tigers’ 3-3 trip to Anaheim and Kansas City marked its first .500 or better record on a multi-city road trip since last September, but two of the three losses on the trip were shutouts.
The Tigers believe they have a promising group of young hitters in Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson, Ryan Kreidler and Kerry Carpenter, all of whom showed production on this road trip and have brought energy as a group to a Detroit team that needed it. But they didn’t have much of a chance Sunday against Royals starter Brady Singer and his sinker-slider combination.
Greene, Torkelson and Carpenter were the only Tigers to reach scoring position Sunday, all against Singer. Torkelson’s seventh-inning double down the left-field line was Detroit’s lone extra-base hit, and the final hit of any variety before Singer, Dylan Coleman and Scott Barlow retired Detroit’s final eight batters in order.
“Sometimes as a hitter you have to tip your cap,” Greene said. “[Singer] was just dotting every single corner with every pitch.”
Torkelson’s double extended his hitting streak to six games, during which he’s 9-for-22 with two walks and four strikeouts. But it didn’t indicate any easy at-bats for him against Singer, who had the advantage of an early lead thanks to a rough afternoon for Tigers starter Tyler Alexander.
“It feels like you walk up there and you’ve got two strikes on you because he’s working so fast,” Torkelson said. “I think next time we face him, just slow him down, call time out, pretend there’s something in your eye or something, just to mix it up.”
Progress isn’t always linear. Sometimes, unfortunately, it can be circular, depending on how you draw a zero in the scorebook.
“At the end of the day, it’s a competition,” Hinch said, “and we’ve had a hard time in the games where we haven’t [hit]. Now this trip, we’ve swung the bat pretty well. You try not to drag those other shutouts in. I wouldn’t have even tallied them up if you hadn’t told me. It’s one of those things that we have to get better at, obviously.”
The 20 shutouts are tied with the 1975 team for the most by Detroit in the live-ball era. The 1904 and 1905 teams were blanked 26 and 21 times, respectively, despite the ‘05 Tigers finishing with a winning record and a third-place finish in the young American League. An 18-year-old Ty Cobb made his debut that August and hit .238 down the stretch, the only time he batted under .300 in his 24-year Major League career.
Sunday’s shutout also pushed the Tigers past the 2014 Mariners for the most shutouts by an American League team in the last 40 years, tying the 1981 Blue Jays. A 21st shutout would tie the Tigers with the 1976 White Sox and 1973 Yankees for the most by a Major League team with a designated hitter.
Considering the matchups looming against postseason contenders, beginning with the upcoming series against the Astros at Comerica Park, that very well could happen. At this point, they have to trust in learning experiences.
“We just haven’t scored enough runs,” Hinch said.