Detroit Tigers Newsletter: An MLB playoff drought unlike any other

Detroit Free Press

There is a strong chance that by the end of Monday’s action, as we enter an abbreviated final week of the 2022 MLB season, the Detroit Tigers will have the majors’ longest active postseason drought.

“But wait,” you’re saying, “they just made the playoffs in … hmmm … I could have sworn it was just four or five seasons ago … Look, Miggy was around back then, and now, and I just saw Jim Leyland on TV a couple months ago, so how long could it have been? Is my warranty expired? Is this somehow CarShield’s fault?”

No, NATHAN — brace yourself: The Tigers’ last playoff appearance came all the way back in 2014. The cheapskate Oakland Athletics? They made it in 2020. The stuck-in-their-ways Kansas City Royals? 2015. (They won the World Series, even!) Even the cheaper-than-the-A’s Miami Marlins have made it since the Tigers last stepped onto the field in the playoffs. (The Fish made it in that COVID-shortened 2020, too — if ever there was a season for Miami and Oakland to come out ahead, it’d be one that ended up being a 63%-off sale.)

And now, the Tigers are about to lead the list for at least another season (and probably another season after that, unless new prez Scott Harris works some offseason miracles).

Hello, and welcome to the Longest Drought Newsletter.

Entering this season, there were just four teams atop MLB’s postseason drought list:

The Seattle Mariners, who last made it in 2001. (How long ago was that? Japanese legend Ichiro Suzuki debuted that season for Seattle … and picked up his 3,000th career MLB hit in 2016. He packed a whole dang Hall of Fame-worthy career into the M’s drought.)

The Philadelphia Phillies, who last made it in 2011. (That squad’s most productive hitter? A 30-year-old Shane Victorino, who would go on to crush the Tigers’ World Series hopes with an ALCS grand slam in 2013. But we digress.)

The Los Angeles Angels, who also made it last in 2014. (That was Mike Trout’s fourth big-league season, and his first AL MVP win. He went 1-for-12 in a sweep by the Royals and has piled up 3,205 regular-season at-bats since without even sniffing the postseason.)

And, of course the Tigers, who entered this season with a sub-.400 winning percentage in their playoff-free run since 2014.

All four entered this season with hopes of competitiveness, if not outright playoff plans.

And, sure enough, the Mariners wrapped up a spot in legendary fashion late Friday night with a pinch-hit walk-off solo homer from catcher Cal Raleigh (whose actual name sounds only slightly like an adult parody of “Bull Durham,” while his nickname — “Big Dumper” — well, ’nuff said…)

(Again, how long was that drought? The NBA left Seattle in 2006, the MLS arrived in 2009 — and the Sounders have NEVER missed the playoffs — the NHL moved in last year and there are rumors the NBA is soon to announce an expansion squad for the Emerald City.)

The Phillies, meanwhile, looked like they’d be extending their drought another year despite shelling out big bucks for Kyle Schwarber and ex-Tiger Nick Castellanos, with a 22-29 start that led GM Dave Dombrowski (remember him?) to fire manager Joe Girardi. They’ve gone 64-44 since and enter Monday with a magic number of one — one Phillies win (against the Astros), or one Milwaukee Brewers loss (vs. the Diamondbacks) and the City of Brotherly Love is once again an MLB postseason participant.

That would leave only the Tigers and the decidedly not-poor, dumb, redundantly named Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim taking MLB’s longest playoff drought into next season.

And sure, we could leave it there as an eight-season tie.

But looking back on that 2014 postseason, both teams were swept in their American League Division Series, with Game 3 losses on Oct. 5. But the Tigers’ 2-1 loss wrapped up at 7:26 p.m. in Comerica Park, while the Angels’ 8-3 loss finished (in Kansas City) at 11:16 p.m. Detroit time.

Which means, like a pair of twins born minutes apart 2,920 days ago, the Tigers’ playoff drought is ever-so-slightly older than the Halos’ — by 230 minutes (give or take an MLB Network promo).

It’s not much, but it’s the closest the Tigers have been to “first” in anything but the draft in a few years.

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The Mig rig

Harris’ hiring as president of baseball operations has focused a lot of attention on 2023, even as the Tigers have gone 10-2 since the announcement. (Momentum! Meep meep!) The new top cat has already answered one question for next season: Will Miguel Cabrera be back with the Tigers? Uh, yes. (To be fair, we were pretty sure the $32 million Cabrera is owed next season had answered that pretty definitively, but perhaps not.) As Harris told the Freep’s Mitch Albom on his radio show, “No, it is not time to move on from Miguel Cabrera.” Head here to get the report from the Freep’s Evan Petzold on what that means to manager A.J. Hinch.

The man with the (not-quite) Golden Glove

Also scheduled to be back is Tigers second baseman Jonathan Schoop (who, by the way, was a rookie on that Baltimore team that swept the Tigers in ’14). Schoop has an opt-out in his contract this offseason, but he has a .568 OPS that doesn’t seem likely to appeal on the free-agent market. Likewise, his struggles at the plate may end up costing Schoop recognition as the AL’s best defender at second. Our Man Petzold has the story here on why Schoop’s Gold Glove candidacy will likely be derailed by his balsa-wood bat.

‘Hittin’ Harold’ speaks!

On the other end of the “impress your new boss” spectrum, there’s Harold Castro, hitting .387 with a double, a homer and six RBIs in 32 plate appearances over nine games since Harris was hired. He also finally talked with the media — a few hours after delivering a walk-off single to beat the Royals and then dodging an on-field Gatorade shower. Our Man Petzold caught up with the 28-year-old infielder after his big night; head here to find out why he was dodging the media at least as well as he did that energy-drink drenching.

Mark your calendar

There are just four games left this season, all against the Mariners and rescheduled from the first week of April (thanks to the MLB owners’ lockout), crammed into three days in Seattle: a 9:10 p.m. start tonight, a straight doubleheader beginning at 6:10 p.m. Tuesday and the season finale at 4:10 p.m. Wednesday. The M’s should be motivated to play hard for at least the first couple games of the series; while their playoff berth is assured, they’re 2½ games back of Toronto for the top wild-card spot, which would host the entire best-of-three series against the second wild-card squad this weekend, and 1½ games up on the Rays to avoid going to Cleveland for the wild-card round. Staying in Seattle, going to Toronto, or going to Cleveland — we know what order we’d put those in, and we’re pretty sure the M’s feel the same way. Then again, just making the playoffs is pretty big for some Mariners, such as ex-Tiger Matthew Boyd, a Pacific Northwest native who teared up a bit during the clubhouse celebration.

Happy birthday, Victor!

Outfielder Victor Reyes turns 28 on Wednesday, as the Tigers wrap up the 2022 season in Seattle. Since it’s near season’s end, it’s also confession time: We frequently mistype his first name as “Victory” — doubly surprising considering the lack of need for the word “victory” in Tigers stories over his five seasons with the organization. Neither of those issues — the misspellings or the losses — are his fault, though. While his .631 OPS is his worst season as a Tiger since his rookie year (a .526 OPS in 2018, his first season above Double-A), he has had a couple of memorable moments in 2022. That includes a game-tying homer in the ninth against the Royals on July 2, just before Riley Greene hit a walk-off homer, and a walk-off two-run double against the Padres on July 27. Oh, and he hit his second homer of the season on Sunday as the Tigers took down the Twins. (But if you missed it while you were watching, ahem, some other team lose, you can catch up on the game here.)

Other Tigers birthdays this week: Eric Munson (45 on Monday), Rod Allen (63 on Wednesday), Joey Wentz (25 on Thursday), Freddy Garcia (46 on Thursday), Bruce Fields (62 on Thursday), Milt Cuyler (54 on Friday), Donie Bush (would have been 135 on Saturday; died in 1972), Derek Holland (36 on Sunday).

TigerTown stands tall

After the season ends, it’ll be a few months before the Tigers report again to spring training in Lakeland, Florida. That’s a good thing after Hurricane Ian rolled through Florida and the Gulf of Mexico last week; the TigerTown complex will need some repairs, though the Tigers’ facility was hit much less hard than some other Florida-based teams’ sites. Head here to get Our Man Petzold’s breakdown of the damage and find out how the facility served as a shelter for first responders in the area.

Injury report

You didn’t think we’d make it through the season’s next-to-last Tigers Newsletter without one final edition of “I’m not a doctor, but I play one in news conferences,” did you? The four Tigers who were shut down last week:

KERRY CARPENTER: A bad back ends the 25-year-old’s rookie campaign.

WILLI CASTRO: Hurt his hamstring on an extra-base hit, a threat the Tigers have mostly avoided this year.

JOE JIMÉNEZ: A back injury ends the best season of his Tigers career.

MATT MANNING: A tired arm shut him down Wednesday with fatigue.

TL;DR

All this playoff drought talk reminds us: The Tigers (and, OK, whatever, the Halos, too) still won’t have the longest playoff drought among the four major pro leagues. That “honor” belongs to the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, who last made it in 2006 — when their top 2022 pick, Keegan Murray, was just five — for a 16-year run. Next up are the NFL’s New York Jets and the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, both at 11 seasons. Here in Detroit, the Lions and Red Wings last made it in 2016 and the Pistons last made it in 2019.

Come to think of it, this might be the longest a Free Press article about playoff droughts has gone without mentioning the Lions. History every day, folks, history every day.

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