3 takeaways from Tigers’ 2-7 start ahead of next challenge

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — The last time the Tigers lost seven of their first nine games, Miguel Cabrera was just starting his first season as a Tiger. He was the newest star in a lineup full of them, joining Magglio Ordóñez, Carlos Guillén, Placido Polanco, Curtis Granderson, Edgar Renteria and future Hall of Famer Iván Rodríguez. They entered the season as World Series contenders, lost eight of their first nine and never recovered.

This year, the circumstances behind Detroit’s 2-7 start are different, beyond it being Cabrera’s final season. These Tigers have few proven hitters in a young roster. They entered this year looking for progress, but practicing patience, aware that their early-season schedule could prove demoralizing.

As they licked their wounds from Sunday’s 4-1 loss to the Red Sox, finishing off a three-game series sweep at Comerica Park, they were preaching short memories ahead of their next challenge, a three-game road trip to Toronto that includes the Blue Jays’ home opener Tuesday night at Rogers Centre.

“When we come to the ballpark every day, we come with a clear thought that we’re going to win today’s game,” manager A.J. Hinch said after Detroit’s fourth consecutive loss. “We don’t carry a lot of baggage with us. We don’t spend a lot of time talking about what’s happened in the rearview mirror. It’s our reality; that’s why they keep the standings. But we spend a ton of time and focus on what we’re doing that day. That has nothing to do with the previous X amount of games. We just can’t afford to drag that negative … into the day, to be honest.”

There’s a particular risk of that with a younger roster.

“Yeah, losing [stinks],” Riley Greene said. “We hate to lose. It’s one of the worst things ever, in my opinion. But we really have to try our hardest to leave it in the past. Tomorrow’s a new day. Just forget about everything that happened the past couple days. New series, new city.”

Tuesday begins a stretch of 31 consecutive games against teams with a winning record last year. There will be a sink-or-swim aspect to the next five weeks, but also chances to measure progress.

Similarly, there are things to be gleaned from the ups and downs of the first nine games, from a difficult season-opening sweep by the juggernaut Rays to a surprising series win in Houston to this frustrating series against Boston.

While Detroit’s offense has been inconsistent, it’s mostly not the younger hitters at issue. Greene leads the team with 10 hits, 15 total bases and a .286 average, and has scored six of Detroit’s 27 runs. Spencer Torkelson leads the team with six RBIs and has the hardest-hit ball at 111.7 mph. Matt Vierling is tied with Greene with a .286 average and has the highest average exit velocity at 93.8 mph. Jake Rogers is the only Tiger with two home runs, while Kerry Carpenter is holding his own as a run producer, including a team-high three doubles.

At the other end, Javier Báez is 4-for-33 with two walks and seven strikeouts, including two hits on Sunday. Cabrera is 4-for-21 but has a pair of doubles, one as part of Sunday’s ninth-inning rally that fell short with the bases loaded against Kenley Jansen. Jonathan Schoop is 2-for-12 and has fallen into a platoon role.

2. Starters are falling short

Detroit has gotten an MLB-low 39 2/3 innings from its starters, including 4 2/3 innings Sunday from veteran Matthew Boyd, whose pitch count ballooned thanks to four walks. That came on the heels of Joey Wentz’s second-inning exit Sunday. The Tigers’ bullpen, in turn, has tossed 39 1/3 innings and struggled to a 6.18 ERA.

Despite those early exits, eight of Detroit’s nine losses have been charged to starters. Relievers inherited jams in all three games this past series and gave up homers to plate five inherited runners Friday and Saturday before Jason Foley stranded two by retiring Adam Duvall following Boyd’s exit Sunday.

Hinch said going into the season that he wouldn’t declare roles with this group after losing four veteran relievers from last year. He has largely stuck to his word. Detroit’s lone save so far this season belongs to long reliever Garrett Hill from last Monday’s extra-inning win in Houston. Presumptive closer Alex Lange has pitched the seventh inning as often as the ninth. Veteran holdover José Cisnero has pitched everywhere from the fifth inning to the eighth. Expect more of that until some of these guys emerge to deliver consistent outs.

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