Detroit Tigers Newsletter: How this year’s squad is a flashback to Al Kaline’s final year

Detroit Free Press

The Freebie. The Ghost Runner. The Zombie. The Manfred Man.

Whatever you call the runner placed on second base for every team at the start of every extra inning since the start of the 2020 season <we’re at four seasons and, uh, the extra runner may not be going away?> the Detroit Tigers seem to be getting a boost from it.

Despite having scored just 50 runs this season, only ahead of the Miami Marlins’ 49 runs, the Tigers have scored six times — 12% of their total — after the ninth inning, while going 3-1 in extra-inning games. Those three wins are 60% of their total on the season, with three of those four extra-inning games coming last week.

Normally, we’d dismiss all this extra-inning joy (and pain — Wednesday’s loss in Toronto wasn’t exactly fun to watch) as statistical minutiae that’ll likely be wiped away over the next five months by the Tigers’ issues (yet again) with scoring.

(See last week’s edition…)

But, hey, the Tigers are on a three-game winning streak, thanks to Nick Maton’s blast and Miguel Cabrera’s grounder, so we might as well embrace the stat quirks while we’ve got ’em.

Hello, and welcome to the Free Baseball Newsletter (which is, uh, free AND about “free baseball”)!

This has already been a strange season. Yes, to paraphrase Tolstoy, all seasons are strange in their own strange ways, but this one? Since 1901 — the beginning of MLB’s modern era, thanks to the start of the American League — just 95 teams have played at least four extra-inning games over their first 14 games of a season. (It goes up to 120 over the first 15 games, but the Tigers’ 15th game was a no-go Sunday, despite five hours of waiting.) Of those 95 teams, only 19 have won at least three of those four-plus games. (Which makes sense: Extra-inning games tend to be 50/50 propositions, from what we know of overall records.)

More: Detroit Lions — surprise, surprise — offer hope for Tigers, Pistons and Red Wings

And yet, somehow, two of those 19 are playing in 2023. More than that: Two of them are meeting each other at Comerica Park for a three-game set beginning today: The Tigers, 3-1 in extras this season (including two straight, most recently), are hosting the Cleveland Guardians, 4-0 after nine innings. (That included three 10-inning wins in four days in Seattle and Oakland in the first week of the season, before adding a 12-inning win last Sunday at home against the Mariners.)

So what does being so successful in extra innings so early in the season mean for the rest of the year? Well, we won’t go through all 17 of the other teams’ seasons, but here are some general notes:

A WINNING RECORD? Our previous group of 17 finished with a combined 1,415-1,272 record (.527 winning percentage). That included nine teams above .500 on the season and a couple of pennant winners (the 1957 Milwaukee Braves and the 1992 Oakland Athletics). Five of the eight sub-.500 teams at least got to .460 — that’s 75 wins in a 162-game season — with only the 1955 St. Louis Cardinals (68-86), the 1961 Minnesota Twins (70-90) and <d’oh!> the 1974 Detroit Tigers (72-90) missing out. (Those ’74 Tigers also featured a member of the 3,000-hit club playing his final season, but that’s probably reading too much into it…)

EXTRA EXTRA-INNING FUN? That overall success was, yes, largely due to their record in extra innings, a combined 176-126 and .527 winning percentage. Then again, that was a big comedown from the combined 58-13 record (.817) in extras over the first 14 games of the season. The rest of the way, they combined to go 118-113 in extras, a .511 winning percentage. (Remember what we wrote about extra-inning games being a 50/50 affair?) Consider the ’61 Twins, who started 3-1 in extras, then won one of their final eight over the rest of the season. Or those ’74 Tigers, who started 3-1, then went 7-8 the rest of the way.

ABOUT THAT MANFRED MAN? Yes, the nickname paying homage to current MLB commish Rob Manfred is our personal favorite. But it’s also notable that, of our group of 17 teams before this season, all came prior to the extra runner’s existence. (The most recent was the 2008 Chicago Cubs, who finished 97-64 with an NL Central crown.) In fact, just one other team in the Manfred Man Era has picked up three extra-inning wins in its first 14 games: The 2020 A’s — who did it in a 60-game season, no less — en route to a 6-1 record in extras, a 36-24 record (.600) overall and an AL West title. Again: Extra-inning success is generally unsustainable the longer a season lasts … but it’s fun while it does.

And that’s probably the big lesson for Tigers fans from this unlikely extra-inning surge: Enjoy it now, ’cause there’s likely regression on the horizon. (Unless pitchers keep giving Maton pitches up in the strike zone. In that case, who knows?)

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Greene’s not-so-green grass

Y’know another Tiger who could use some pitches up in the zone? Riley Greene, who’s leading the roster in hits (13) … and strikeouts (21). He’s third on the roster in ground-ball percentage, at 54.3% (behind only Javier Báez, at 59%, and Miguel Cabrera, at 68.2%). Greene has put 35 balls in play, with 22 on swings at balls down in the zone. So what’s the problem? Head here to get the theories from Greene and manager A.J. Hinch, as reported by the Freep’s Evan Petzold.

Javy being Javy

Another Tigers hitter having a rough month? Yep, it’s the weekly Javier Báez portion of the newsletter. (It was going to be a lot bigger after Thursday’s snafu, but Báez went 4-for-8 with a pair of doubles, a pair of walks and four RBIs in those extra-inning wins Friday and Saturday.) Hinch’s benching of Báez after he forgot how many outs there were in the second inning in Toronto seems to have sparked him and the Tigers. At least, that’s according to the Freep’s Jeff Seidel (who noted the rest of the team may have gotten a boost as well here) and Our Man Petzold (who notes that consistency, and the lack thereof, is the real issue here). But seriously: CON. SIS. TEN. CY.

Carpenter’s tools

Well, it wasn’t ALL bad; Kerry Carpenter found his power tools in Toronto and even smuggled them across the border, with a home run Wednesday against the Jays (after he had one robbed on Tuesday) and another one Saturday against the Giants. What’s different for the second-year slugger? Our Man Petzold writes it all boils down to confidence. Head here to find out why Carpenter is nailing the ball right now.

3 to watch

The week wasn’t entirely walk-offs, baserunning blunders and rain delays. (No, really!) Here are three Tigers worth keeping an eye on in and out of Detroit:

TYLER NEVIN: Phil’s son is healthy and looking for his first MLB hit of the season.

RYAN KREIDLER: The talented glove man is headed to Toledo to get some work with his bat.

TREY WINGENTER: His first shot at a save this season went awry, but he still might be a key piece of the bullpen this season.

Happy birthday, Miggy!

A certain someone has a notable birthday on Tuesday. No, not catcher Jake Rogers — he’s only turning 28. No, we’re referring to Miguel Cabrera, who hits the big 4-0 Tuesday. And, this season being what it is, this is probably the last time we’ll wish him a happy birthday in this newsletter. (Just kidding, it’ll come up next year, too.) Cabrera, of course, was the one handing out presents last week with his pinch-hit single in the 11th inning Saturday; in 3,095 hits, it was his first career pinch-hit walk-off hit. Cabrera has seven hits this season, three for extra bases. While we’re looking back at Cabrera’s hits, here’s our look from last April at his milestone knocks.

Other Tigers birthdays this week: Ryan Raburn (42 on Monday), Sam Crawford (would have been 143 on Tuesday, died in 1968), Bryan Garcia (28 on Wednesday), Milt Wilcox (73 on Thursday).

Mark your calendar

As we noted earlier, the Tigers start the week with a three-game visit from the Guardians tonight at Comerica Park. That’s followed by a three-game set against the Baltimore Orioles in Charm City beginning Friday. The Tigers are still ironing out their rotation, thanks to the extra off day Sunday, but right-hander Michael Lorenzen figures to start against the O’s over the weekend. He, uh, didn’t fare well in his first start off the IL this season, giving up six runs on eight hits and two walks over four innings. That’s a lot of crooked numbers, as they say. But he’s still ready to “set the tone” for the Tigers, as he said before that start. Head here to find out why.


Even with the wins, this Tigers team is far from perfect, as Our Man Seidel noted during the Tigers’ six-game losing streak that dropped them to 2-9 at the midpoint of the week. He even dropped the L-words: “Little League.” Then again, that might be harsh. After all, this region’s best Little League teams have actually won something in the past two years.

Contact Ryan Ford at Follow him on Twitter @theford.

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