Milwaukee, Wis. – You didn’t have to be one of those folks stewing and suffering in Detroit. You needn’t have been tucked anywhere within a two-peninsula state, shrouded in a baseball malaise, to have known Monday that Tigers fans have had giddier times.
A wind blew Monday across Lake Michigan. It was no rawer, no more punishing, on an opposite shore than a four-game Tigers’ skid had been on the Tigers’ crowd, especially after a cruel trio of losses to the Orioles, twice by 2-1 scores.
Then, Monday night: A nice revival in a 4-2 Tigers’ victory over the Brewers at American Family Field, with Nick Maton’s three-run rocket into the right-field seats, and some more of that astounding Tigers bullpen mastery, giving the Tigers − and their irked fandom − a break.
It was one night, one moment, when what was thought here ahead of April maybe grew truer – that the Tigers would finish the year somewhere in the neighborhood of 75-87, not great, not anywhere close to playoff elevation, but better, which is what should matter in 2023.
More on that belief in a minute.
What seemed essential early Monday, before the evening’s Tigers-Brewers tussle, was asking Hinch if he got the fan base’s ire − the fed-up, done-with-them, sick-of-no-playoffs-for-10-seasons disgust that has wrapped itself around the Tigers’ crowd like a straitjacket imprinted with an Olde English D.
“You want your guys to do really well and deliver a product the fans are starving for,” Hinch said, when asked if he got the hostility back home. “We always pay attention to the tone of everything.
“Wins and losses weigh heavy on everyone, and we realize the fans are a huge part of that.”
So, what would be the skipper’s response to this Motown tribunal that after Baltimore’s events was about ready to try the Tigers for crimes against baseball?
“I would suggest that all managers not try and convince fans to feel any way other than they feel,” Hinch said. “These are frustrating losses for everybody.
“But I don’t tell my wife how to feel, I don’t try to tell my daughters how to feel, and I’m certainly not going to tell fans how to feel.” Got it. The skipper was going to let fans carry on in any cathartic way they chose.
As for his team …
Here’s why the Tigers are in the soup early in 2023, and why they should yet win 75 games:
Hitters will come around
We keep counseling fans to be easy on Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson. The mandate still applies. Torkelson has been hitting into some ridiculously awful bad fortune, while Greene, four years out of high school, is showing why a rugged early spring was always possible and why, equally, a hotter late-spring and summer is likewise in the cards for a kid so talented. Wait on these two lads: They’re not far from taking off.
Expect help from Haase, Rogers
Haase is cover-boy for April’s issue of Messed-Up Hitters and its featured focus on how guys with power and nice exit-velocities can suddenly find themselves looking at the plate like freeze-dried fruit. Haase will heat up, has to heat up. He’s too good of a hitter, with too much crunch.
Note, also, how he hustled Monday on what might have been a fifth-inning single that he turned into a double that in turn became the Tigers’ fourth run. Big run. Big help still needed from Haase.
Rogers: Now you know how badly his Tommy John surgery ripped this team the past two years. Now you know why he and Franklin Perez, had Perez not been socked by some angry injury gods, would have been a nice return in the 2017 deal for Justin Verlander.
Carpenter will help, Baddoo too
Carpenter, truth be told, is the most surprising Tigers prospect covered here spanning the last 10 or 20 years. Confession is good for the soul, and the soul here for too long discounted him. Big mistake. He’s a hitter with just enough octane in his bat to boost a team screaming for sock.
Baddoo is a different deal, but I keep thinking back to two years ago and to the straight assessment that his 2021 season was no illusion: He hit. Hit well. And there’s no real reason why he yet shouldn’t, at his age. So, hang on there.
Toledo will contribute
Justyn-Henry Malloy should have a travel-bag stuffed. He is swinging the bat consistently well, making hard contact, and keeping rigid watch over the strike zone and its boundaries. He’s about to give Hinch, and the fans, a taste of why Tigers chief Scott Harris made Malloy the Tigers’ haul when they shipped Joe Jimenez to the Braves.
Third base is another matter. Malloy is not Brandon Inge with a glove. But the bat will be of such potential import to the Tigers that he’ll at least get a long audition at third, with some likely occasional work in left field.
Pitching, pitching, pitching
Surprise. The bullpen hasn’t needed help from FEMA. The starters have been cooperating. Figure on more of this, all while preparing for some summer drama.
The Tigers will be thinking about trading starting pitching on the July mart. By then, Matt Manning will be back, others (Tarik Skubal, maybe Beau Brieske) will be moving closer to re-upping with their old jobs. Eduardo Rodriguez’s opt-out at the end of 2023 could make him gold as playoff teams outfit rosters for the stretch and playoffs.
Expect the Tigers, meaning Harris, to make a deal at some point in 2023. Pay particular attention to the offseason when some starters’ health and comebacks will be easier to gauge. But whether in December or July, Harris looks to be in roughly the same position to flip a starter or two as he was set up for dealing bullpen pitchers during the past offseason.
Some obvious needs on offense will be in his crosshairs. And it seems a near-certainty Rodriguez will be headed to market in July.
Miguel Cabrera is wounding this lineup. It was destined to be this way the moment ownership, from all indications, decided he would return in 2023 for his farewell parade.
Here’s the thing: Just as a sampling, look at those three games the past weekend at Baltimore.
What would a legitimate designated hitter, added during offseason shopping and dealing, have meant in one or two of those games?
This is the penalty for sentiment overriding sounder judgment. And plenty of fans who yelped and squealed that “Miggy” must be retained in 2023, and who now are part of the shrieking mob back home, are as responsible, in spirit, as ownership for a 40-year-old man’s return and roster occupancy during a tough and sometimes tormenting baseball spring in Detroit.
Look, we get it. Cabrera’s superstardom. His eternal place in baseball’s hallowed realm.
But if you’re keen on winning, you can’t donate a game here and there to a team that deserved to get beat, as the Tigers did in Baltimore. It was pretty much more of the same Monday: three ground-outs from Cabrera, one of them a double-play killer, and a walk. Fortunately, the big hit a Hall of Fame-ticketed hitter once delivered routinely, instead came from Maton.
Cabrera needs to think this over, seriously. He can call it a career and let the Tigers get other, younger, better players involved. He can get busy tweaking a speech and preparing for all the love a town and team will show during a grand sendoff weekend set for later this year.
Throw all these disparate parts and thoughts together – from Greene and Torkelson to what could be ahead with Cabrera as this roster changes in coming months − and there’s still a 75-win Tigers team brewing here (they’re playing Milwaukee – beer metaphors are a must).
Improvement was clear and convincing heading coming out of spring camp. It’s there, still to be seen, on a slow arc for sure. But better seasons of baseball are ahead on Lake Michigan’s opposite side, all of which should be steadily evident as spring turns to summer.
Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and retired Detroit News reporter.