Detroit Tigers Newsletter: History could be brewing in AL Central

Detroit Free Press

When Detroit Tigers first baseman Spencer Torkelson closed his glove on the throw from third baseman Zach McKinstry to retire Minnesota catcher Ryan Jeffries and wrap up a 3-0 victory over the Twins at Comerica Park on Thursday afternoon, he was also grabbing a minor milestone.

That win, the Tigers’ seventh of the season over the Twins, clinched the 13-game season series for Detroit, despite having two more (this week) to play; it’s the first time since 2016 the Tigers have won their season series against the Twins.

The Tigers have also clinched their season series against the woeful Kansas City Royals (also with a 3-0 victory on July 20) with seven wins despite having three games left to play in September. That’s a little less surprising, considering the Tigers took 10 of 19 games vs. the Royals last season, as well as 10 of 19 in 2019 (a season in which the Tigers won only 47 games total and went 1-18 against Cleveland, by the way).

But a season-series win is a season-series win; the Tigers mustered six against 20 foes in 2022, after all. So that’s progress.

Hello, and welcome to the Central Processing Newsletter!

Look, it has been tough otherwise to judge the Tigers’ progress this season. After POBO (president of baseball operations) Scott Harris set the bar low at “to play competitive baseball as deep into the season as we possibly can” … well, we guess they’re doing that?

There are 44 games left this season, and the Tigers haven’t been eliminated; in fact, they’re still only eight games out of first — a sweep of the Twins on Tuesday and Wednesday and they’d be six games back … OK, OK, we’ve gone down this road a few times in the pothole-filled American League Central this season.

Are the Tigers scoring more? A little. They are averaging 3.95 runs a game this season, up from 3.44 in 2022 … but not as impressive when considering the league average has gone from 4.28 in 2022 to 4.58 this year — basically, the Tigers’ offense is still well below average.

Are the Tigers winning more? A little. They are on pace for 73 wins … better than last season’s 66 (and better than most of the preseason projections), but still worse than 2021’s 77 wins — which was, once upon a time, “the light at the end of the tunnel.” But 73 wins — or even 83 — will likely never be good enough for a playoff spot. (Even the Twins are on pace for 84 wins this year.)

One thing they are doing (so far)? Smoking the dang AL Central like Jim Leyland working a pack of Marlboros during a Fernando Rodney outing.

The Tigers’ triumphs over the Royals and Twins are their first double-series win in the Central since 2016. They’re also leading the series against the Cleveland Guardians — with four games this weekend and three to end the season — four games to two, and within shouting distance of the Chicago White Sox, with the ChiSox up, 4-3. (That series wraps up with six games in the first 10 days of September, assuming we can pull ourselves away from the Lions to watch ’em.)

In all, the Tigers are 21-13 against the AL Central, with 18 to play. That’s a .618 winning percentage in the division. (The Tigers have nine seasons above .500 in AL Central play in the 25 years since joining it, and eight came during Miguel Cabrera’s peak from 2009-16.) Six more wins — and remember, there’s three more games with the Royals and six with the White Sox — clinch the Tigers’ first winning record in the Central since 2016.

It’s not just a few close wins balanced by blowouts, either; the Tigers have a plus-25 run differential in the Central, with an expected win-loss record (based on runs scored, runs allowed and MATH) of 20-14, one game off their actual record in the division.

All of this is not to say the Tigers are contenders, even in a weak (weeeeeeeeeaaaaakkkkk) division — MLB’s new (mostly) balanced schedule means teams need to keep their heads above water outside of their division every season, and the AL East has been dumping 55-gallon buckets on the Tigers all year.

Detroit is 5-20 with a negative-69 run differential against Baltimore, Boston, Tampa Bay and Toronto, with seven games still to play against Eastern cellar-dweller New York. Remove the AL East from existence, and the Tigers are 48-45 (albeit with a minus-31 run differential) this year. (ESPN suddenly loses any Sunday Night Baseball game not featuring the Braves or Mets as well, but that’s their problem, not ours.)

But beating the Central is a start toward respectability. The Tigers’ best seasons in the Central have, not coincidentally, overlapped with their most successful overall in the past two decades:

  • 2006, when they shocked baseball in grabbing a wild-card berth (after blowing the Central lead in the final week) and then the AL pennant? The Tigers won 60% of their division games.
  • 2011, when the Tigers caught fire in the second half and won the franchise’s first division crown since 1987? 69.4%.
  • 2013, when the Tigers had arguably their best squad of the Leyland years — including a rotation featuring three past or future Cy Young winners, the ERA champ and Doug Fister? 61.8% — the same as this season so far.

Even if the Tigers still aren’t ready to compete with the rest of the AL, they should be able to smoke ’em while they got ‘em in the Central.

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Measuring stick

It’s a point worth considering when wondering if there’s anything left to play for this season (other than a change in draft lottery odds). It also might be the one point that would make Tigers manager A.J. Hinch agree with the Freep’s Carlos Monarrez (in public, at least). That’s what happened when Our Man Monarrez talked with the Tigers’ skipper ahead of last week’s series against the Twinkies. Head here to find out what had Hinch saying, “When you’re facing what has been the leader in the division for the majority of the year, it should be important and it should give you an opportunity to see where you stand.”

Remembering ‘Smokey’

The Tigers family grew a little smaller on Monday when longtime broadcaster Jim Price died at age 81. Although he was only a Tiger on the field for five seasons (1967-71), he went on to spend 30 years narrating Detroit baseball action, joining PASS Sports’ cable broadcasts in 1993, then moving to the radio in 1998, working with Ernie Harwell from 1999-2002, and then Dan Dickerson from 2003 on. Along the way, Price introduced a wealth of terms into Tigers fans’ wheelhouses. Head here to get the origin of a few of those, as well as the reactions of those who knew Price best, from the Freep’s Evan Petzold.

Celebrating the ‘Zen Master’

This year’s trade deadline action — or the general lack of it for the Tigers — got a little more painful on Wednesday night, when right-hander Michael Lorenzen — the lone Tiger dealt on Aug. 1 — threw a 124-pitch no-hitter in just his second start with the Philadelphia Phillies. It’s still far too soon to tell who won the trade — after all, nearly four decades ago, the Tigers got a 1.53 ERA over 11 starts out of veteran Doyle Alexander after the trade deadline … only for the prospect moved to Atlanta (Lansing native John Smoltz) to outshine Alexander in a Hall of Fame career.

But it’s not too soon to be happy for an ex-Tiger that created a lot of connections in his two-thirds of a season in Detroit. To a man, the Tigers were overjoyed for Lorenzen the day after he made Philly history; Our Man Petzold has their reactions here. (After throwing all those pitches, by the way, Lorenzen got an extended break from the Phils; he won’t go for no-no No. 2 until Friday.)

E-Rod the Centurion?

The Tigers starter who didn’t get traded, meanwhile, had a slightly less momentous week: Eduardo Rodriguez made two starts — a gem on Tuesday and a stinker on Sunday. In his first start of the week, E-Rod scatted four hits over seven innings against the Twins, reaching 102 pitches for just the third time this season. That triggered some good feelings between E-Rod and Hinch, as the duo enjoyed the in-game milestone: “After he took me out of the game, I just hugged him and told him, ‘Finally, I threw 100 pitches,'” Rodriguez told reporters. Our Man Petzold has the story on why 100 pitches means so much to E-Rod. (And, if you missed Sunday’s early start on “Peacock,” Our Man Petzold has the story here of E-Rod’s second start — in which he threw only 94 pitches, much less successfully.)

Matty Hustle

Another Tiger with a rough week on the field? Outfielder (for now) Matt Vierling, who went 5-for-21, albeit with three hits on Wednesday. His Thursday was a little better, as the first-year Tiger was tabbed as the team’s Heart and Hustle Award winner for ”demonstrating passion on the field and embodying the values and traditions of the game,” as Our Man Petzold wrote. It’s an award that means a lot to Vierling. Head here to find out why, as well as how he’s faring in learning third base.

3 to watch

It’s a pair of hitters (we use the term loosely for one of them) and a rehabbing arm to keep an eye on this week:

ISAN DÍAZ: The 27-year-old lefty claimed last week from San Francisco is the temp replacement for Javier Báez, who’s on bereavement leave.

RILEY GREENE: Not that you need a reason, but the 22-year-old has a 1.162 OPS against the Twins this season, and is crushing baseballs, to boot.

SPENCER TURNBULL: The veteran is still rehabbing in Triple-A Toledo from neck issues.

Happy birthday, Baaaaaaaddddddddooooooooo!*

It’s hard to believe outfielder Akil Baddoo turns 25 on Wednesday; it seems like just yesterday that he was a Rule 5 draft pick, homering on the first pitch he saw in the majors. Then again, that was actually 862 days ago; Sunday marked Baddoo’s 273rd game in a Tigers uniform, and he homered then, too (on the first pitch of the at-bat, again, no less). In all, Baddoo has a .235/.313/.375 slash line in 936 plate appearances, along with 33 steals in 45 tries and 247 strikeouts.

*Your spelling may vary.

Other Tigers birthdays this week: Mark Fidrych (would have been 69 on Monday; died in 2009), Mike Maroth (46 on Thursday), Matt Anderson (47 on Thursday), Rudy York (would have been 110 on Thursday; died in 1970), Justin Wilson (36 on Friday), Bobby Higginson (53 on Friday).

Mark your calendar

As we noted, the Tigers have today off, then dive into the AL Central for … six games? Yep; just a quick two-game set in Minneapolis, with 7:40 p.m. and 1:10 p.m. starts that barely gives you enough time to get out to the Mall of America in between. That’s followed by a four-game set in Cleveland; four days in Ohio is pretty much a year anywhere else. But hey, maybe if the Tigers pick up a sweep, Ohio will take down those billboards they’ve got all over downtown Detroit? And next week, the Tigers are back to playing those big, bad non-AL Central teams, with the Cubs and Astros (hey hey, Justin Verlander!) coming to town.


We won’t harp on the Tigers’ historical AL Central futility too much more, except to note this: If they can grab the season series vs. the Guardians — three wins in four games this weekend would do it — it would be the first time the Tigers won series from three AL Central foes in one season since 2014. And if they can take all four? The Tigers have done that exactly once in the past 25 seasons: 2011. Anyone have Alex Avila’s number?

Contact Ryan Ford at Follow him on Twitter @theford.

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