Fresh off an Opening Weekend sweep, the in-state culture hungers for a competitive Detroit Tigers team

Bless You Boys

2024 marks the twelfth year since the Detroit Tigers won the American League pennant. Interestingly, in those twelve years, Detroit has actually won their Opening Series more than half of the time! All of 2014-17, the 60-game 2020 season, and 2021.

However, for the first time, it’s the A.J. Hinch Tigers that have hit the ground running. No offense to Al Avila and Ron Gardenhire, but this marks the first time in seven years that it personally feels good to be a daily follower of the Detroit Tigers.

You see, 2024 is a critical year in the franchise history of the Detroit Tigers. As we in the Tigers baseball community embark upon another “April in the D,” the clock strikes 40 years since the last World Champion team in Detroit. In a year of 1984 celebrations, this feels a bit more ominous than it did a decade ago in 2014.

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This man is managing prospect-only Spring Training games. He has seen better days.
Mary Schroeder, Special to the Free Press

The average life expectancy in metro Detroit — specifically in Oakland county, where I was raised and where a majority of my family resides — is 80.4 years (per U.S. News & World Report). Thus, it has been half a lifetime since Detroit has sat atop the baseball world. My parents met and fell love in the extremely upbeat context of a metro-Detroit suburb enjoying Detroit’s magical 35-5 start, 104-win, World Series in 5, Bless You Boys season. They are in their sixties. They last saw this team win a title when they were my age.

I’m not necessarily expecting that in 2024. (Or, in 2024 Bless You Boys staff predictions terms, I’m not even expecting 2006 as Mr. Sunshine predicted.) But as we pass a half-lifetime since our beloved baseball cats won it all, it looks like we might have our first legitimately competitive team in nearly a generation in the American League Central.

(Now, a disclaimer: I also do not intend to stumble into the pitfall that entrapped our dear counterparts at Detroit Bad Boys. Remember, the Detroit Pistons just began their worst-in-history 2023-24 season 2-1, 20 years removed from their last world championship! Nevertheless, despite the ifs-and-buts of the world, this Tigers unit’s depth provides a clearer pathway to contention for Detroit fans in the 2024 MLB season.)

The 2024 Detroit Tigers are on an upward trend, unlike the steeply downward-sloped trajectory of the 2014-2017 Tigers or the dead-in-the-water 2018-2021 Tigers. Even with the team not spending enough to perhaps maximize its full win-now potential, the stars of this team are Al Avila-drafted youngsters, and the key role players are, mercifully, Scott Harris-signed veterans.

Courtesy of Al Avila’s scouting mind, and a ton of development work by the A.J. Hinch braintrust of Chris Fetter and company, Tarik Skubal dominated Opening Day. Riley Greene went deep in game two. Kerry Carpenter and Jake Rogers went deep in game three. Jason Foley pumped triple-digit heat past White Sox hitters on Opening Day and promptly retired two more batters on Sunday, vaulting himself to the top of the Tigers-bullpen totem-pole (at least temporarily; don’t get me started on Tyler Holton baffling hitters in his first appearance!).

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Chicago White Sox

In a parallel universe, Jason Foley pumps literal gas for a living. That’s still how it works in New Jersey and Oregon, you know.
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

More young talent awaits in the early goings this season. Casey Mize will make his first post-UCL surgery start in Queens and appeared to have upgraded during his time off this spring. Reese Olson will pitch the day before him. Torkelson, Greene, Carpenter, and Colt Keith make up most of the core of the Tigers lineup. Matt Manning joins Max Scherzer in being optioned to Toledo in the early years of their career. (Javier Baez serves as a reminder of why you do not let Al Avila do the grocery shopping in free agency!)

You might remember that Al Avila was perhaps even more passive than Dave Dombrowski was active in his general management. Avila was also faced with an absolute scorched-earth scenario in the player development system, from talent, to facilities, to personnel, to institutional knowledge as the game began rapidly transforming in the Statcast era. Before Al Avila, the term “Tigers analytics department”, for example, existed only in our imagination.

Unfortunately, It took Avila far too long to recognize and correct some of these problems. Meanwhile, at the major league level, the Avila-led Tigers failed to add talent; even worse, when that talent flashed its upside, it wasn’t sustainable! Mike Fiers and Spencer Turnbull throwing no-hitters; Matt Boyd and Daniel Norris combining for nearly 7 bWAR in 2019; you might notice the lack of hitting in my examples. Thus, Ron Gardenhire’s Tigers didn’t have a snowball’s chance in Lakeland. For years, I have sat and covered 100-loss seasons, filled with roster holes and missed opportunities on the diamond day-in and day-out.

Courtesy of Scott Harris and A.J. Hinch’s operational hive mind, however, things ran quite smoothly in Chicago! New guy Mark Canha has demonstrated to the young hitters how to grind an at-bat, and hit a double and a home run on Saturday that sparked the comeback. Shelby Miller and Andrew Chafin comfortably handled the 7th and 8th inning on Opening Day, and Chafin, despite giving up a run on Sunday, navigated the rest of the inning as to avoid further damage. Shelby Miller returned for an exceptional five-out save in game two.

Meanwhile, Parker Meadows and Riley Greene are covering a ton of ground in center and left field. Carson Kelly drove in the game-tying and game-winning runs in game two and the club looked as comfortable with him behind the plate as with Jake Rogers. Gio Urshela made a Gold Glove caliber play on Sunday in his first in-season audition for more plate appearances. In a league where you are as weak as your weakest player, the Tigers — at least on the South Side — were comfortably able to give Alex Lange the absurd safety net his command needs.

Ed. note: Please find the fastball command, Alex. We’re begging you.

A Detroit Tigers run at an attainable American League Central title, and a chance to compete for playoff wins, would perpetuate the culture in Detroit. It would perpetuate within the baseball world, as your favorite niche fantasy podcaster raves about the long-term upside of Kerry Carpenter’s bat. It would perpetuate in Detroit and metro Detroit, as fans receive daily calls from their Tigers-loving grandmother who insists Tarik Skubal deserves the (April) Cy Young over Shane Bieber (RIP, Grandma Joyce; you would have loved Skoobs).

After going an entire college and COVID-19 pandemic devoid of competitive Tigers baseball, I teach kids in northern Michigan who have no strong associations with the Detroit Tigers. They love J.J. McCarthy (even the State-loving girls think he’s dreamy… sorry, Spartans fans!); they are devout Lions fans; and they love LeBron James and Caitlin Clark. But they have no positive experiences to associate with the Detroit Tigers.

My seniors, preparing to graduate in a few weeks, know Miguel Cabrera. My younger high schoolers and one middle school class, preparing to play Fortnite for eight weeks in eight weeks, know nothing. These in-state kids need, to put it in my own terms as a late-twenty-something, the Miguel Cabrera era to their Magglio Ordóñez childhood moment. Miguel Cabrera was their age-7 experience, and they weren’t old enough to fully appreciate those times. (I was Ordóñez for Halloween in elementary school; perhaps somebody at least has a Justin Verlander Halloween costume tucked away in the attic somewhere?)

This, right here, is the dream for 2024 (note my wording; dream). Just swap in Kerry Carpenter at the plate, and Andres Muñoz pitching for Seattle. (Lookout Landing catching strays.) 2006 was not supposed to happen. But a savvy Dave Dombrowski-led and Jim Leyland-managed operation managed to bombastically fumble away the American League Central title, only to dismantle the overconfident ‘06 Yankees before engaging in the first of three sacrificial rituals of the Oakland Athletics in the postseason (too soon?). The next generation of Michiganders needs this sort of defining moment to bring them into the fold.

It is difficult to tell how far this specific Tigers team will go. Assuming things go well, which is hardly guaranteed, we are still on the earlier end of the Tigers organization’s current timeline, but we are officially in the supposed contention window. If it wasn’t last season, the rebuild is now over; although I would personally argue that this squad gave us enough last year to mark 2023 as the beginning of this team’s “built” journey.

All I ask in 2024 is for a full season of competition after thoroughly enjoying baseball into the late summer for the first time in my adult life last year. I am officially daydreaming about a day in which my students recognize the new-era Tigers, and I will be playing day games on the radio as my underclassmen work independently in class this spring. Here’s hoping we’re still listening to a playoff race in the new school year!

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1 Comment

  1. I feel sorry for the kids. Back before 1968, it was a long time coming but we as kids still loved our Tigers. They were close a lot and that is why there is still strong hatred for the yankees( non capital on purpose) No one wins all the time even when they try to buy it year after year. In 5 more yrs it’ll be 20 yrs for the yankees. But the Tigers never tried to but it until Mr. I tried and it still doesn’t work. It comes down to players and why they are playing. This group seems to love baseball and being on a team.

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