DETROIT – The last time I rushed to my laptop late at night to write a Detroit Tigers piece, it was because the team had just traded for Austin Meadows.
Everyone was excited. Opening Day was right around the corner and the long, miserable rebuild was finally coming to an end.
Or so we thought.
Tonight’s topic is less fun. Just hours ago, those same Detroit Tigers got embarrassed in a 9-0 loss to the Oakland Athletics. Fans at Comerica Park watched the offense — which has scored a historically low 85 runs in 31 games — get shut out for seven innings by a pitcher who couldn’t even get Triple-A batters out last month.
That’s right: Rookie starter Zach Logue, making his second career MLB appearance, allowed just five hits while blanking the Tigers for seven innings.
Logue gave up 10 earned runs, 21 hits and eight walks in just 16 innings at Triple-A in April. His 1.813 WHIP means minor-league lineups put about two runners on base per inning. The Tigers couldn’t even average one.
Sure, sometimes things like that happen in baseball. But don’t let the Tigers off the hook that easily. On Tuesday, they were shut out for 5.1 innings by Adrian Martinez, who was making his MLB debut after giving up 16 earned runs in 19.1 innings while pitching in — you guessed it — Triple-A.
That’s 12.1 scoreless innings against two pitchers who couldn’t get minor leaguers out.
Those losses dropped the Tigers to 9-22 on the season. There are still 131 games left to play, but fans who watched last year know this start is a death sentence.
It was fun for awhile, watching the Tigers try to get back to .500 after starting the 2021 season 9-24. But that wasn’t supposed to be the case this year. The team signed Javier Baez, Eduardo Rodriguez, Andrew Chafin, and Michael Pineda. Al Avila traded for Meadows and Tucker Barnhart. Top prospect Spencer Torkelson is here, too.
But it hasn’t made a difference. It’s May 11, and the Tigers’ season is effectively over. The roster is better than the record shows, but it’s not good enough to climb out of this cavern.
Here’s the thing: It’s not “early” anymore. We don’t need to wait for Sparky Anderson’s famed 40-game mark to know something is philosophically wrong with the offense.
Look at the home run totals for some of the Tigers players in 2021:
Baez — 31
Torkelson — 30 (minors)
Meadows — 27
Grossman — 23
Haase — 22
Schoop — 22
Candelario — 16
That’s a list of seven legitimate power hitters. Well, in 636 combined at-bats so far this season, that group has hit just 10 home runs.
Baseball is a tough sport, but proven major leaguers like Baez, Meadows, Grossman, Schoop, and Candelario don’t often have such prolonged, simultaneous, similar-looking slumps.
There’s something broken about the team’s approach. Nobody hits with power. When the ball is hit hard, it’s almost always on the ground. This team has scored three runs or fewer in 24 of 31 games. Other than a 6-0 win during the front-end of Tuesday’s doubleheader, the Tigers have scored 15 runs in May.
I didn’t expect the Tigers to make the playoffs this year (you can see my playoff picks here, please ignore the Phillies), but they should have been competitive well into the summer months. At the very least, they should be beating up on inferior rosters like the Oakland Athletics and Pittsburgh Pirates.
But no, the Tigers have the worst record in the American League. They’re only two games better than the worst team in baseball, the Cincinnati Reds, who traded away almost all of their good players and started the season 3-22.
For the sixth year in a row, it’s not even mid-May, and Tigers fans have been drained of all hope.
This fan base has been patient. When Chris Ilitch and Al Avila insisted that losing and refusing to spend money over the past few years would pay off, most people understood it was part of the process. But that process has gone on long enough.
What’s happening on the field isn’t directly the fault of Ilitch and Avila, but it becomes their problem if they don’t make some changes. Is one-fifth of the season not enough of a sample size to see that something’s wrong?
The name on the hot seat seems to be hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh, and he certainly could be in danger if it’s his philosophy crippling the offense. Why can’t Torkelson hit low-90s fastballs right down the middle? Why is Candelario swinging at balls in the dirt? Can someone tell Baez his bat isn’t long enough to reach the left-handed batter’s box?
How much blame belongs to A.J. Hinch, who so masterfully pulled the Tigers out of a hole last year to the tune of a 68-61 finish? He’s considered one of the best managers in the game, but if last year wasn’t enough to show the staff that April and May matter, I must be missing something.
Detroit has spent the last six years as the laughingstock of baseball — that shouldn’t have been the case once again. Now, the absolute best fans can hope for is a summer resembling last year — moral victories and silver linings.
Detroit deserves better. Tigers fans deserve better. It’s time to make a change.
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