Who Are These Guys? A Mid-Season Look At The Detroit Tigers

September 1st, 2020 in Tigers By Dan Holmes

This season…this weird, bizarre season…eight teams in the American League will qualify for the playoffs, the most ever. More than half the teams in the league will play postseason baseball.

Could one of them be the Detroit Tigers? Less than two weeks ago the team was in the miserable midst of a nine-game losing streak. After a surprisingly solid start to the season, that skid seemed to spell the demise of the 2020 Detroit Tigers. But like Frankenstein’s monster, the team has risen from the operating table. The question now remains: will this Frankenstein wreak havoc in the AL Central or will they be stopped by villagers with pitchforks?

Beating Cleveland…Finally

On August 21, a day after losing their ninth consecutive game by the score of 9-0, the Tigers took the field in Cleveland to face the Indians. Over the last couple of years, the Indians have assumed control of the AL Central. They are a good team. But they aren’t the 1927 Yankees. It’s only seemed that way when they face the Tigers. Entering the game on August 21, the Tigers had lost 20 straight games to the Indians. Twenty games.

The Indians pounced on Michael Fulmer for five runs in three innings and it looked like loss #21 was assured. But in the fourth inning, Detroit sent 11 batters to the plate and scored seven runs. The big blow came off the bat of Isaac Paredes, a grand slam. The Tigers cruised to a 10-5 victory, snapping the 20-game losing streak, and two days later they finished off a 7-4 win to take the series from the Indians.

If the Tigers are going to squeak into the playoffs, they are going to have to defeat traditional rivals the Indians, Royals, Twins, and White Sox. With the 2020 schedule narrowed to emphasize inner-division play, Ron Gardenhire’s group has no choice but to pick off the three teams battling them for two (or maybe three) playoff spots out of the division. The surprising series win in Cleveland was a good sign.

Young Batman?

Remember Alex Avila? You probably do, but he wouldn’t remember you (after all those concussions behind the plate). What about Justin Wilson? Maybe, right? The Tigers sent Avila and relief pitcher Wilson to the Cubs three years ago in a deadline deal. In return the Tigers received Jeimer Candelario and Isaac Paredes, he of the grand slam in the big win against the Indians on August 21. It was Paredes’ first home run in the majors, and it came in only his fourth big league game.

One hit, even a dramatic grand slam, normally doesn’t earn a starting job for a prospect, but in this case, it might. Paredes quick bat and poise in the box and at the hot corner have impressed folks inside the Tiger clubhouse. This guy is going to be at third base from now until the end of the season. Sink or swim, and Isaac seems to be a strong swimmer.

Quick: Name the last time the Tigers had an exciting, dangerous young bat at third base. No, Brandon Inge doesn’t count.  

Palm Up, Finish Up

Everyone’s crazy about “launch angle.” Almost everyone. In the past, Miguel Cabrera famously expressed his opposition to launch angle, explaining his “palm-up, finish up” method.

Cabrera has the credentials to voice his hitting opinion. He’s won the batting title four times, the home run title twice, and he has two MVP awards on his mantel. If he has a mantle. Miggy also won the Triple Crown in 2012, something only one other living person has ever accomplished. Cabrera knows hitting. Which is why it’s fun to see the Big Fella slicing line drives around the diamond lately.

During his current seven-game hitting streak, Cabrera is hitting .480 with nine RBIs. With his bat, with his Hall of Fame batting eye, and with his palms up, Miggy has raised his batting average 65 points. He’s smiling, he’s taking curtain calls to empty stands, and he’s helping the team win. Does Cabrera have a late-season run in his famous bat? If he does, it’s not a question of if the Tigers will make the playoffs, it will be a certainty.

Playoff Push Starts On The Road And At the Start

Starting on the 1st of September, the Tigers will play 12 of 14 games on the road. They’ll face two of the teams in front of them in the AL Central (the White Sox and the Twins) in eight of those games. Here’s all you need to watch: the starting pitching. If the Tigers can (somehow) find a way to get five innings from a few of their starters and keep themselves in the game long enough for their scrappy offense to scratch out some runs. Well, they can contend for a playoff spot. But, if they lose more than seven of their first 14 games in September, the playoffs are off the table.