August 7th, 2020 in Tigers
The Tigers haven’t played a game since Sunday, and we’re two weeks into the season. So much has happened, it feels like two months have passed. The team record currently stands at 5-5, smack dab in the middle of the Mediocre Sandwich we call the American League Central division.
We’ve seen surprising power up and down the lineup (15 homers in ten games). We’ve witnessed Matthew Boyd disintegrating on opening day, and pitching a little better in his second start only to have the same results. The Tigers ace has a 7.20 ERA and seems like a shaky foundation for a starting rotation that could be called “the Good, the Bad, the Badder, the Ugly, and the Unknown.”
Due to the cancellation of their four-game series against the Cardinals due to the virus, the Tigers will now play two additional doubleheaders. As a result of the schedule changes, the team will play 23 games in 21 days in September. Talk about a grind.
Can a team with questionable talent survive such a grueling three-week stretch? What if more games are postponed? Heck, I can’t answer those questions, and they’re largely contingent on non-baseball factors. So let’s focus on some baseball instead.
Is Miggy’s power back?
It’s been four seasons since Miguel Cabrera has hit as many as 20 home runs. His last few years have been filled with injury and inconsistency. The boo birds and naysayers have gladly piled on the Big Fella as he’s lost his Triple Crown cache. But as Mark Twain once wrote, it may be incumbent on Cabrera to tell his critics that “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”
In only ten games of this abbreviated season, Cabrera has already hit three home runs. More importantly, his bat speed rates among the top in the league. It’s still not a good idea to throw a fastball near the meat of the plate against Cabrera. If Miggy can rekindle his legendary bat, he won’t have a problem reaching magical career milestones. That’s the long-term upside, but in the short-term, if Cabrera shows power in 2020, the Tigers chances to sniff the expanded post-season tournament will improve.
A Major League record for strikeouts was set by who?
Tyler Alexander. Are those two first names, two last names, a first and a middle name? Raise your hand if you thought this Detroit Tiger was going to make history. Raise your hand if you even knew who Tyler Alexander was a few weeks ago?
Last Sunday against the Reds, Alexander struck out nine consecutive batters in relief to set a major league record. The southpaw used a stingy slider and sneaky-quick fastball to fool Cincy batters over and over (and over and over and over and over, you get the idea) again.
Why is this so amazing? Because southpaw Alexander wasn’t on anyone’s “top prospects” list of promising young Detroit pitchers. Pitching in only the 17th game of his big league career, Alexander did something so incredible that after the game, Cooperstown called and asked to have his hat sent to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Bravo, Tyler!
Gardenshire deserves credit for Tigers success in early season action
The Tigers won three one-run games in the first week of the season. Closer Joe Jimenez saved all three. In each win, the Tigers patched together a strong bullpen outing. If you watched those games you’d have noticed that manager Ron Gardenhire did a great job mixing and matching pitchers.
Even though he’s considered an old school skipper, Gardenhire doesn’t just march the same relievers out there for the same situations. Gardy has been using off-speed pitchers after fastballers, and lefties after righties, to keep the opposing lineup off-balance or forcing the other manager to shuffle. SO far, it’s worked rather well.
But the Tigers are not going to win 100 percent of their one-run games, in fact, the Reds beat them 4-3 in the first game of their doubleheader last Sunday. One-run games tend to even out, so Tiger fans should be cautious when they look at the team’s 5-5 record. Some of that is luck, and some of it is thanks to Gardenhire’s deft handling of the pitching staff.
Is JaCoby for real?
Coming into this season, JaCoby Jones had a career batting average barely above the Mendoza Line. Starting with the second game of the season, he hit a home run every other day for a week and pushed his average over the Ty Cobb Line (.400). He’s looked much improved at the plate, laying off pitches on the outside part of the plate and managing his at-bats much better.
At 28 years old, has Jones made a real jump forward as an offensive player? He’s still a #9 hitter in Gardenhire’s order, a player known in the league far more for his ability to chase down baseballs than to hit them hard. In the last two seasons, Jones hit 11 home runs and struggled to figure out the patterns pitchers were using against him. Someone (new hitting coach Joe Vavra?) has been working with Jones, and it’s showing. If he comes back from the layoff hitting the ball as well as he started the season, Jones won’t be hitting at the bottom of the lineup for long.
MVP: Hard to ignore JaCoby Jones, who has an OPS over 1200 and seven RBI in ten games,
MDP (Most Disappointing Player): He’ll bounce back, but Matthew Boyd has looked unsteady on the mound in his two starts this season. On Opening Day, Boyd was lost and almost appeared to be unprepared for the start.