Frustrating, average, disappointing, stale, depressing, awful, unpredictable, disgraceful, inexcusable, and plain old bad—just a sampling of the descriptors fans are using to describe the Detroit Tigers after the club dropped their second home game in a row to the league-worst Minnesota Twins and saw their record fall to 18-20 Thursday afternoon.
“You can’t tell anything about a baseball team until 40 games have been played,” the legendary Sparky Anderson opined once then maintained throughout his career. The Tigers are two games from Sparky’s first point of assessment and will be, at best, an even 20-20. That isn’t inspiring and baseball hasn’t been fun watch around here lately, but it’s not the end of the world.
Despite recent poor play, indicated by their current 9-17 run, the time to quit on Detroit has not yet come—almost every team goes through a stretch similar to this. Even last year’s Texas Rangers, the class of the American League, were not impervious to such prolonged losing ways; they went 9-17 immediately after starting the year at 9-1, while this year’s Tigers jumped out to a 9-3 record before setting off their free-fall. The Rangers also had separate futile runs of 10-15, 5-9, and 10-12.
I looked back at the last ten years’ worth of postseason teams and found the latest point in each of their respective seasons at which they were .500; 30 out of 80 clubs were stuck at the mark of mediocrity at some point 40 games in or later, including the 2002 Oakland Athletics and Atlanta Braves, who each won more than 100 contests after holding respective records of 30-30 and 23-23 in the spring. Nine teams in the sample were .500 after 100 games played. The 2011 Tigers were 24-24 before winning 95 games. The last day at .500 for all 80 playoff teams since 2002 has come an average of 38.2 games in.
There’s no doubt Detroit has their problems—their bullpen comes close to inducing cardiac arrest every night, second base has been a black hole, and Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello continue to struggle with dependability—but I find it hard to believe they’re as bad as it appears now. Rather, all their stellar parts have simply failed to function all at once. Further, I don’t imagine Dave Dombrowski will be satisfied with the team’s construction when July 31st rolls around and he has the resources to amend the roster.
After 38 games, the Tigers are getting close to dangerous territory, but an 18-20 deficit is not irrecoverable; they sit only four back of the Cleveland Indians with 124 to play. Up next for Detroit is another opponent from the shrinking ‘teams-the-Tigers-should-probably-sweep-at-home’ list, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Perhaps a visit from Jim Leyland’s former club and a Friday evening start from Justin Verlander against their terrible offence will set the tone for a righting of the Tigers’ ship.
As our John Verburg said today, “The Tigers may be a mess, but there is still plenty of time to clean it up.”