With September coming, the Detroit Tigers still provide a handful of reasons to pay attention to this team.
Let’s get the elephant out of the room Detroit Tigers fans. You probably aren’t watching this team, and if you are, it’s probably just background noise as you plug away at work, or play catch with your kid before his Little League game. This team stinks, and if you’ve bailed on the 2018 Detroit Tigers already, I don’t blame you.
If you are still watching, or listening to, every game this year than congratulations, you are pretty much a super fan at this point. As someone who has toiled through the shutout losses, and Victor Martinez “hard hit” double plays this year, it has been really, really hard to watch this team play baseball.
However, the beautiful thing about baseball is that in September, the roster expands to 40 players, as teams use these extra players to freshen up their regulars for a long playoff run, or see how these prospects fare in the major leagues. The Tigers will definitely be in the latter, rather than the former, for the next 2-3 years.
Here are 5 things to pay attention to:
Christin Stewart‘s first taste of major league action
The Tigers’ brass were not joking around when they said Stewart needed a full year of seasoning at AAA. Stewart got off to a hot start in Toledo this season, leading to Doug Mientkiewicz calling him “the MVP of the league.” Since his return from the disabled list in July, Stewart has hit under .200, with an uptick in strikeouts, one of the Tigers’ main concerns for Stewart at the beginning of the year.
Defense has and probably always will be a concern with Stewart, but at 24 years old, he is what he is at this point in his development. Time to see what the Tigers have in the former 1st round draft pick.
Victor Martinez’s month-long retirement party
Earlier this week, Victor said that this will most likely be his last, confirming something that we as fans knew was imminent in May. Martinez is hitting a measly .242 with six home runs this year as a DH. Not good production from a guy hitting in the middle-third of the Tiger lineup for the entire 2018 season.
His struggles the last two seasons can make it easy to forget that for the majority of his Tiger career, V-Mart was actually a very productive hitter. Even with the past two seasons, Victor has compiled a .291/.350/.440 during his Tiger career. In 2014, Martinez even finished as the runner-up for MVP.
‘Competing’ for another high draft pick
2019 could potentially be the worst year of the Tiger rebuild, as there are quite a few contracts expiring at the end of this year, most notably Jose Iglesias and Francisco Liriano. The Tigers are still actively trying to trade both players. If either ends up getting traded, it opens up opportunities for younger position players, such as Dawel Lugo and Dixon Machado, to receive more playing time. On the pitching side, look for Ryan Carpenter to receive another shot at filling the vacant pitching role.
Lugo is a singles hitter that swings at everything in sight, as he only has a .344 slugging percentage and .625 OPS, despite a respectable .265 average. Machado and Carpenter have both struggled mightily in previous MLB stints, and are basically placeholders until Issac Paredes and the Tigers’ highly regarded pitching prospects are major league ready.
Competition in the Outfield
The Tigers have open outfield spots in LF and CF, and many young outfielders to fill those spots. Expect Ron Gardenhire to potentially rotate Jacoby Jones, Mikie Mahtook, Mike Gerber, Victor Reyes in centerfield. These four players could also rotate with Christin Stewart in LF. While this competition could carry into the spring, a hot September could go a long way for any of these five players.
We have already seen extended looks at Jones and Mahtook. Both have shown promise at some point- Jones currently ranks 4th in the American League with 2.0 defensive wins above replacement (WAR), and Mahtook had a career year offensively in 2017. However, both have been miserable at hitting in 2018, each with averages floating around the .200 mark. Even on a rebuilding team, that’s not good enough. Reyes needs more time in the minors, showing very little power or plate discipline (he has walked 3 times in over 130 at-bats).
Gerber and Stewart still both have their prospect status, and are relatively unproven at the major league level. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.
Comerica Park Attendance
With football season about to begin, the Tigers way out of contention, school back in session, and cold weather sneaking into Michigan, expect a lot of empty seats at Comerica Park this September. Expect many of these remaining fans to flock to the Pepsi Porch, purchasing alcohol more expensive than their ticket, downing another cold one after a 2-0 Tiger loss.
Detroit Tigers fans are in it for the long haul now, and while their record won’t be great, there’s a lot to watch for during the rest of the 2018 season.