We’re fewer than 24 hours away from the start of the 2021 MLB season, when the Detroit Tigers kick off their year against Cleveland and reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber.
Rogelio posted our season predictions earlier, but this post is a bit more focused. We want to point you toward five specific things to look for on Opening Day. Let’s get to it.
Broken Detroit Tigers Bats
The last time Shane Bieber pitched in a meaningful game he gave up 7 runs on 9 hits and 2 walks in just 4.2 innings against the New York Yankees. Maybe the Detroit Tigers will get that Bieber…but it’s far more likely they’ll get the guy who gave up 14 earned runs all season. Last year Bieber developed a devastating cutter that essentially rendered left-handed bats inert. Lefties hit just .153/.218/.198 against him with one home run and a 40% strikeout rate.
We don’t know exactly what the Detroit Tigers Opening Day lineup will be, but it seems likely there will be at least five left-handed hitters in it. And they’ll be stepping into the batter’s box on a day when the temperature is expected to peak at 34 degrees, against a pitcher with a devastating cutter. If they can make contact at all — last year Bieber set the record for highest strikeout rate by a starting pitcher — they’re probably going to leave a lot of kindling on the ground.
Cleveland Home Runs
This may seem antithetical when we’re talking about a game played in frigid weather, but we have to remember Matthew Boyd is pitching, and Cleveland has a few players who could hit the ball out in Antarctica.
We’ve written before about Boyd’s confounding home run issues. He led all starters with 1.89 HR/9 in 2019, and it got even worse last year when he gave up 2.24 homers per 9. He managed to get it down to 1.47 HR/9 this spring, but he only pitched more than 4 innings in one outing. Franmil Reyes seems like a good bet to go yard, considering he hit two 450-foot homers against the Tigers last year.
Major League Baseball did try to tame the exploding home run rates by making some changes to the ball. We wrote about how that might help the Detroit Tigers, but the early results are in and…
Detroit Tigers on the Move
Runs are going to be at a premium for the Detroit Tigers all season, and we’ve already seen evidence A.J. Hinch is going to be aggressive on the basepaths. The Tigers stole 19 bases as a team all of last season, but they swiped 22 in spring training alone. Four of those came from Akil Baddoo (and it should’ve been five), and four from Derek Hill, but the other 14 were spread among 14 players. It will be tough for the Tigers to get on base against Bieber, but when they do, expect them to be on the move. And don’t be shocked if Baddoo makes his official MLB debut as a pinch-runner.
Opening Day Jitters
These are professional athletes we’re talking about, and it’s not as if the stands will be packed with fans, but when the games get real some players get tighter. Maybe it will be a few passed balls from Wilson Ramos, or a throwing error from Willi Castro.
For Cleveland, perhaps it will be some wildness from their flame-throwing relievers Emmanuel Clase (who hits 102 MPH), Rule 5 pick Trevor Stephan (who touches 98 MPH), or James Karinchak and his pedestrian 97-MPH heater. Or, perhaps we’ll see some jitters from Andrés Giménez, who will be making his first start at shortstop for Cleveland. It’s tough to replace a franchise icon.
No More Francisco Lindor
José Ramírez is still around to torment Tigers pitchers, but the face of Cleveland’s franchise for the past six years has moved on to New York. Lindor has hit .285/.348/.515 with 17 home runs and 12 stolen bases in his career against the Detroit Tigers, and he owns a career .364/.417/.636 line against Matthew Boyd. So the Tigers and their fans probably aren’t too sad to see him go, but it’s still a shame for fans of the game of baseball. Few players are as talented and exciting to watch as Lindor, and it’s sad Cleveland ownership wasn’t willing to pay him. Detroit Tigers fans can only hope their ownership will make a different choice when faced with a similar decision.