5 Detroit Tigers hitters providing at least some reason for optimism
Tigers have scored fewest runs in baseball despite having designated hitter
DETROIT – There's not much for Detroit Tigers fans to be excited about right now.
The Tigers are 11-41 in the last two months, haven't won consecutive games since May and don't have many players who look like pieces for the future.
Sure, Matt Boyd is striking out every batter in sight and Shane Greene has been dominant in the ninth inning, but the Tigers' offense is what really makes the summer feel sluggish.
Despite having a designated hitter, the Tigers have scored the fewest runs in baseball: 332 through 90 games. That's an average of about 3.7 runs per game. The team's slash line is .234/.296/.384, numbers that would get most individual players sent to the minor leagues.
Yeah, it's been ugly.
But even in the darkest times, there's usually some reason for optimism, and the Tigers have a handful of hitters showing signs of life.
Here are five hitters giving fans reason for optimism.
Reason for optimism: Extra-base power
Castellanos might not be wearing a Tigers uniform in two weeks, but he's trying to squeeze in as many hits as he can while he's still here.
After being kind of average through the first 2 1/2 months of the season, Castellanos has been on fire since June 18, posting a .953 OPS with 10 doubles and two home runs.
Castellanos leads the American League with 31 doubles and is tied with Josh Bell for the MLB lead. He's still not hitting the ball over the fence, but Castellanos has been an elite gaps hitter when he's at his best, so the doubles are a step in the right direction.
His improved defense, though still below average, combined with the recent hot streak might give General Manager Al Avila more to work with as he shops Castellanos at the trade deadline.
Reason for optimism: Improvement since return
The first 38 games of the season were so bad for Candelario that he got the Max Scherzer treatment and was sent down to Triple-A Toledo. His return to the majors didn't go as planned, as he landed on the injured list after just four games.
But since his return, Candelario has been the best hitter in the Tigers' lineup, batting .305 with a .627 slugging percentage and a .996 OPS.
Candelario was batting .179 with a .546 OPS when he hit the injured list June 1. Now he's up to .214 and .669, which is still awful but clearly trending in the right direction.
Candelario has hit four doubles and five home runs while racking up 18 total hits in 16 games. His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is only .342 over that stretch, so it hasn't even been aided by good luck.
The downside is Candelario still hasn't reverted to the strong plate discipline that got him to MLB. He only has four walks compared to 16 strikeouts during his hot streak.
Reason for optimism: Nearing return
A trip to the injured list couldn't have come at a worse time for Jones, who was batting .313 with a .947 OPS over his last 33 games before being shelved.
It was the most well-rounded stretch of Jones' career. He hit 11 doubles, two triples and five home runs while drawing 10 walks and stealing four bases. His power-speed combination could make him a really good major league player if he can make contact.
Jones did strike out 36 times in that span, so he's still swinging and missing too often.
Luckily for the Tigers, Jones is very close to retaking his spot in center field. He's currently on a rehab assignment in Toledo and has gone 3-for-7 in two games with the Mud Hens.
Victor Reyes is currently manning the leadoff spot for the Tigers, so getting Jones back atop the lineup will be a huge boost.
Reason for optimism: Promising contact skills
The Tigers have plenty of problems on offense, but one of the most obvious is that they don't put the ball in play enough for a team that doesn't even hit for power.
Strikeouts are more prevalent than ever in MLB, but that's been generally offset by a rise in power. The Tigers have the worst of both worlds, with the seventh-most strikeouts, the fewest hits and the second-fewest home runs in MLB.
Castro is a player who's flying under the radar because he doesn't have any power and he doesn't walk enough to have a great on-base percentage. He is building a nice track record of racking up hits, though.
The 25-year-old superutility man is batting .314 over 118 at-bats and has struck out only 27 times in 37 games. Again, he only has nine extra-base hits and four walks, so his ceiling is limited, but in a lineup like this one, a single standout skill is something to build on.
Castro has played all four infield spots and all three outfield spots already this season, so it's easy for Manager Ron Gardenhire to get his bat in the lineup. If he continues to hit with some consistency, he'll stick near the top of the order.
Reason for optimism: Power and plate discipline
It's been a strange first full MLB season for Stewart. The lefty slugger only had four hits in the team's first nine games, but two of them were game-winning home runs.
Since the first week of the season, Stewart has been solid but not excellent. In 62 games, he's batting .254 with a .336 OBP and a .424 slugging percentage.
He missed three weeks between the middle of April and the beginning of May and once again got off to a slow start when he returned, going 4-for-36 with no home runs over the first 11 games back.
In the eight games between the slow start and the injury, Stewart had a 1.183 OPS and seven extra-base hits. In the 43 games since he snapped out of his slow start coming off the injured list, Stewart owns a .768 OPS with 12 doubles, four home runs and 16 walks in 43 games.
His numbers aren't what fans were hoping from the Triple-A home run phenom, but there are signs of a good hitter buried between the slumps.
As a whole, Stewart is second on the Tigers with 19 doubles and 27 extra-base hits. He also has the third-best walk rate on the team at 9.5% and a much lower strikeout rate than the two players -- Candelario and Niko Goodrum -- ahead of him.
Stewart is bad, though not quite disastrous, in left field, so he needs to be a plus bat to stick with the Tigers. Right now, he's hitting plenty of doubles and drawing walks, so if he starts putting the ball over the fence more often -- something he did regularly in the minor leagues -- he could be a reasonable middle-of-the-order bat.
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