DETROIT – Thursday would have marked the official start of baseball season if the sport hadn’t been shut down by the coronavirus outbreak.
The Tigers were scheduled to open the season in Cleveland, with a likely starting pitching matchup of Matt Boyd against Shane Bieber.
Even though there were still a few positions to work out in the final weeks of spring training, the Tigers’ lineup probably would have looked something like this:
- Cameron Maybin, RF
- Niko Goodrum, SS
- Miguel Cabrera, DH
- C.J. Cron, 1B
- Jonathan Schoop, 2B
- Jeimer Candelario, 3B
- Christin Stewart, LF
- Austin Romine, C
- Victor Reyes, CF
Most of these choices are obvious, though a couple specific lineup spots could be argued. Maybin, Goodrum, Cabrera, Cron, Schoop and Romine were locks to start. Candelario, Stewart and Reyes were still fighting for roles when spring training was suspended.
Candelario was having a miserable spring, managing just four hits and no walks in 30 plate appearances. He did hit two home runs and a double, though, and he gives the Tigers another left-handed bat (Candelario is a switch hitter) against the talented Indians right-hander.
Nobody struggled worse than Stewart this spring. He went just 4-for-28 with two walks, seven strikeouts and no extra-base hits. He appeared to have the starting left field job essentially locked up heading into spring training, but his slump called that into question with other outfielders outperforming him.
Reyes was one of those outfielders, and he likely would have taken that starting left field job for Opening Day. But with JaCoby Jones still battling injury, it didn’t look like he would be fully ready to go by Thursday, so Reyes could slide over to center field.
A year after hitting .304 with a .767 OPS, Reyes backed up his mini breakout during spring training, hitting .357 with an .831 OPS.
The Tigers would have been major underdogs in this game. While the lineup is drastically improved from last season, it still doesn’t have the firepower to match up with the likes of Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Carlos Santana, Franmil Reyes, Domingo Santana and Oscar Mercado.
Bieber also emerged as one of the top pitchers in the game last season, though there’s likely some regression in his future. In his second year at the MLB level, Bieber put up an elite 10.9 K/9 while maintaining his typical minuscule walk rate. He gave up a lot of hard contact, though.
Boyd looked like a true ace in the first half of 2019 before falling apart due to home runs in the second half. He finished with an outrageous 11.6 K/9 and 4.76 K/BB, but allowed 39 bombs.
The spring numbers were encouraging for Boyd, as he struck out 12 batters in 9.1 innings and allowed just two runs.
It’s unclear when MLB will resume, but the players will need some kind of abbreviated spring training to build back up to the season. There will likely be a new schedule, too, as the league adjusts to a shorter season.