DETROIT – I don’t know how you can watch the Detroit Tigers right now.
If you love baseball and you live in Michigan, it’s time to explore other options. Do you get Cleveland Indians or Cincinnati Reds games in your cable package? Is there a night game on ESPN? With every miserable performance by the Tigers, MLB TV starts looking like more and more of a bargain.
It’s the fifth season of the rebuild, and this Tigers team might be the worst of them all. It’s currently on pace to flirt with 120 losses, and considering how awful the lineup is, that’s not out of the realm of possibility.
After starting the year 6-6, the Tigers have completely tanked, losing 15 of 17 games.
Here’s the current OPS of every single player in Detroit’s starting lineup Sunday. Keep in mind, a league average OPS is around .750.
- Robbie Grossman -- .641
- Jeimer Candelario -- .713
- Miguel Cabrera -- .443
- Jonathan Schoop -- .491
- Harold Castro -- .495
- Niko Goodrum -- .690
- Wilson Ramos -- .732
- Akil Baddoo -- .755
- JaCoby Jones -- .380
How do you even translate that ineptitude into words? There are more players in that lineup with a sub-.500 OPS than a .700 OPS -- that’s unfathomable for an MLB organization.
It’s like the Tigers are paying tribute to the last season of pitchers batting in the National League by putting six guys in the lineup who legitimately hit like pitchers.
The only player who has even a reasonable OPS is Baddoo, and he’s (shield your eyes) a ghastly 4-for-42 with 25 strikeouts and a .374 OPS over his last 13 games.
During this 2-15 stretch, the Tigers have been shut out six times. They’ve scored fewer than three runs THIRTEEN times! Even their best games during this stretch have featured five, five and four runs. That’s... wow. You will almost never come across an MLB offense this awful.
As a result of that putrid offense, Detroit has tumbled to the very bottom of the MLB standings. At 8-21, the Tigers aren’t even within two games of any other team in the league.
One of the most accurate ways to determine the strength of a team is run differential. Well, there are two teams in baseball with run differentials worse than negative-20: the Pittsburgh Pirates, at negative-26 and the Tigers, at negative-62.
Negative sixty-two. In 29 games.
That’s right: Detroit is already 36 runs behind the second-worst team in baseball, and there are still 133 games left.
Scary signs for future
It’s too early for the Tigers to give up on their young players, but there are some alarming signs -- not just for this season, but for the rebuild as a whole.
At the top of the list is the lack of development for Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal. They both deserved a pass for struggling in a strange 2020 season, but once again this year, neither can find their footing. They can’t prevent runs, keep the ball in the strike zone or -- most importantly -- miss bats.
This rebuild was predicated on pitching prospects, and if they don’t develop into top-of-the-rotation starters, then the last few years have been, to be frank, a waste.
Imagine starting this process all over again, signing up for at least five more years of terrible baseball. That’s what’s at stake.
On offense, pretty much every possible future piece has disappointed. Candelario had a couple of nice stretches, but he looks like a below-average regular, at best. Goodrum, Jones and Victor Reyes would be fourth outfielders on contending teams.
Willi Castro was the hitter to get most excited about coming into the year, and he’s batting .191 with a .509 OPS and 29 strikeouts in 94 at-bats. Oh yeah, and it took him fewer than 30 games to lose his starting spot as shortstop because he couldn’t handle the position.
If you had crafted a worst-case scenario for the Tigers this preseason, I’m not even sure you could have made it as bad as this reality. The team is awful. None of the young players are performing. And instead of building toward a playoff push in the next couple of seasons, the Tigers are trending in the wrong direction.
Who to blame
There’s one name at the top of the blame list, and it’s general manager Al Avila.
Fair or not, his job when he took over for Dave Dombrowski was to guide the franchise through what was clearly going to be a years-long rebuild. His main goals were to acquire young talent and get the team moving back on track.
Well, it’s Year 5, and there might not be more than a couple of players on the MLB roster who deserve to be on a contending team.
If Mize, Manning and Faedo don’t work out, well, those were his first-round picks. He used the Tigers’ most valuable resources to draft them. You can’t whiff on those selections.
So far, the players he received in the Justin Verlander, J.D. Martinez and Nick Castellanos trades have given the Tigers nothing. Those are three elite players who have gone on to flourish with other teams.
The free agent signings have been equally uninspiring -- and maybe that’s where you can draw Chris Ilitch into the circle of blame, too. But overall, this is not what a team should look like in the fifth year of a rebuild.
Does anyone want Avila pulling the strings a few months from now, when the Tigers are sellers at the trade deadline? Should he be in charge when the Tigers make another critical decision at No. 3 overall in the 2021 draft? What about when they have another No. 1 overall pick in 2022?
Those are the next opportunities for the Tigers to put a dent in this massive hole they’ve dug themselves. Should Avila be allowed to waste them, too?
Before this season, it was hard to fairly judge Avila because the players he brought in hadn’t had a chance to prove themselves yet. Now they’ve arrived, and it’s ugly.
Watch every Padres-Dodgers game. Check out the young stars on the Blue Jays or the heated races in the NL Central and East. There’s a lot of entertaining baseball out there, but the Tigers are the furthest thing from it. Even the most loyal fans shouldn’t subject themselves to it.
And that’s a shame.