DETROIT – One month ago, the Detroit Tigers entered perhaps the easiest stretch of games any MLB team will face this season.
After completing a series win over the Chicago White Sox on July 4, the Tigers were set to play their next 25 straight games against the four worst teams in the American League: the Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles.
When the final out was recorded against the Orioles on Sunday, that stretch came to an end. The Tigers went 13-11 (one game against the Twins was postponed by weather).
Considering where the Tigers have been the last several years, any stretch of winning baseball should probably be celebrated. But still, winning 13 out of 24 felt a little underwhelming.
A four-game sweep at the hands of the Twins right before the All-Star break really hurt, as did a three-game sweep in Kansas City. If the Tigers could have salvaged one game in each series, they would be sitting at 53-55 heading into a much tougher stretch.
In the grand scheme of the rebuild, it’s a great sign that the Tigers didn’t play their best baseball and still managed to close out a third consecutive winning month. Their seven-game winning streak after the break brought life to Comerica Park. A ninth-inning grand slam Tuesday at Minnesota helped end an ugly losing streak. There were plenty of positives.
But will these Tigers get back to .500? They’re currently six games below that mark with an extremely difficult month on tap.
First, the dangerous Boston Red Sox come to town after being swept by the Tampa Bay Rays and losing their lead in the AL East. A pair of battles with Cleveland sandwich three games in Baltimore, and then the Tigers play 17 of 18 games against the Los Angeles Angels, Toronto Blue Jays, St. Louis Cardinals, Oakland Athletics and Cincinnati Reds.
Aside from three games at Baltimore and one make-up game against Minnesota, Detroit will play 26 of the next 30 games against strong competition. Then, after three games with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Tigers will follow up with 12 straight games against first-place teams (Tampa Bay, Milwaukee and Chicago).
In a nutshell, the Tigers made a very strong push toward .500, but they’re probably going to come up short. They would have to win a few series against great teams, and while they’ve shown an ability to do so in the past, consistency is the issue.
More importantly, pay attention to how Detroit’s young players finish the season. Can Casey Mize and Akil Baddoo continue to lead the starting staff and lineup, respectively? Will Tarik Skubal stop the bleeding after two rough starts?
This will be an especially important two months for the likes of Derek Hill, Zack Short and Willi Castro. The Tigers are trying to identify their strengths and weaknesses going into free agency this offseason. Do those three players factor into the long-term plan?
The fight for .500 is just one of the many reasons to keep an eye on the Tigers down the stretch. At the very least, it’s been fun to have meaningful baseball back in Detroit.