When Cabrera and the Tigers returned to Comerica Park last week, the crowds were electric. Fans rose to their feet for Cabrera’s at-bats, living and dying with every pitch. It’s been a once-in-a-generation experience for baseball fans in Detroit.
But now that Cabrera has reached 500 homers, the crowds will likely diminish, and it’s possible the excitement surrounding this team will ebb away in favor of football season. There’s still plenty of baseball left to play, though, and many reasons to keep watching the Tigers.
The most impressive part of Detroit’s 51-42 record over the last three and a half months is consistency. That record isn’t the result of a few hot weeks -- the Tigers have continued to win games throughout the summer.
In May, the Tigers went 14-13 -- their first winning month in a long time. They followed that up with another 14-13 record in June, and then went 14-12 in July.
With seven games left in August, the Tigers are 10-9. If they can win four more, it will give them a fourth straight winning month.
Early in the second half of the schedule, the Tigers were beating up on bottom dwellers such as the Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles and Minnesota Twins. The competition ahead of them is much stiffer.
On Tuesday, the Tigers start a quick two-game series against a St. Louis Cardinals team that has won 10 of its last 15 games and is clinging desperately to playoff hopes. Going into the series, the Cardinals are just 4.5 games out of the final wild card spot -- their only shot at the postseason.
Toronto will make its only trip to Comerica Park this weekend, currently sitting 4.5 games out of the AL wild card race and looking for a bit of revenge after the Tigers won two of three last weekend.
Then, after a makeup game against the Twins, Detroit will play 18 of its next 21 games against current playoff teams, including 12 straight against first-place teams in mid-September.
If you want to see how the Tigers match up against the best teams in the league, the next six weeks will give you that chance.
First and foremost is Akil Baddoo, whose absence atop the lineup has been glaring m. Baddoo hit a walk-off ring a rehab game for the Toledo Mud Hens on Sunday and should be returning early this week.
Since winning the AL Central four times in a row from 2011-2014, the Tigers have been by far the worst team in the division. They’ve finished in last place four of six years, including each of the last two seasons.
This year, the Tigers have an opportunity to get out of the cellar, and could even finish as high as second place. Right now, they trail the Cleveland Indians by three games, lead the Kansas City Royals by 3.5 games and lead the Twins by five games.
It’s not exactly a pennant race, but finishing higher in the division would be a step in the right direction.
Injured players returning
Some of the most exciting players on the roster should return soon and give the Tigers a much-needed boost.
First and foremost is Akil Baddoo, whose absence atop the lineup has been glaring. Baddoo hit a walk-off to the wall during a rehab game for the Toledo Mud Hens on Sunday and should return early this week.
Baddoo was slumping a bit before an outfield collision with Derek Hill sent him to the injured list, but he’s still one of the most valuable players on the team and a big part of the future. It’ll give the Tigers a spark to see him back in the lineup.
Opening Day starter Matt Boyd could also return this week after a third rehab start in Toledo. Boyd has been out since June 14 and posted a 3.44 ERA and 3.75 FIP through 13 starts. His presence in the starting rotation is sorely needed.
Eric Haase is expected to start a rehab assignment this week after going on the injured list with an abdominal strain. Haase leads the team in home runs, and the Tigers have been forced to use a combination of Grayson Greiner and Dustin Garneau in his absence. Obviously, his return will be a huge lift.
The Tigers have been waiting a long time for Hill to reach the majors, and now that he’s here, he’s making a positive impact.
Hill has filled in for Baddoo in a leadoff role the last few games thanks to a surprisingly strong .344 on-base percentage through 30 games. He’s kept his strikeout rate below 23% and is a terror on the base paths.
The offensive contributions from Hill are a bonus, because defense is his calling card. Just look at this catch he made Sunday in Toronto, which saved two runs and ultimately gave the Tigers a chance to win the game.
OK, fine, if nobody else on the Tigers interests you as much as Cabrera, then you can simply turn to his next milestone: 3,000 hits.
Ground ball singles might not be as flashy as hitting the ball over the fence, but 3,000 hits is just about as rare as 500 home runs. Cabrera is currently 45 hits away from 3,000 with 36 games remaining. A.J. Hinch has played him in about 78% of the team’s games so far this season, which would give Cabrera 28 more games.
He probably isn’t going to get to 3,000 hits this season. Even if Hinch played him in all 36 games, Cabrera would have to average five hits every four games. He hasn’t played at that pace in a long time.
But he’ll keep inching closer and closer with every knock, and could pass Sam Crawford and Sam Rice on the all-time list to move into 33rd place. That would make April and May of next season more exciting.