To be taken seriously, Detroit Tigers must overcome struggles vs. non-White Sox division rivals

Tigers can’t keep losing to Cleveland, Minnesota, Kansas City

The Detroit Tigers meet at the mound during the top of the sixth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Comerica Park on April 12, 2022 in Detroit, Michigan. (Nic Antaya, 2022 Getty Images)

DETROIT – If the Detroit Tigers want to be taken seriously this season, they have to reverse their frustrating struggles against three AL Central rivals -- and that starts this weekend in Kansas City.

AL Central woes

In 2016, the last time the Tigers had a competitive team, they stayed in the AL wildcard race until the final weekend of the season largely thanks to a 15-4 record against the Minnesota Twins. The Twins were the worst team in the American League that season, and the Tigers took advantage of playing them 19 times.

Since then, the Tigers haven’t been able to figure out their division foes.

The following season, the Tigers had losing records against all four teams in the AL Central. In 2018, they won 12 of 19 against the Chicago White Sox, but went 15-23 combined against the Twins and Kansas City Royals -- two teams that lost 84 and 104 games, respectively.

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Everything fell apart in 2019, when the Tigers lost an unimaginable 18 of 19 matchups with Cleveland -- a team that didn’t even make the playoffs (but won 93 games, mostly thanks to the Tigers).

The White Sox went 72-89 that season, but won 12 of 18 against the Tigers.

During the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the Tigers went 11-7 in 18 games against the National League Central Division, but finished with losing records against all four AL Central opponents, sinking their chances to make the 16-team playoff.

Last season

Detroit made obvious strides toward becoming a more competitive team in 2021, finishing with a winning record against teams above .500 -- something even the mighty White Sox couldn’t accomplish.

But once again, it was the division that doomed the Tigers. They went 7-12 against Cleveland and 8-11 against both Kansas City and Minnesota -- three teams with losing records.

Of the four teams that made the playoffs from the AL East and AL West -- Tampa Bay, Houston, Boston and New York -- none finished with a winning record against the Tigers. Detroit split six games with both the Red Sox and Yankees and took a combined nine of 14 games against the Rays (100 wins) and Astros (95 wins).

The Tigers proved that they could play with anybody. But somehow, they couldn’t compete with the weakest teams in the Central.

Breaking the trend

For the first time since 2016, the Tigers have given the league reasons to take them seriously. They played winning baseball for four months in 2021 and added legitimate difference-makers during the offseason.

On top of the team’s own improvements, MLB added an additional wildcard in each league, raising the Tigers’ chances to make the postseason.

It’s likely that at least two teams will make the playoffs from both the East and West divisions, and the White Sox are a huge division favorite. The question is: Will the Central get a second playoff team this year, or will a third-place team in the East/West sneak in?

The Tigers showed last season that they can stay afloat against the top teams in the league. Now they have to take care of business against the Guardians, Royals and Twins.

Detroit plays 19 games against each of those teams -- 57 in total. That accounts for 35% of the total schedule and will likely determine whether the team is contending late into the summer or selling off assets by the trade deadline.

First up: A four-game series in Kansas City that begins Thursday night. The Tigers will face Zack Greinke, Brad Keller, Kris Bubic and Carlos Hernandez -- not exactly a gauntlet of dominant starting pitchers.

Dropping four of six games during the opening home stand wasn’t ideal, but the Tigers can get back on track with a strong start against their non-White Sox division rivals.

About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.