Injuries, errors, ice cold bats: How Detroit Tigers have landed right where they started last season

Tigers tied for worst record in American League, at 7-14

Detroit Tigers' Spencer Torkelson reacts after striking out against the Minnesota Twins during the seventh inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, April 26, 2022, in Minneapolis. The Twins won 5-4. (Craig Lassig, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

DETROIT – Remember a month ago, when the new-look Detroit Tigers were gearing up for the start of the regular season?

It was exactly one month from Wednesday when the Tigers shocked the baseball world by trading for Austin Meadows. That trade, along with the official promotion of top prospect Spencer Torkelson and the pre-lockout signings of Eduardo Rodriguez and Javier Baez, showed the Tigers meant business.

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Finally, after so many ugly seasons, competitive baseball was ready to return to Detroit. But the optimism surrounding the Tigers came with a caveat: “They just can’t start off like last year.”

Well, so much for that.

Through 21 games, the Tigers own an identical 7-14 record -- tied for last place in the American League. They’ve scored an 67 runs -- exactly as many as they had scored through 21 games last season.

In 2021, the Tigers got off to a respectable 6-7 start before losing nine of their next 10 games. Two weekends ago, the Tigers were 6-7 before dropping seven of eight.

Detroit has lost seven of eight series, the lone exception being a rain-shortened trip to fellow bottom-feeder Kansas City. It’s fair to say April went about as poorly as anyone could have imagined.

There’s still plenty of season left, and the Tigers are only a handful of games out of contention. But how did we get here?

Ice cold bats

The No. 1 culprit is the offense, which has been among the very worst in all of baseball.

Detroit ranks last in MLB in home runs, doubles, and stolen bases. It’s among the bottom six in runs, hits, total bases, and slugging percentage.

In short, the Tigers haven’t hit for any power.

Only two players (Torkelson and Baez) have hit multiple home runs through an eighth of the season. Austin Meadows and Robbie Grossman, who smacked 50 homers between them a year ago, have yet to hit a single ball out of the park.

Akil Baddoo, last year’s breakout star, is struggling so badly that he’s largely disappeared from A.J. Hinch’s rotation. Once the presumed leadoff hitter, Baddoo is now surrendering at-bats to Derek Hill, Eric Haase, and Willi Castro.

Detroit Tigers center fielder Akil Baddoo returns to the dugout after striking out against the Minnesota Twins during the third inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, April 27, 2022, in Minneapolis. Twins won 5-0. (The Associated Press 2022)

Baddoo is 5-for-39 (.128) on the season, with 12 strikeouts and only three walks.

That’s nothing, though, compared to what two veterans are doing to the lineup.

Jonathan Schoop and Jeimer Candelario, who lead the Tigers in at-bats, with 80 and 73, respectively, have been complete non-factors offensively.

Candelario is batting .164, with nearly as many strikeouts (17) as total bases (18). Schoop’s numbers are even worse: a .150 average, .190 on-base percentage (tied with Baddoo for worst on the team), and only 17 total bases.

Only Meadows and Baez have given the Tigers consistent offensive production.

Injuries

As bad as the Tigers have been offensively, they’ve been just as unlucky in the injury department.

Three members of the Opening Day starting rotation are already on the injured list -- Casey Mize, Matt Manning, and Tyler Alexander.

Relievers Kyle Funkhouser, Jose Cisnero, and Andrew Chafin all started the season on the IL. Chafin returned last week, but the other two are nowhere near taking the mound.

Riley Greene broke his foot a week before he was set to make his MLB debut, and Baez spent 10 days on the injured list after a dazzling first few games in the Old English D. Injuries to Hill and Victor Reyes have cut even further into the team’s outfield depth beyond Greene.

Grossman hasn’t officially hit the IL yet, but he missed a few games in late April and was taken out of Sunday’s loss after getting hit by a pitch in the hand.

The Tigers don’t have great depth on their bench or in the upper levels of the farm system, so losing this many key players has exacerbated the struggles Candelario, Schoop, and others.

Defensive miscues

It’s the one-week anniversary of one of the most disastrous plays in recent Tigers memory. Baez hit a three-run homer to give the team a late lead, but Gregory Soto walked two straight batters to begin the bottom of the ninth, Grossman dropped a liner that hit his glove, and then Eric Haase threw a ball to no man’s land to allow the tying and winning runs to trot home.

That was just the first loss of an ugly series in Minneapolis. The Tigers got shut out the next night and then committed four errors in the final game of the series to completely crater Tarik Skubal’s start.

On April 19, Barnhart and Alexander watched an easy popup fall between home plate and the mound, allowing the New York Yankees to score two runs. The bases were loaded with two outs, so the Tigers would have gotten out of that inning unscathed.

Instead, that error gave the Yankees a two-run lead and ultimately knocked Alexander out of the game after just one inning. Torkelson misplayed two foul popups later in the game, and the Tigers lost by two runs.

A throwing error by Candelario on April 13 sparked a six-run fourth inning for the Boston Red Sox, and the Tigers went on to lose 9-7.

Errors happen, but mishandled routine plays cost the Tigers at least three games in a single month. That shouldn’t happen.

Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera sits in the dugout during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers Saturday, April 30, 2022, in Los Angeles. (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

With Baez and Schoop up the middle and Barnhart behind the dish, the Tigers were supposed to be vastly improved defensively. Instead, the simple mistakes have been crippling.

Turning the tide

Again, it’s only May 3, and the Tigers have plenty of time to stop shooting themselves in the foot and start winning games. They had lost 18 of 21 last year when they suddenly ripped off nine wins in 11 games -- a baseball season can turn around on a dime.

On the other hand, these struggles can’t last much longer. The Tigers aren’t good enough to erase a 10-game deficit and make the postseason, so if they want to have a serious chance to contend deep into the summer, they need to steady the ship -- as soon as possible.

Not much can be done about the injuries, but established hitters need to break out of 20-game slumps, the defense has to make routine plays, and the starting rotation beyond Skubal needs to give the team a chance every night.

The 2022 Detroit Tigers’ season is far from over, but crunch time has arrived much earlier than anyone expected.

How worried are you?


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.