DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers entered the 2022 season with a revamped roster and dreams of contending for a playoff spot. It’s only been one month, but those dreams are already hanging on by a thread.
On April 8, the Tigers opened the season with a thrilling walk-off victory over the mighty Chicago White Sox. Hometown favorite Eric Haase tied the game with a home run, and high-profile additions Austin Meadows and Javier Baez paired up to bring home the game winner.
After an exhausting offseason of nothing but lockout news, it was as fun a start to the year as anyone could have imagined. Finally, for the first time in five years, the Tigers might play for something other than individual player development. Maybe, the games would actually start to matter.
Or so we hoped.
Exactly one month after that magical Opening Day, the Tigers celebrated Mother’s Day with a shutout loss to the Houston Astros, capping off a miserable four-game sweep. The team has lost 12 of 14 since getting off to a reasonable 6-7 start, and Detroit is 7.5 games behind the third wildcard team.
Does that sound familiar? It should. This is almost exactly what happened to the Tigers early in their first season under manager A.J. Hinch.
Part of the reason fans were so excited about this team was the way 2021 ended. After starting 9-24, the Tigers went 68-61 in the final four-plus months of the season, showing that these players could, in fact, play winning baseball over an extended period.
But now, once again, we find ourselves backed into a world of silver linings and moral victories.
It’s true that the Tigers still have 135 games remaining. But it’s not too early to acknowledge an increasingly grim outlook.
Over the past five seasons (excluding the COVID-shortened 2020), here’s the record of each third-place wildcard finisher -- in other words, the team that would have earned the final American League playoff spot in the current format:
- 2017: Kansas City Royals -- 80-82
- 2018: Tampa Bay Rays -- 90-72
- 2019: Cleveland Guardians -- 93-69
- 2021: Toronto Blue Jays -- 91-71
There are far too many stacked rosters in the AL for a team like the 2017 Royals to make the postseason in 2022. Five AL teams are currently on pace for at least 100 wins, and the Blue Jays and White Sox are currently batting for the final spot.
For the Tigers to win 90 games this season, they would have to go 82-53 from this point forward -- a .607 winning percentage. To put that into perspective, the Tigers have won 60% of their games in a season just once since the 1984 World Series.
Let’s say something unexpected happens and the final wildcard team only has 85 wins. The Tigers would still have to go 77-58 -- a .570 winning percentage.
Right now, there aren’t many signs of a breakthrough. The Tigers have the fewest runs scored in baseball (tied with the Royals, who have played two fewer games). They’ve won just one of nine series overall. Even though they did it last year, a prolonged stretch of winning would have to come out of nowhere.
This home stand
If the Tigers want to have any chance to get back in the mix, they have to take advantage of this week’s home stand at Comerica Park.
So far, the Tigers have played some of the most talented teams in MLB -- the Dodgers, Astros, White Sox, Yankees, and Twins. The schedule is about to become much more forgiving.
Over the next seven days, the Tigers will play eight games against two of the worst teams in the league -- five against the Oakland Athletics and three against the Baltimore Orioles.
They’ve had more early success than the Tigers (that’s not saying much -- only the Cincinnati Reds have been worse than Detroit) but Oakland and Baltimore both have bad rosters. If there’s any shred of fight left in this team, it has to dominate this week -- we’re talking at least six or seven wins.
Say the Tigers go 6-2 during this stretch. That would put them at 14-21 heading into a tough nine-game road trip. That’s still not great, but it could at least be the start of some better baseball.
Tigers fans deserved a lot better from this team over the first month, especially after listening to Chris Ilitch and Al Avila justify losing by pointing to the end of the rebuild for so many years. If they can’t turn it around immediately, the Tigers will be facing another long, meaningless summer.