DETROIT – Javier Baez said exactly what Detroit Tigers fans wanted to hear five weeks ago, after delivering a thrilling walk-off victory on Opening Day.
“It’s not gonna be easy,” the new franchise shortstop said of his team’s goal to compete for a playoff spot. “But it’s gonna be fun.”
It’s been a little more than a month since that magical moment, and the Tigers are far from living up to Baez’s promise.
Late-night reaction: Detroit Tigers fans deserve better. It’s time for change
This fan base has endured a lot over the past six years. The team has been, by and large, a laughingstock. Finishing with the worst record in MLB twice and never coming close to a winning record, the Tigers have been the opposite of fun. More often than not, they’ve toed the line between frustrating and unbearable to watch.
But this season was supposed to be different. Or, at the very least, the start of something different.
Fans got a small but unsatisfying taste of success during a 68-61 run to the finish line in 2021. It proved the Tigers could, conceivably, play winning baseball over the full course of a season. Then, Al Avila added Eduardo Rodriguez, Tucker Barnhart, Javier Baez, and Austin Meadows to the mix.
For the first time in half a decade, going to Comerica Park for Opening Day wasn’t just about tailgating and eating ballpark food. The baseball game actually felt like it mattered.
So when Baez, fresh off playing hero in his first game in the Old English D, promised that the team would at least be fun, it was hard not to get caught up in the moment, hard not to take the team’s new $140 million man at his word.
Fast forward to the present, and the Tigers don’t resemble anything remotely close to fun.
The Tigers own the worst record in the American League at 9-23. They’ve scored the fewest runs per game in baseball and just lost four out of five home games to a team that had lost nine straight coming in.
READ: Tigers lose 4 of 5 games vs. Oakland, which came to Detroit on 9-game losing streak
We’re not even midway through May, and simply finishing the season with a winning record has once again become a pipe dream.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Tigers were shut down by a pair of Oakland rookie starting pitchers -- one who allowed 16 earned runs in 19.1 innings in Triple-A before being called up and another who allowed 10 in 16 innings.
Two guys who were getting shelled by minor leaguers came up and immediately had no problem dominating what’s supposed to be a major league lineup.
I suppose some might consider the Tigers fun, you know, in a visit-to-the-dentist’s-office or hours-long-work-seminar kind of way.
Baez himself has been dreadful at the plate. His .607 OPS is lower than what Niko Goodrum and Grayson Greiner posted last season before the Tigers shipped them out of town. The .263 on-base percentage (without any power to justify it) is crippling in the heart of the lineup.
The point is, baseball fans in this city deserve better. It’s been long enough for Avila and Chris Ilitch to rebuild this team, especially after they spent virtually no money to try to compete for the better part of that stretch.
So now, with another season quickly swirling down the drain, it’s time for something to change. Moral victories aren’t good enough anymore. Touting the future and highlighting young players shouldn’t cut it.
Other teams around baseball have bottomed out and returned to contention in the time since the Tigers started their rebuild. Some organizations have struggled to stay in the mix but at least spent money to show fans they care about winning.
The Tigers, however, have justified losing and penny pinching by pointing to the future for far too long. It’s been seven years, and while the names on the back of the jerseys have changed, the things that matter most have not.
The Tigers are still losing. They’re still breaking promises. And they’re certainly not, by any means, “fun.”