Why the next 22 games will show us how fun or rough this Detroit Tigers season will be

Tigers have history of late-April woes under AJ Hinch

Matt Vierling #8 of the Detroit Tigers celebrates with teammate Tyler Nevin #18 following the 1-0 win against the Cleveland Guardians in game two of a doubleheader at Comerica Park on April 18, 2023 in Detroit, Michigan. (Jaime Crawford, 2023 Getty Images)

DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers have been playing much better baseball of late, and we’re about to find out whether we’ve seen the peak of this season or a legitimate sign of better days ahead.

Since starting the season 2-9, A.J. Hinch and the Tigers have righted the ship and won five of their past six games. Suddenly, the team has taken three of six series, including against Houston and Cleveland teams that are expected to win their divisions.

But this type of start isn’t unheard of for bad Tigers teams. In fact, under Hinch, it’s been the norm.

In 2021, Hinch’s first season at the helm, the Tigers got off to a surprisingly strong 6-6 start, winning two series against -- you guessed it -- Cleveland at home and Houston on the road.

Then the Tigers traveled to Oakland for a four-game series and proceeded to lose 18 of their next 21 games.

Last season, Detroit expected to be competitive for the first time since 2016. There was excitement surrounding Miguel Cabrera’s chase for 3,000 hits, the addition of Javier Baez, and the promotion of Spencer Torkelson.

But after a reasonable 6-7 start, the Tigers cratered, losing 16 of 19 games. The most damage came during road trips to Minnesota, Los Angeles (Dodgers), and Houston -- the Tigers went 1-9 in those games to spark the losing streak.

Unlike the previous year, when the Tigers rebounded and played a few months of .500 baseball, the 2022 team never recovered from that 9-23 start.

Manager A.J. Hinch #14 of the Detroit Tigers looks on during the game against the Cleveland Guardians at Comerica Park on April 19, 2023 in Detroit, Michigan. (2023 Getty Images)

So here we are, a few weeks into 2023. The Tigers are 7-10, and just like the last two seasons, they’re embarking on a tough mid-April road trip: three games each against the Baltimore Orioles and Milwaukee Brewers.

If the Tigers follow the trend of the first two seasons under Hinch, the next 22 games will be extremely unpleasant to watch. All 22 games will come against teams with realistic playoff chances, 16 against teams with winning records currently:

  • April 21-23: at Baltimore Orioles (11-7)
  • April 24-26: at Milwaukee Brewers (14-5)
  • April 27-30: vs. Baltimore Orioles (11-7)
  • May 2-4: vs. New York Mets (13-7)
  • May 5-7: at St. Louis Cardinals (8-11)
  • May 8-10: at Cleveland Guardians (10-9)
  • May 12-14: vs. Seattle Mariners (8-11)

The Tigers probably won’t be favored in any of these games, and even if they win once per series, a 7-15 stretch would put them at an abysmal 14-25 overall by May 15.

On the other hand, if the Tigers manage to get through this stretch with a reasonable record -- say, 10-12 -- they would be 17-22 with many of their toughest games in the rearview mirror. That would be a very encouraging sign, especially after the 2-9 start.

Riley Greene #31 of the Detroit Tigers heads for home on his solo home run that would be difference in the game in the sixth inning against the Cleveland Guardians in game two of a double header at Comerica Park on April 18, 2023 in Detroit, Michigan. (2023 Getty Images)

Some of the team’s top hitters are showing signs of breaking out. Baez hit three doubles during the five-game winning streak after going 11 games without an extra-base hit. Spencer Torkelson is 70th percentile or better in hard hit rate, average exit velocity, and whiff rate. Riley Greene, while the strikeout rate is alarming, has shown excellent opposite field power after hitting too many ground balls as a rookie.

The pitching staff is keeping the Tigers in most games, with the exception of one start apiece from Spencer Turnbull and Joey Wentz and a pair of bullpen blowups against Houston and Toronto.

Nobody should expect the Tigers to win 10 of the next 22 games. But hey, maybe they’ll surprise us again -- nobody expected them to beat the Astros and Guardians, either.

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.