It’s time. The Detroit Tigers could reach .500 (after April) for the first time in 6 years

Tigers are 18-21 with 12 winnable games coming up

Catcher Jake Rogers #34 of the Detroit Tigers celebrates with closer Alex Lange #55 after a 5-3 win over the Seattle Mariners at Comerica Park on May 14, 2023 in Detroit, Michigan. (Duane Burleson, 2023 Getty Images)

DETROIT – June 7, 2017. That’s the last time the Detroit Tigers didn’t have a losing record after the first few weeks of a season.

Fans in Detroit have watched six straight years of losing baseball and eight seasons without a playoff appearance. The Tigers have twice finished with the worst record in baseball and routinely been among the bottom five.

But right now, nearly a quarter of the way into 2023, A.J. Hinch’s team is within reach of .500, and the schedule is about to get much more manageable.

Grappling with .500

The Tigers had narrowly missed the playoffs in 2016 and were in a weird limbo between hoping to compete and trying to rebuild the following year. On June 7, 2017, a win over the Angles improved their record to 29-29, but the 3-13 stretch that followed dropped them into a spiral of losing that has lasted longer than anyone expected.

A lot longer.

Detroit finished 2017 by losing 69 of its last 104 games (a .337 winning percentage). The Tigers and Giants tied for the worst record in all of baseball.

In June 2018, the Tigers ripped off five straight wins to pull within one game of .500. They were 36-37 heading into a June 19 game at Cincinnati, but lost their next 11 games to fall to 36-48. By the time the season came to an end, the Tigers were 34 games below .500 and the fifth-worst team in MLB.

The 2019 Detroit Tigers jumped out to a shocking 8-4 start and didn’t fall below .500 until April 26, when a third-straight loss dropped them to 12-13. Unfortunately, the Tigers barely won at all the rest of the year, finishing with a catastrophic 47-114 record, a full 6.5 games worse than anyone else in MLB.

The COVID pandemic skewed the timing of the 2020 season because games didn’t start until late July. The Tigers actually won 17 of their first 33 games before finishing 6-19 to secure another last-place finish.

Probably the best comparison to this year’s team is the 2021 version of the Tigers, which began the year a dreadful 9-24 before catching fire and spending the next five months trying to dig out of the hole.

Detroit played some really good baseball that summer, twice coming within three games of .500 in mid-August. The team made one last push in September, getting to 75-79, but lost six of eight to end the season.

Last year, the Tigers were an abject disaster pretty much from start to finish, falling to 4-5 on April 16 and never getting back to .500 (or really anywhere close).

Why now?

Like each of the past two seasons, the Tigers got off to a slow start in 2023. But this time, they stopped the bleeding after just 11 games.

Since their 2-9 start, the Tigers are 16-12 despite playing one of the toughest schedules in baseball. They’ve won series against the defending World Series champion Houston Astros, the 2022 NL Central champion St. Louis Cardinals, and the 2022 AL Central champion Cleveland Guardians (twice).

Detroit has played 10 games against the two best teams in MLB (the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles) and only five games against the eight worst teams in the league.

In short, the Tigers have played a very difficult schedule so far and still managed to survive. Now, the schedule is about to ease up.

In the next two weeks, the Tigers have a golden opportunity to build on a respectable 18-21 record and become an actual winning team for the first time in more than a half-decade.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, they’ll host a Pittsburgh Pirates team that was projected to finish last in the NL Central and (after a shocking 20-8 start) has lost 11 of its last 13 games. Pittsburgh’s only two wins since April 29 came courtesy of masterful Mitch Keller outings, and he won’t pitch against the Tigers.

After another off-day Thursday, the Tigers will embark on a six-game road trip against the last-place Washington Nationals and last-place Kansas City Royals.

Then, Detroit returns home to host the Chicago White Sox for four games. The White Sox currently have the third-worst record in MLB.

If the Tigers can take advantage of these next 12 games, they could wake up on Monday, May 29, with a winning record. Eight wins would put them at 26-25.

Hinch’s team has proven so far that it can compete with any team outside the AL East (2-14 against teams in that division, 16-7 otherwise). Now it’s time to see if it can take advantage of weaker opponents.

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.