Somewhere in a Foxtown parking garage, Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila gets into his car, not noticing a familiar person sitting in the passenger seat.
“Hello, Al Avila.”
“Akil Baddoo! What are you doing in my car?”
“Your offense’s warranty is expired. Also, I have a lot of free time while I’m on the Triple-A injured list.”
“Holy smokes!” exclaims another familiar face sliding into the back seat.
“Riley Greene? Didn’t you just go 2-for-3 in Lakeland on Saturday?”
“An offense out of warranty could cost you thousands of dollars, or at least any hope of finally ending all this rebuild talk.”
“OK, but what are you guys doing in my car? Seriously, we’re in the middle of the season.”
“Enough about us, you need to call Car Shield now.”
“That sounds pretty great!”
“That’s because it IS great, Al Avila.”
Ah, if only fixing the Tigers’ hitting woes could be fixed with a call to a company that extolls its ability to cover unforeseen contingencies. Y'know, like having two of your most promising under-23 hitters (and car repair pitchmen) spend the first months of the season in the minors due to inconsistency and injuries.
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Sunday’s victory over the Cleveland Guardians brought a small shot of sunshine into a mostly dreary first two months for the Tigers, with the 2-1 win — on three hits! — giving the Tigers a 2-1 series win as well.
“Y’know, 2-1 wins ... wins are hard to come by,” manager A.J. Hinch said afterward. “Especially when, you know, we didn’t put up a whole ton of runs.
“Winning will help. You know, you go home after a rough day offensively, if you didn’t get a lot of hits, or you weren’t one of the contributors, but you win, it’s a pretty good feeling.”
Sunday was the 11th straight game in which the Tigers scored four runs or less, dating back to their previous Sunday victory at Comerica Park, a 5-1 triumph over the Baltimore Orioles on May 15. It’s just another measure of the Tigers’ impressive woes at the plate: Their average runs per game actually dropped further, to 2.72, after the win, nearly two-thirds of a run behind the Pittsburgh Pirates, the next-worst team at 3.37.
Really, by almost any measure, the Tigers’ offense has been historically bad, 46 games into the season.
Let’s start with the Curly Fries Test: If you’ve watched a game over the past few seasons, you know when the Tigers score three runs (or more, hahahahahahaha, just kidding), a Tigers box score gets you free fries at Arby’s the following day. (Remember the days when it was three home runs?) So how many times have the Tigers hit the three-run mark this season? Just 22, or fewer than half their games. (That total is only tied for fifth-worst over the past 50 seasons. The Miami Marlins had 18 games with at least three runs in their first 46 outings of 2013, and the 1979 Oakland A’s, 1988 Baltimore Orioles, and 2019 Marlins did it 21 times out of 46.)
Still, not everything is about free potato products (despite what my stomach says), so let’s set the bar a bit higher. But not too high; remember, runs are at a premium this season. MLB teams are averaging 4.24 runs a game, down from 4.53 over a full season in 2021 and 4.65 over a 60-game season in 2020. So, we’ll round down a little; how many times have the Tigers managed four runs? They’re up to 13 games, tied for second-worst since '73 (with the ’19 Marlins and the 1988 San Diego Padres) and trailing only the ’13 Marlins.
And then there’s the quasi-holy grail: Five runs a game. Only two teams this season (the Dodgers and Giants) are averaging that, but, hey, it’s nice to dream. As recently as 2017, the Tigers scored at least five runs 25 times in their first 46 games. This year, however? Just six times (and none since May 15, a span of 11 games and two rainouts). That’s REALLY bad. Like, worst-in-50-seasons bad and one game fewer than the 2004 Montreal Expos (who were so bad they ditched Canada the following season) and the ’88 Padres.
But let’s get to what you really want to know: WHO IS TO BLAME FOR THIS? (And is there a manager — general or otherwise — you can speak to? Joel Zumaya wants to know…)
1. CarShield. Seriously, is it too late to get the Tigers covered? I mean, yeah, Robbie Grossman’s warranty was up a while ago, but they JUST got Austin Meadows, only slightly used by a little old franchise in St. Petersburg. He even still has that “new car smell.”
2. The supply chain. We don’t fully understand it either, but it turns out, Avila ordered a bunch of runs back in November, and they’re all sitting on a dock overseas, waiting for a cargo ship to get them to the U.S. Maybe they’ll arrive by August, along with a few thousand cases of toilet paper.
3. The weather. Yes, it’s a popular refrain during the gray days of April, but does it really apply? In 2021, 116 of the Tigers’ games had a starting temperature below 80 degrees, with an average of 4.2 runs, while 46 started at 80 or hotter, with an average of 4.57 runs. Then again, the Tigers are averaging 2.73 runs in their 40 sub-80 games this year, and 2.67 in the six above 80. Maybe Tuesday’s doubleheader, with a potential temp in the 90s, will give us a clue.
In reality, there’s no one solution, either on the roster or working his way through rehab. Just take it from Hinch.
“In my experience — and I struggled a lot — it’s not an easy fix,” he said Sunday. “It doesn’t just pick up today. You can go 3- or 4-for-4 tomorrow and you’re gonna be hitting a buck-something. You look up and we got six guys hitting under .200. So it’s not gonna be solved in a day. But hopefully you get around, maybe distract you from, from, y’know, the lull of that. … One thing for each guy can spark it, and you can change it in an at-bat, so a couple guys, y’know, could use it.”
For nearly two months, that dumb CarShield ad (which is less dumb, somehow, than the NHL versions starring noted NHLer Ryan O’Reilly, trust us. Were they just trying to lock up all Riley variants? Is there a Pat Riley version airing only in Miami?) has been our only chance to watch Riley Greene. But that should be changing soon, as Greene started his rehab with Low-A Lakeland on Friday — he went 2-for-6 in Friday’s and Saturday’s games — and was moved up to Toledo on Monday. Of course, he probably won’t stop there, as best bud Spencer Torkelson told the Freep’s Evan Petzold; he expects Greene to hit Detroit “sooner rather than later.” .
And when Greene does reunite with Tork, we’ll get to see if they can snap a streak that has plagued the franchise for nearly four decades, as the Freep’s Shawn Windsor explored this week: Why can’t the Tigers develop (and keep) All-Star hitters?
Pitching development, on the other hand, seems to be rolling along just fine, at least in the bullpen. The latest standout is righty Alex Lange, whose scoreless four-batter outing Sunday dropped his 2022 ERA to 1.45 over 18⅔ innings, thanks to a seemingly impenetrable calmness on the mound. Our Man Petzold chatted with Lange about what he does to steel his nerves between appearances. (Hint: There’s a burning product involved.)
Three to watch
The starting rotation will get some work this week, including …
Three to wait for
In what is becoming a weekly feature, here’s the latest rehab news for some Tigers arms:
CASEY MIZE: He’s throwing, but not from a mound yet.
The scoop on Schoop
Oh, if only that rhymed. And if only Jonathan Schoop was hitting like he did last year. May has been better than April, but only to the tune of a .590 OPS in the second month of the season. But while his bat has been iffy, Schoop’s glove has been Gold Glove-caliber. Our Man Petzold has the, well, scoop on how Schoop is keeping offense and defense separated in his mind.
An imperfect anniversary
It’s that time of year: Thursday marks 12 years since Armando Galarraga retired the first 26 Cleveland batters, then had to watch Jim Joyce call No. 27, Jason Donald, safe inexplicably. (Bitter, us? Nooooo, though we were in the stands that night.) If you want to relive the pain, you can check out the Freep’s oral history of that night. Will it ever be recognized as a perfect game? Probably not, but there’s a law class in New Jersey working on getting that changed. Read more about them.
Tigers birthdays this week: Neifi Perez (49 on Thursday).
Who’s got it better (and worse) than us?
Speaking of misery, with a quarter of the season in the books, it’s time to take a look at the most miserable teams in baseball. And, perhaps surprisingly, the Tigers aren’t at the very top (or is that the bottom?) of the list. Find out who is.
Mark your calendar
Hey, remember the Twins, who took two of three from the Tigers last week in Minneapolis? Well, they’re in town for five games in four days, from Monday-Thursday, including that scorching split doubleheader on Tuesday. Then — after celebrating the life of Lou Gehrig on Thursday with the rest of baseball — the Tigers head to Gehrig’s hometown for a three-game set against the Yankees from Friday-Sunday. (You’ll have to wake up a bit early and fiddle with your computer to catch Sunday’s game, though; it’s an 11:30 a.m. start, shown only on NBC’s streaming service, Peacock.)
Y’know, Spencer Torkelson had an idea on what could turn around the Tigers’ bats:
“Everything’s contagious,” Torkelson said. “Hitting’s contagious. Winning’s contagious. Pitching, contagious. Everything in this game’s contagious. As long as we keep on that train, keep winning, keep putting together good at-bats, the hits are gonna come.”
We’re not sure that this is a great time to be talking contagion — especially with Will Vest not fully off the COVID-19 list yet — but than again, it's worth a try.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers Newsletter: Time to check the warranty on these hitters