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The Detroit Tigers are at the Halfway Point

It is now the first week of July and the Tigers have played 81 games in the 2021 season. While the All Star break separates the season into a first half and a second half, it is not the true halfway point. When the All-Star Break begins, the Tigers will have played 91 games. After the All-Star Break, the Tigers will play 71 more games to finish out the season.

Detroit has a 36-45 record, and currently occupy third place in the American League Central division. The Chicago White Sox lead the division with a 48-32 record and are 12.5 games ahead of Detroit. The Tampa Bay Rays and the Oakland Athletics would win the two wild card spots if the season ended today, and Detroit is 11 games behind those two teams.

With that being said, let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of the first half of the 2021 season.

The Good:

Detroit didn’t really have high expectations of competing for the playoffs in 2021. The hope for the Tigers is that the young players they drafted over the last few years would continue to progress. This has been something that seems to be going in the right direction for Detroit. After the debuts of Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize last year, we weren’t sure how they would perform in 2021. Skubal looked good in Spring Training this year and earned the third spot in the starting rotation, and Mize was inconsistent in Spring Training, being pushed to the number five spot in the rotation. With Spencer Turnbull out due to Covid-19 protocols to start the season, Mize barely made the rotation.

However, both Mize and Skubal have pitched good for the Tigers and have been the only starters to not miss time this season. After the April 23 game against the Royals in which Mize gave up six earned runs, he has not allowed more than three earned runs in any start since then. Of his last 11 starts, 9 have been quality starts. Mize has a 5-4 record with a 3.46 ERA and leads the team with 88 1/3 innings pitched.

Tarik Skubal started out slow with a bad month of April. His first start against Cleveland was good, only giving up 2 earned runs in 5 1/3 innings. After that, he never pitched more than 4 innings in his next 5 starts. On April 30, he had a record of 0-4 with a 6.14 ERA. Since then, he has pitched just about as good as Mize. His record now sits at 4-7, and his ERA has dropped to 4.06 in 77 2/3 innings pitched.

Matthew Boyd was a bright spot for Detroit this year before being placed on the injured list on June 15. Last year, he led the American League in categories you don’t want to lead the league in with 45 earned runs and 15 home runs allowed. This year, he cut those numbers in half as he has only given up 27 earned runs and 6 home runs allowed. He has a hard luck 3-6 record with a 3.44 ERA in 70 2/3 innings pitched.

Spencer Turnbull didn’t make his first start of the season until April 21. It was a much needed boost for Detroit as Julio Teheran had been placed on the injured list after only one start. Michael Fulmer filled the void and helped Detroit eat some innings until Turnbull was ready to pitch. Turnbull seemed to be on top of his game right out of the gate as he helped Detroit beat Pittsburgh. After stumbling against Boston on May 6, where he only pitched three innings, Turnbull came back to beat Kansas City and evened his record at 2-2.

The biggest highlight of the first half of the 2021 season came on May 18. Spencer Turnbull threw a no-hitter in Seattle for his first complete game shutout in his career. This was Detroit’s first no-hitter since Justin Verlander threw a no-hitter in Toronto during the 2011 season. This seemed like a turning point for Detroit as the rotation seemed to be hitting on all cylinders with Turnbull’s outing.

Overall, the biggest strength this year for Detroit has been the starting pitching. There was a stretch this season where Detroit had the highest Wins Above Average for Starting Pitchers in MLB. Considering that Detroit wasn’t expected to be near the top in this category, it has been a boost for the overall direction this club is heading in.

Outside of the starting pitching, other good things for Detroit this season start with a player named Akil Baddoo. Baddoo was selected by the Tigers with the third pick of the Rule 5 Draft when Minnesota didn’t put Baddoo on their 40-man roster. As much as Detroit sometimes takes a good deal of flak for not making the best choices, this one was a good choice. With a loaded outfield competing for a limited number of spots on the 26-man opening day roster, Baddoo was on fire during Spring Training to win his spot and a trip to Detroit.

You can read my article on Baddoo’s start of the season here. Since then, he had a little bit of a cold spell as you would expect from a rookie. His batting average dipped to .192 after the May 6 game in Boston. After getting a few days off, he has been in the lineup just about every day since the end of May. On June 23, Baddoo was in the leadoff spot in the batting order. He went 1-for-3 with a walk and a run scored as the Tigers beat the Cardinals, 6-2. He has been getting more opportunities since then to bat leadoff and so far he has been performing well as his pitch recognition is getting better.

From June 9 to June 24, Baddoo had an 11-game hitting streak, and had 6 walks to go along with just 6 strikeouts. This is an encouraging sign as Detroit needs someone with his speed in the lineup. With 10 stolen bases this year, Baddoo brings excitement and energy to a team that can feed off of it. This was on display when the Tigers beat the Astros on June 27 with a suicide squeeze bunt play to win the game in the bottom of the 10th inning.

Other good things this season have been Detroit’s hustle. Along with Baddoo, other players have been making hustle plays. Robbie Grossman, who was a free agent signing over the winter, has been able to get on base with a high walk percentage. His 9 stolen bases are ranked third on the team behind Niko Goodrum and Baddoo. Daz Cameron has provided some highlight reel plays in the outfield, along with some clutch hitting when he hit his first home run to tie the game against the White Sox in the 9th inning of a June 11 game.

Detroit also showed some power early this year when there was a time in April where they led the American League in team home runs. On April 13, Detroit led the A.L. with 19 home runs on the 2021 season. The last time they had an outright A.L. home run lead at least ten days into a season was July 30, 2007.

Wilson Ramos, another free agent signing, got off to a red-hot start when he hit 6 home runs in his first 9 games. He was the league leader on April 13 in home runs. He had more home runs than the entire New York Mets team at that point. That would be all of the home runs he would hit for the Tigers this season.

Jonathan Schoop, who re-signed with Detroit in the offseason, has continued his production as a solid hitting second baseman. He signed for $4.5 million dollars and currently has a slash line of .277/.325/.476 with 15 home runs and 45 RBI’s. That is good value.

Eric Haase, who started the season with Toledo (Triple-A Midwest), was called up to Detroit on May 12. He immediately made an impact as he went 2-for-4 to help the Tigers beat the Royals in his first game as a Tiger. On May 17, he hit two home runs in Seattle to help Detroit start a three game sweep of the Mariners. The next night, Haase caught Turnbull’s no-hitter. He didn’t stop hitting as he has three games with two home runs, and a total of nine home runs for the first half of the year. Haase attended Divine Child High School in Dearborn, Michigan.

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – MAY 18: Spencer Turnbull #56 and Eric Haase #13 of the Detroit Tigers celebrate after Turnbull’s no-hitter against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park on May 18, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. The Tigers beat the Mariners 5-0. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Along with Baddoo, Haase has added value to the Tigers after the Indians decided not to re-sign him after spending several seasons in the Minors. Even though Haase is primarily a catcher, he has also played left field for Detroit to keep his bat in the lineup.

Zack Short has also been a positive for the Tigers as he was picked up from the Chicago Cubs last season when Detroit traded Cameron Maybin. His ability to play shortstop, second base or third base provides depth to the Tigers bench. His first career home run came at a great time when the Tigers were playing the Astros on June 26. With the score tied 1-1 in the sixth inning, Short sent a ball into the right-center field stands for a two-run home run and Detroit went on to win the game, 3-1.

Miguel Cabrera did not have a great start to the 2021 season. He did hit a home run in the snow off Shane Bieber on Opening Day as the Tigers won, 3-2. After that it was downhill, as Cabrera reached a low point with a .098 batting average on May 5. Since then, Cabrera has looked better, and now has a .240 batting average. He has had 47 hits in 160 at bats for a .294 batting average to finish out the first half.

DETROIT, MICHIGAN – APRIL 01: Miguel Cabrera #24 of the Detroit Tigers hits a first inning two run home run off of a pitch from Shane Bieber #57 of the Cleveland Indians during Opening Day at Comerica Park on April 01, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Cabrera’s milestones can be a positive if he is able to get 81 hits in 81 team games to get to 3,000 career hits. He also just passed Lou Gehrig and Fred McGriff on the all time home run list, and now needs just six more home runs to reach 500.

Jeimer Candelario has not had as many home runs as he was projected to have so far in the first half. However, he has been solid on both sides of the ball. He has a .261/.340/.366 slash line with 4 home runs and 21 RBI’s. His 16 doubles leads the team.

Jake Rogers was called up on May 7 from Toledo and has added some value with 0.7 bWAR over 28 games. After Grayson Greiner was placed on the injured list, it has been up to Rogers and Haase to take on the catching duties.

Harold Castro has been solid off the Detroit bench, and fills in at different positions as a utility player. He has also filled in as a pitcher in three games to give the bullpen some relief. He has thrown 2 2/3 innings without allowing a hit or a run. He has been Detroit’s Shohei Ohtani.

The Bad:

It seems every season it is the same thing that is always a problem. The bullpen is always a struggle for Detroit. There have been some bright spots and new faces. Michael Fulmer has transitioned into the bullpen, and been great at times. He has two blown saves that have cost Detroit two games. The last blown save gave Houston a come-from-behind win when Yordan Alvarez and Carlos Correa hit back-to-back home runs. After that game, Fulmer was placed on the injured list.

Gregory Soto has performed well (2.18 ERA) and will need to continue to perform in high leverage and save situations. Both Fulmer and Soto have six saves.

Jose Cisnero has also been good with an ERA of 2.83 and three saves. Kyle Funkhouser was called up from Toledo on May 6 and has been a surprise with a 3.04 ERA in 26 2/3 innings pitched.

Outside of those four pitchers, it has been a lackluster campaign for the bullpen. Daniel Norris has not pitched up to expectations in the long relief role (6.67 ERA). Bryan Garcia has been inconsistent (5.10 ERA and 20 walks in 30 innings pitched). Tyler Alexander has been decent and has filled in as the long relief specialist (4.86 ERA).

Buck Farmer was designated for assignment and cleared waivers. He was recently called up from Toledo and is back with Detroit (9.16 ERA). Joe Jimenez, who was an All-Star for Detroit in 2018, couldn’t throw a strike in his first three outings and had a 10.57 ERA after May. He has settled down a little and his ERA is 6.88 after the first half of the season.

Alex Lange, Derek Holland, Jason Foley, Rony Garcia, and Miguel Del Pozo have pitched some. They have not been able to stick on the 26-man roster due to injuries or ineffectiveness.

The low point of the season for the bullpen was on June 12. Beau Burrows was pulled from the game after becoming ill in the hot afternoon sun and vomiting on the mound. After the game, the Tigers optioned Burrows back to Toledo. Burrows was designated for assignment by Detroit on June 15, and claimed off waivers by the Minnesota Twins.

Overall, the Detroit bullpen ranks in the bottom 10 of most relief categories. The total bullpen ERA is 5.07 (ranking 27th in MLB).

The other low points for Detroit in the first half were the month of April. Detroit had an 8-19 record for the month of April. This was despite a good start with leading the American League in home runs and Baddoo’s clutch hits.

From April 15 to May 4, Detroit only won two games. It was during this last stretch at the end of April and beginning of May where Miguel Cabrera and the Detroit offense looked like it was done. On April 26, Detroit was swept at home by the Royals during a four game series. On this last game of the series, Akil Baddoo hit a triple to lead off the bottom of the 8th inning and Detroit was down, 3-2. The probability to score a run and eventually win the game was now in Detroit’s favor. However, Niko Goodrum struck out swinging, then Wilson Ramos grounded out to the catcher, and Victor Reyes struck out swinging. Baddoo was left stranded and Detroit was swept by the Royals. This was the low point for me watching as a fan. It was refreshing to see two months later, the suicide squeeze bunt where Baddoo scored from third to end the game. Take away this stretch of games from mid-April to early May, and the Tigers are in playoff contention. In both May and June, they were 14-13.

Also, with a record of 2-8 versus the Chicago White Sox, it will be important for Detroit to play better against their division rivals.

For the first half of the season, Detroit ranks last in the American League in team runs scored per game with an average of 4.00 runs/game.

The Ugly:

Jose Urena was an offseason free agent signing that the Tigers took a low risk chance on as he comes with a price tag of $3.25 million dollars for one year. This was needed to bridge the gap and keep some of the young starters in the Minors to develop before getting called up. Urena started out good, and had a stretch of four starts (between April 16 and May 2) where he pitched 7 innings and gave up two runs or less. Since then, he has been inconsistent each start.

Julio Teheran was another short term free agent signing. He threw five innings in his first start of the year against Cleveland and won the game. Unfortunately, he has been on the injured list ever since. This feels like Matt Moore in 2019, when he pitched two games without giving up a run before being placed on the injured list for the rest of that season.

On May 7, Victor Reyes was optioned to Toledo. He was also a Rule 5 draft pick that Detroit picked up three years ago. He had a promising start to his Tigers career, and has struggled to get hits this year. Meanwhile, Jacoby Jones was optioned to Toledo on May 24. After a season ending injury last year when he was hit by a pitch, there was hope that Jones could secure the centerfield position. Instead, Jones has been struggling with the bat. This has been a disappointing season for the two players.

Willi Castro, Niko Goodrum and Nomar Mazara have underperfomed in the first half. Last season, Willi Castro outperformed expectations with a .349/.381/.550 slash line. This season, he has a .223/.289/.358 slash line. Meanwhile, Goodrum has not been able to get back to his 2018 numbers. He currently has a .216/.297/.330 slash line. Mazara was another short term solution, and has not performed up to his career averages so far. Mazara’s slash line is .208/.279/.329.

Franklin Perez is injured again. The big name in the Justin Verlander trade will not play for the Detroit Tigers this season or next season. On May 11, it was announced that Pérez would undergo surgery on his pitching shoulder. The next day, Pérez was placed on release waivers by Detroit. On May 14, Pérez re-signed with the Tigers organization on a minor league contract. It will be up to Jake Rogers and Daz Cameron to provide the value in the 2017 Verlander trade deal.


Detroit has a lot to look forward to.

Spencer Torkelson and Dillon Dingler were promoted to Double-A Erie on June 13. In 31 games for High-A West Michigan this season, Torkelson hit a team-high .312 with five home runs and a team-leading 28 RBI. Dingler hit .287 in 32 games for West Michigan with 24 RBI and a team-high eight home runs.

They don’t seem to be slowing down in Erie either as Torkelson has 4 home runs and 11 RBI’s in 14 games. Dingler is hitting .306 in 13 games with 1 home run and 10 RBI’s for Erie.

Riley Greene, the other top pick in Erie, has been hitting .286 in 47 games with 8 home runs and 28 RBI’s.

These prospects will not be in Detroit for the 2021 season, unless it is a September call-up. However, sometime next year would be a realistic timetable for these prospects to make it to the Major League level.

With the future looking bright, it might be possible to lure some free agents to sign with Detroit, like Justin Verlander.

However, the 2021 season is still only halfway over. If Turnbull and Boyd come back healthy and pitch the way they did before their injuries, then Detroit may have a long shot chance at a Wild Card spot.

With that being said, Detroit will most likely be selling at the trade deadline. If they decide to sell, then bullpen and starting pitching depth would be the pieces to fill since hitting will be on the way from Erie.

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