Nearly half of MLB’s teams opened their seasons on Thursday — despite games in Minneapolis and New York getting postponed — but the Detroit Tigers had to wait until Friday for their Opening Day. The weather forecast calls for a cool, cloudy day at Comerica Park as the Chicago White Sox come to town.
How can Tigers fans stay warm at the park? Perhaps they can check out our answers to five burning questions as the Tigers go into the season thinking playoffs for the first time in half a decade.
The pundits are equally chilly on the Tigers’ chances of a winning season, with Fangraphs putting them at 76-86, Baseball Prospectus projecting an even-worse 70-92 record and USA TODAY’s pundits weighing in at 80-82 (before the Austin Meadows deal).
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Our writers are more optimistic, however. (Yes, even Carlos.) Free Press sports writers Mitch Albom, Ryan Ford, Carlos Monarrez, Evan Petzold, Jeff Seidel and Shawn Windsor all took their swings at the big issues facing the franchise in 2022. Will they whiff, like so many Javier Baez at-bats, or connect for a deep one, like so many Miguel Cabrera at-bats (502 times through last season). Read on and find out:
How many games will the Tigers win?
Ford: 85. The Tigers will be better — though not dominant — against the AL Central, thanks a handle on the rivalry with the Royals and close to break-even performances against the Guardians, Twins and White Sox. Add in some series sweeps of truly bad A’s, D’backs and Orioles squads and the Tigers should clinch at least a .500 record, for the first time since 2016, sometime in late September.
Petzold: 83. The Tigers made several outstanding offseason additions to boost the lineup for manager AJ Hinch, one of the best skippers in baseball. But even with the improved roster and Hinch’s magic touch, the organization appears to be a few developments — rather than free-agent signings — away from cracking the postseason.
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Monarrez: 80. That’s a slight improvement over last year’s 77-85 record and it should be good enough for the Tigers to stay in contention in a weak AL Central through at least early August. But the back end of the rotation will lead to another third-place finish in the division.
Seidel: 87. A year ago, the Tigers played winning baseball in the second half, putting together an impressive 37-34 record, and this year’s roster is even better. But this team will have bouts of inconsistency because of the young pitchers and reliance on young hitters like Torkelson and — eventually — Greene.
Windsor: 87. That’s a 10-game jump from last seasonl it’d be a nice leap if not for the (sudden?) expectation that the Tigers should make the playoffs.
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Will the Tigers make the playoffs?
Albom: Not yet, but they’ll be chasing in September.
Ford: No. The Tigers will thrive against the rebuilding squads mentioned above. (If ever there was a year to play more than four games against the Pirates…) But their inability to take series from powers such as the Blue Jays and Rays will leave the Tigers at home in mid-October.
Monarrez: No. Let’s be real. The Tigers finished a surprising third in the AL Central last year, but a lot of that had to do with the division being one of the majors’ worst. Even then, the Tigers had a 30-46 division record. The rotation isn’t great and the offense remains a work in progress.
Petzold: No. The Tigers will play meaningful baseball down the stretch, but they won’t snap their postseason drought in 2022. The team’s playoff goal, despite picking up numerous established players, relies heavily on three youngsters: first baseman Spencer Torkelson (rookie), outfielder Riley Greene (rookie) and right-hander Matt Manning (second year). The Tigers need more than three reliable starting pitchers.
Seidel: No. But it’s going to be one heck of a fun summer because they are going to flirt with a wild-card berth into September. The Chicago White Sox will still win more than 90 games, and the Minnesota Twins have vastly improved. And the AL East will gobble up too many wild-card slots.
Windsor: No. Though they will contend for a wild card spot all summer. As much improved as the roster is, pitching is still the thing, and while the Tigers have promising young arms, the inconsistency will get them in the end.
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Who will be the Tigers’ non-rookie breakout player?
Albom: Casey Mize.
Ford: Tyler Alexander. Manager AJ Hinch had it right when he told reporters, “This guy doesn’t get the respect he deserves,” last week. The lefty’s ERA as a starter – 3.38 – was nearly three-quarters of a run lower than when he pitched as a reliever. ERA isn’t everything when measuring pitchers’ contributions to winning, but Alexander finished just behind Oakland trade target Frankie Montas (3.37) and ahead of Opening Day starters such as Jose Berrios (3.52), Lucas Giolito (3.53), John Means (3.62) and Nathan Eovaldi (3.75). His strikeout rate is still low, but he should be helped out by the Tigers’ improved infield defense, too.
Monarrez: Mize. If this team is going anywhere, he must establish himself as the staff ace. That process should start to take shape this year, the second full season in the majors for the 23-year-old right-hander. If the Tigers manage his workload and he stays committed to his splitter, we could see a big leap.
Petzold: Alex Lange. The right-handed reliever is poised for a breakout season, and the Tigers will look to him as a high-leverage arm out of the bullpen. Although three young starters — Manning, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal — are expected to take breakout-caliber leaps forward, Mize and Skubal have already proven themselves as quality big leaguers. Lange is under the radar and might end up as one of the team’s best relief pitchers. The 26-year-old had a 1.93 ERA in his final 22 games last season.
Seidel: Lange. After learning how to control his emotions, Lange ended 2021 with a fantastic run. He closed the year by striking out 18 in 18⅔ innings, allowing just three runs — and most of that was high-pressure, intense moments.
Windsor: Austin Meadows. Does he count? I’d say he does. Yes, he broke out once, but that was three years ago and pre-Covid. The talented slugger arrives from Tampa Bay with some things to prove.
Who will be the Tigers’ All-Star?
Albom: Javier Baez.
Ford: Jonathan Schoop. He struggled out of the gate last season, with a .181/.210/.255 slash line over the Tigers’ first 27 games (April 1-May 4). For the next 60 games (May 5-July 11), though, he hit .314/.362/.547 with 14 homers.
Monarrez: Baez. I’m tempted to keep the Tigers’ streak alive of sending only a pitcher to the past three All-Star games, but shortstop Javier Baez is too good to pass up. After all, he’s a two-time All-Star for good reason. He’s a Gold Glove-caliber defender and he’ll make up for tons of strikeouts by hitting for power.
Petzold: Let’s pick two, finally: Mize and Baez. Mize, a right-hander, posted a 3.71 ERA last season and paced the Tigers in games (30) and innings pitched (150⅓). Baez, the runner-up in the 2018 National League MVP race, should hit enough home runs to stay in the national spotlight.
Seidel: Baez. Oh, man, this is hard. Part of me wants to pick a pitcher like Gregory Soto. And I considered Jeimer Candelario, who is going to have a strong year. But I’ll go with Baez. Hitting in front of Candy is only going to help him, watching Miggy every day will make him improve through osmosis and Hinch & Co. will keep him on track.
Windsor: Tarik Skubal. The hard throwing lefty spent the offseason tweaking his curveball and polishing his filthy slider. Skubal has the stuff to be dominant and showed that stuff a year ago. He shows it more this summer.
Who will have a better season, Riley Greene or Spencer Torkelson?
Ford: Torkelson. Greene arguably had the better season of the two in the minors last year, but it’s still a big jump to the big leagues. Just ask Seattle prospect Jarred Kelenic. The Wisconsin native was the No. 6 pick in the 2018 draft out of high school and forced a promotion with a .370/.414/.630 run in Triple-A to open the 2021 season. But in the majors, Kelenic hit .096/.185/.193 in his first call-up. Torkelson, meanwhile, should be helped by his high-level college experience; he might struggle early, but should turn in a solid 20-homer, 20-double season that’ll lock up first base in Detroit for years to come.
Monarrez: Greene. Even with his potential two-month setback, Greene will have a better season based on averages and projections once he gets called up. Torkelson has more power in his bat, but Greene looked like an all-around better player last year in Triple-A and this year in spring training. He’ll be an instant and noticeable upgrade in center field once he arrives.
Petzold: Greene. Even missing two months of the regular season, the 21-year-old center fielder will show he is a dynamic player and a future MVP candidate. Compared to Torkelson, Greene was the better hitter in Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo last season. There’s reason to believe he’s the best prospect in the farm system, and based on spring training, he could soon wind up as the best hitter in the Tigers’ lineup.
Seidel: Greene. Obviously, Torkelson will accumulate bigger numbers. But I expect Greene to get healthy, reach Detroit in June and hit the ground running. This kid falls out of the bed every morning crushing the ball and making an impact — both at the plate and in the field. So I’ll say Greene, even though it will be a smaller sample size.
Windsor: Greene. Greene looked like a 10-year vet in spring training before injuring his foot. Yes, it’s spring training. But that liquid swing and that 21-going-on-31 countenance should translate when he gets his chance after healing. Oh, the diving catches will translate, too. Torkelson will have his moments, and even months where he looks better, but by the fall Greene will have met his considerable hype.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism