The annual National Cherry Festival resumes this weekend in Traverse City and runs until the start of the 2021 MLB All-Star break begins after the following weekend. Let’s use that time to look at how the Detroit Tigers have been performing over an intraseason period selected solely to make them appear better than they have been if you do something foolish like take then entire season into account.
On May 7, the Tigers lost to the Minnesota Twins 7-3, dropping their record to 9-24, and leaving them as the only MLB team without a double-digit win total. Miguel Cabrera was running a career-worst .127/.225/.238 line, and the team had just one above-average hitter in Jeimer Candelario (115 wRC+, with his BABIP still hovering around .400).
On May 8, though, the Tigers reversed the scoreboard and beat the Twins 7-3. That started a 25-21 run, a .543 winning percentage that– holding all else constant– would bump Detroit up to third place in the AL Central (or first place in the NL East).* Sure they actually remain locked in a virtual tie for last place in the division, but let’s stick with this May 8 thing a little while longer.
Since May 8, Detroit quadrupled its tally of above-average hitters. Robbie Grossman and Eric Haase (both 107 wRC+) have come on strong and clutch. And Jonathan Schoop and breakout star Akil Baddoo are on fire. Their respective 167 wRC+ and 159 wRC+ marks would make each of them top-ten hitters if extended over the full season to date. (On the other hand, Candelario dropped 100 points of BABIP and flipped his wRC+ from 115 to 85.)
As he so often does, Miguel Cabrera deserves special mention. He’s pulled up his offensive rate numbers a good deal and continues to accumulate historic-level career achievements. He continues to close in on 3,000 hits (2,915), and at 493 homers, he now is tied with Lou Gehrig and Fred McGriff on the all-time list.
On the pitching side, it’s starting to feel like the next generation of Detroit starters is arriving. While there’s more volatility here, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and Spencer Turnbull all seem like they’ve been hitting some decent strides. Turnbull’s missed a little time with a forearm strain, but, since May 8, Skubal’s been a top-twenty pitcher by FIP (3.42) and fWAR (1.1), while Mize has been in that same tier for ERA (2.91) and BB/9 (1.94). A couple graphs visually confirm that these guys have shown steady improvement since early May:
There are starting to be some dim, flickering signs of encouragement in Detroit, and we hope that, particularly with respect to the pitching rotation, these are formative times for the core of the next great Tigers team.
No Spin Mizer
* All statistics and standings current as of the time I typed them.