Detroit Tigers 2021 Season Preview

The day is here. A full season of baseball, we have many reasons to hope, lays before us. The Detroit Tigers’ opening contest, a home divisional matchup with Cleveland, begins at 1:10 this afternoon. It will be, we must begin by noting, the first opening day without Al Kaline as a part of the Tigers organization since 1954.

The leading public projection systems don’t particularly care for what they see in the Tigers roster this year (PECOTA: sixty-six wins; FanGraphs: seventy-one wins), but even seventy wins would feel like a good accomplishment for a team that hasn’t bested that mark since 2016.

With championship contention out of the question, the focus turns to individual accomplishments. In that regard, most of the spotlight rightly belongs to Miguel Cabrera. A full, healthy season puts in play for him in 2021 two major offensive milestones: 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. Cabrera’s place in Cooperstown already is assured, but these are lifetime-achievement benchmarks it’s difficult to imagine absent from his resume. Cabrera enters the season second on both the active hits (2,866) and home runs (487) leaderboards, trailing only Albert Pujols in both categories. Most observers are targeting August and September for Cabrera to hit these historic points. In the meantime, it will be fun to watch him pass other big names– Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Barry Bonds– on his way there.

The rest of the Tigers roster has perhaps more modest goals for this season. The PECOTA projection system sees a few interesting individual achievements of varying significance for a handful of players. Will Opening-Day starter Matthew Boyd finish the season with an ERA under 4.00 for the first time ever? Will Buck Farmer post his first career save? Will Jeimer Candelario go all year without being caught stealing for the first time since 2017? Will Cabrera hit his first triple since 2016?

Detroit fans definitely like Farmer’s odds. As fun as it would be to see Cabrera leg out another triple, I think I’m rooting for Farmer, if only because that might help my nickname for him– Deer Hunter– finally gain some traction.

The Candelario item highlights a broader strategic shift toward what seems like it will be a more aggressive style of play coming from new manager A.J. Hinch. After leading the Houston Astros from the bottom all the way to the top and then losing his job and serving a one-year suspension for his role in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, Hinch found a new home with the team for which he played an unmemorable season of third-string catcher nearly a decade ago. Although there is and will remain a cloud over it, Hinch’s managerial championship pedigree and association with some of the game’s brightest minds (a little too bright, perhaps) in Houston, together with his playing experience that includes time behind the dish in Detroit and his relative youth (he’ll turn forty-seven next month), all suggest he could be the best version of what the Tigers thought they’d found in Brad Ausmus back in 2014.

While Hinch appears to be a steady hand at the helm, this ship will sail only as far as ownership allows. As some of the team’s top pitching prospects begin to ripen, the task of finding run support for that budding rotation remains at the feet of Chris Ilitch. When the iron is hot, will he spend like his father did to add key free agents and push the team back into the top tier of contention? Or will he continue to churn the roster, keeping the team mired in a hunt for nothing more than intransigent mediocrity? I really like the Julio Teheran signing this offseason, but it’s moves of a different kind– think Prince Fielder or even Justin Upton, like Teheran, also a former Atlanta Brave– that soon will be needed. Is the young owner truly motivated to win? We’ll know before long.

For now, we have at our own feet that pure and exciting thing for which there is no need to wait: the Detroit Tigers are playing baseball today.

The week in “sports”: 4/10/20

tillman winston

From the Hey, We’re Trying Department:

  • Sports were cancelled again: Amidst alternatively gloomy and pie-in-the-sky loony outlooks shared on the prospect of the near-term return of anything not horse racing and NASCAR videogaming, the best hope– really– this week was UFC don Dana White’s proposal to stage MMA fights on a mysterious private island. Promptly after that story broke, the UFC announced the cancellation of its next round of scheduled fights. It also turns out White & Co. don’t actually own that island just yet. Meanwhile, plenty of viral bluster from a couple of college football’s biggest mouths, Mike “I’m a Man” Gundy and Dabo “Dabo” Swinney; NASCAR’s iRacing coverage insists on consistently using a very annoying term with regard to Bubba Wallace (not going to link that one); and MLB’s floated plan to play its 2020 season in the summer in the desert with lots of players and staff but no fans and no player or staff family members hits some too-obvious roadblocks. Also, Al Kaline died. More on him in a forthcoming post, but if you feel like just packing it in and trying again for sports in 2021, I won’t blame you.
  • A college basketball champion was crowned: The 2020 NCAA men’s basketball national championship game would have been Monday night, and the young cyborgs at FiveThirtyEight determined that, had it been played, it would have featured Michigan State and Kansas, with the Spartans prevailing to claim their third national championship in program history. (I couldn’t bear to read that article, so I’m sorry if it’s the wrong link.) In case you have the desire to empty an entire bag of Morton System Saver salt into your March Madness wound, here’s the site’s full projected 2020 bracket.
  • Other news: Chris Johnson maybe had two guys killed? And the Masters twitter account is posting pretty pictures and video highlights in memory of what would have been Masters week 2020.
  • Coming up: Previews indicate that Marshawn Lynch will return in Sunday night’s episode of Westworld.

‘I’ll Never Forget It.’ (via Detroit Free Press)

f1ed3bbd-5f15-439a-852b-af784061e788-ap_681010014This article was originally published Friday, Oct. 11, 1968 in the Free Press, the day after the Detroit Tigers won Game 7 of the World Series in St. Louis. Here’s the exact reprint of what Tigers outfielder Al Kaline wrote as it appeared in the paper.

ST. LOUIS — We had our strongest arm going for us and he won it and we won it the way we have all year, but coming from behind.

Mickey Lolich’s arm is the strongest on our staff. It’s never sore the day after he pitches, the way it is for most pitchers, so I thought he could do a good job even though he had only two days’ rest.

Mickey didn’t pitch as many innings this season as Bob Gibson, so I think he had an advantage there given Gibson had the three days’ rest.

I was surprised that Mickey had such good control though. We had to have the well-pitched game and he gave it to us.

Gibson was great again. I think he was better against me than he was in the first game when he struck me out three times. I got a hit in that one but he shut me out this time.

He had a couple bad breaks — Jim Northrup’s ball that went over Curt Flood’s head was the big one — and when you’ve got a tight ball game going like this, you’ve got to have the breaks and we got them.

I said after the first game that Gibson was one of the best pitchers I’ve ever faced — after seeing him three times I’ve got to say he’s the greatest.

I can see how Flood had trouble with Jim’s ball. In Busch Stadium, on a warm day when people are in shirtsleeves, it’s hard to see a line drive come off the bat. And besides that, the field was in poor condition because of the football game they played here Sunday.

At the start of the Series I remembered what Tony Kubek said about playing in the World Series, that you’ll never be as nervous in your life as you are before the first game … until the seventh game and then it’s worse.

The worse for me, and I think all of us, was the first game. After that we settled down. I wasn’t very nervous today. There wasn’t the wild celebration in the clubhouse that we had after winning the pennant but inside I was as happy and excited.

It always means more when you have to work for something and of course, I’ve been around 16 years and this is my first pennant and first Series.

And then, the way we won it made it doubly good, the way we played all year, from the time of that nine-game winning streak right after we lost on opening day.

It’s been my greatest year in baseball. I’ll never forget it.

(via Detroit Free Press)

Silent Film Series: Virgil “Fire” Trucks (Detroit, MI 1956)

I’m sort of cheating with the second featured film in ALDLAND’s Silent Film Series, because a) it already is a silent film and b) its selection largely has to do with the music indirectly associated with it. Still, I’m guessing most artists would be willing to cheat a little if it meant avoiding a sophomore slump, so I don’t feel bad at all.

And this short (7:23) movie really is kind of beautiful. It’s amateur footage shot on 8 millimeter film by members of the Capurso family depicting an outing to see the Yankees play the Tigers on a sunny summer afternoon at old Tigers Stadium on August 4, 1956. It opens with scenes of downtown Detroit as the family heads to the ballpark, where the Tigers would win a game that featured home runs by both Mickey Mantle and Al Kaline.

Of greater interest to me is the Tigers’ pitcher that day, Virgil “Fire” Trucks. He’s the great uncle of guitarist Derek Trucks and was no slouch on the mound. From a Peter Gammons profile piece:

Virgil Oliver Trucks was born on April 26, 1917. He won 177 Major League games from 1941 until he retired in 1958. Ted Williams once said he might have been “the hardest throwing right-hander I ever faced.”

He is one of four pitchers who threw two no-nos in a single season and he finished fifth in the American league MVP race in 1953 for the White Sox (he started that season with the Browns). And back when the Tigers won the 1945 World Series, Detroit’s great staff was called “TNT” — Dizzy Trout, (MVP) Hal Newhouser and Trucks were three of the best in the game.

Go back to the beginning. Andalusia of the Alabama-Florida League. 1938. Including the playoffs[, he] struck out 448 batters.

448. That, Sweet Melissa, is the most strikeouts ever recorded in an organized professional baseball season.

And for the full season, he was 25-6, with a 1.25 ERA and two no-hitters.

After a strong 1939 split between Alexandria and Beaumont, in 1940 he pitched for Beaumont in the Texas League and threw another no-hitter, in 1941 threw another no-no for Buffalo in the International League and by the time he made his debut on Sept. 27, 1941, he had four Minor League no-hitters on his resume.

Somewhere along the way, they tried to figure out how hard he threw. “They found an old Army gun,” says Trucks. “It read 105 miles an hour.”

Gammons’ piece is full of stories about Virgil, including how he helped the Tigers win the World Series after taking two years off to join the war effort, how he nearly became the only pitcher ever to throw three no-hitters in one season, how he’d add two more World Series rings to his total, and how he decided, after meeting with Derek– who keeps one of Virgil’s baseball cards on his Gibson– and learning that his great nephew is considered one of the best guitarists who ever lived, that maybe he ought to start listening to the Allman Brothers Band (the 95-year-old former pitcher’s nephew, Butch Trucks, was a founding member of that band, with which Derek now plays).

The younger member of the Capurso family who uploaded this added some generic classical music from the London Metropolitan Orchestra, but I maintain that it’s best experienced silently, the original audio being lost to technology, and the music of Virgil’s descendants yet to be born.

(HT: @DerekAndSusan) 

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Previously
Silent Film Series: Baron Davis (Oakland, CA 2007)

Related
Album review: Tedeschi Trucks Band – Revelator