Mlb | Sault Star



Have faith, fans of the Detroit Tigers, better days are ahead. Just by default alone, better days almost have to be ahead after the Tigers lost the most games of any Major League Baseball team in 2019 — 114 of them. Yes, a 114-loss season in 2019 that followed 98 losses in each of the 2018 and 2019 campaigns. Now in season No. 4 of a massive tear down-rebuild project with general manager Al Avila and manager Ron Gardenhire at the helm, the 114 losses from 2019 were as bad as it could get for anyone with any sort of association to the Tigers. Major injuries to multiple key players clearly damaged the 2019 season for the Tigers. While another 98 or so loss season was expected by most, all of the injuries to so many players led to those 114 losses as the Tigers resembled a minor league team at season’s end. But cheer up Tiger fans; the end of the rebuild is drawing near. Like, maybe a year or two more and the Tigers could well be back to the winning ways that the franchise enjoyed during a good run that lasted almost 15 years before the rebuild started in 2017. Now, as the Tigers await multiple prize prospects who are on the verge of making it to the majors while developing at Double A Erie and Triple A Toledo, Avila as the GM has shrewdly signed a number of veteran position players to one-year contracts while waiting for the arrival of the young talent in the next year or so. The proven veterans signed in the off season include catcher Austin Romine, first baseman C.J. Cron, second baseman Jonathan Schoop, outfielder Cameron Maybin and pitcher Ivan Nova. Looking ahead, it is blue-chip outfield prospect Riley Greene — who is just 19-years of age — and blooming pitchers Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Tarik Skubal and Alex Faedo who give the most reason for optimism in Tiger town. In fact, Mize, Manning, Skubal and Faedo represent an elite quartet of staring pitchers who are ticketed for the Triple A Toledo Mud Hens this season. And any or all of the four who could well make their Major League debut with the Tigers before the upcoming 2020 season is over. Then there is another young pitcher, Franklin Perez, who was the centerpiece in the trade that sent ace hurler Justin Verlander to the Houston Astros (aka Houston Asterisks) in a 2017 blockbuster. Perez has pitched little due to injuries the past two seasons but reports in both the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press indicate that the young pitcher is healthy and throwing well at spring training in Florida. Meantime, the starting pitching is in OK hands led by ace Matthew Boyd, Spencer Turnbull, Daniel Norris, Jordan Zimmerman and the aforementioned Ivan Nova. There is also the Miguel Cabrera factor. The aging slugger and future Hall of Famer has battled injury and weight issues over the past few seasons. But now, at age 37 and with three more years still left on his massive contract, the designated hitter is apparently and reportedly in the best physical condition that he has been in many years, according to both the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press. Can Cabrera deliver a big, rebound season for the Tigers in 2020 like now retired designated hitter David Ortiz did at age 40 for the Boston Red Sox a few years back? There are many, many, many Tiger fans on both sides of the St. Mary’s River here in good old Sault Ste. Marie who have stuck with their favourite MLB team through thick and thin and who, like me, are of the optimistic notion that better days are not that far off. And in reading many of the writers who either cover the Tigers on a regular basis for the Detroit newspapers or who are MLB columnists for other publications, there is reason to believe that the team is not that far off from being seriously competitive. How about the Tigers being a surprise team this season? I have not read the writings of any reporter or columnist who has gone out on a limb and predicted that for the Tigers. But Gardenhire, as the Tigers manager, has managed to issue the reminder that when he was managing the Minnesota Twins, they went from last place to first place from one year to the next. Hmmmmm. I don’t want to get carried away, even being the always optimistic and big fan of the Tigers that I am. But I do have this feeling that the Tigers just could be a surprise team this coming MLB season. Yes, it’s only a feeling. But it is a good feeling. Meantime, with Romine behind the plate, Cron at first base, Schoop at second, Niko Goodrum playing shortstop, Jeimer Candelario at third and the likes of JaCoby Jones, Christin Stewart, Victor Reyes and Maybin platooning in the outfield and Cabrera as the DH, maybe, just maybe, there is a surprise season on the horizon for Detroit’s boys of summer. The Tigers are part of the American League Central Division where the Minnesota Twins should again be good and both the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox are talking as though they are both contending teams. Which, to many, leaves the Tigers and the Kansas City Royals at the bottom of the AL Central. But at the risk of repeating myself again — I am good at that — I can’t shake the feeling that the Tigers are going to confound the experts this season and be in the mix of the Central Division race. Then again, I would happily be satisfied with 81 wins and a .500 season for the Tigers. Am I dreaming? Let’s just say that I am dreaming of summer and at least a couple of trips to Detroit with my wife and family members to watch the Tigers play ball. Good ball, that is. Can the Tigers do it? Can they be good ahead of schedule? To that end, let me just say that I can hardly wait for all of those diamond prospects to arrive at Comerica Park in downtown Detroit sooner than later.

Randy Russon March 3, 2020 Column
Randy Russon