HOUSTON — The Detroit Tigers entered Saturday as the worst team in the American League.
If not for the Cincinnati Reds’ embarrassing 3-22 record, the Tigers would be the worst in baseball. Detroit, losers in nine of 11 games, sits at 8-17, for a .320 winning percentage.
The biggest problem is the offense.
“We’re trying,” Tigers shortstop Javier Báez said. “Everything’s got to click. It’s early in the year, and we’re trying to build. Everybody needs to play. They’re going to have ups and downs, and we will see how they come out of it. It’s a process, and we got to go down to come up. There’s no pressure here. We just gotta go out there and play.”
THE SKIPPER: Tigers manager AJ Hinch ‘super happy’ to be in Houston: ‘I call this home’
TAKEAWAYS VS. PITTSBURGH: How Javier Báez made web gem; Austin Meadows explains ‘patient approach’
Within the AL Central, the Tigers entered Saturday in fifth place, seven games behind the first-place Minnesota Twins. The Twins (16-11) are followed by the Chicago White Sox (12-13), Cleveland Guardians (12-13) and Kansas City Royals (8-15). To reach 90 wins, the Tigers need to finish the season 82-55.
That’s a .599 winning percentage over the final 137 games.
The Tigers have dropped the first two of four games against the Houston Astros (who are second in the AL West) at Minute Maid Park. They lost both contests 3-2, with nine hits, one walk and four strikeouts Thursday, then two hits, two walks and 11 strikeouts Friday.
“They know what they’re doing,” Báez said of the Astros. “They got a pretty good plan. We just got to beat it.”
Trailing late in games, Báez said the Tigers need to be smarter at the plate. In the eighth inning Friday, Báez — who praised Astros catcher Martín Maldonado, a fellow Puerto Rican, for his game-calling — worked ahead 3-0 in the count against right-handed reliever Phil Matton.
Báez struck out on six pitches for the third out.
“That’s the moment when you got to slow the game down,” Báez said. “Make them come to you. Make the game come to you. … We’re trying to do a lot. Just got to slow things down and have that click, with the pitching, the offense, the base running. When everything clicks our way, it’s going to be good.”
GAME 1: Tigers rally to tie Astros in ninth, but fall, 3-2, on walk-off single
GAME 2: Tigers early threaten, but fall quietly again, 3-2, to Astros
Assigned to carry the offense is Báez, hitting .234 with two home runs, 11 RBIs, four walks and 16 strikeouts in 16 games. The Tigers signed him to a six-year, $140 million contract in December. He has one hit in his past 16 at-bats, and his teammates haven’t stepped up with timely hitting during his mini-slump.
“We have to make them throw pitches in the (strike) zone,” Báez said, “and if they don’t, we have to take our walks and pass the baton to the next guy.”
The offense isn’t alone in its struggles: The Tigers’ starting rotation is 24th in the majors with a 4.55 ERA. The bullpen leads MLB with a 2.24 ERA and has been the most consistent component of the team this season.
TAKEAWAYS FROM LA: How Tigers crafted MLB’s best bullpen in April: ‘Give us the lead, and we’re good’
TAKEAWAYS FROM MINNESOTA: Javier Báez, Carlos Correa building a friendly rivalry? ‘We’ll see’
The Tigers’ offense, though, ranks 26th in MLB with an 82 wRC+, better than only the Boston Red Sox (80), Royals (79), Oakland Athletics (79) and Reds (66). They’re last in MLB with 11 home runs and a .087 isolated power percentage, and they’re 27th in MLB with a .604 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
Two AL Central teams — the Tigers and Royals — are averaging 3.04 runs per game, lowest in the majors. The league average is 4.07 runs per game, and the league average for home runs is 24.
Detroit’s lack of power is concerning, considering five players on the roster crushed at least 20 home runs last season: Báez (31), Austin Meadows (27), Robbie Grossman (23), Jonathan Schoop (22), Eric Haase (22) .
Rookie Spencer Torkelson, hitting .167 in 23 games, paces the Tigers with three home runs in 2022.
“We got to get our ‘A’ swings off a little bit more often,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “We have taken some defensive swings and actually put the ball in play, which is worse than swinging and missing.
“We’ve played some good offensive clubs in the last couple of weeks. I’d like to match our opponents A-swings. The guys that are scuffling right now, chasing more success, hopefully can free up a little bit and maybe not carry the first 30, 50, 60 at-bats into today’s at-bats.”
Matt Manning to start Sunday for Mud Hens
Right-hander Matt Manning will begin his rehab assignment Sunday as the starter for Triple-A Toledo against the Worcester Red Sox (Boston’s affiliate). The Tigers placed him on the 10-day injured list April 20, retroactive to April 17, with right shoulder inflammation.
In two pre-injury starts for the Tigers, the 24-year-old Manning posted a 2.25 ERA with zero walks and four strikeouts over eight innings.
“Timetable will be dictated by how he does,” Hinch said.
Right-hander Casey Mize landed on the 10-day injured list April 15 with a right elbow sprain. The 25-year-old pitched two innings of live batting practice Saturday in Lakeland, Florida, throwing 20 pitches in each inning.
“Everything came out good,” Hinch said. “He threw the ball well. He’ll now progress a little more aggressively towards a potential rehab assignment.”
Mize had a 5.40 ERA with two walks and four strikeouts over 10 innings in two starts before his injury. It’s unclear if Mize’s first rehab assignment will take place for Low-A Lakeland or Toledo.
Outfielder Victor Reyes (left quad strain) is running in Lakeland but isn’t ready to play games. Hinch hopes Reyes, who made the Tigers’ Opening Day roster, will start his rehab assignment midway through the upcoming week.
Austin Meadows still sick
Meadows missed his second consecutive start with a non-COVID illness, though the left-handed hitter might not have started regardless of his health since the Tigers are facing Astros left-hander Framber Valdez.
“He’s still sick,” Hinch said.
Meadows, historically better against right-handed pitchers, has a .240 batting average against lefties in his career. But the 27-year-old outfielder is hitting an improved .292 against lefties in 2022.
“He came to the ballpark,” Hinch said. “He’s pretty beat up physically, so he’s just going to rest and recover, fluids in him. He was tested again, non-COVID. So, we have no concern about that. He may or may not be available today.”
The plan for Sunday
The Tigers are set for a bullpen-only game in Sunday’s series finale against the Astros. Right-hander Rony García, a member of the taxi squad, could be activated for his fifth appearance of the season.
“It’ll be one of those guys down there,” Hinch said. “We have (Alex) Faedo and Rony García here, both on the taxi squad. It will not be Faedo. If we activate Rony, he may be in the mix as well. But we’ll have a bullpen day.”
Contact Evan Petzold at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers plan to boost bats: ‘We got to go down to come up’