Detroit — Nick Castellanos had finished lacing his shoes and was about to slip into a pink hoodie as he departed the Tigers’ clubhouse Tuesday. All he lacked was rain gear those guys wear on the deck of Bering Sea crab boats.
It has been that cold, that wet, in Detroit during the regular season’s first five days.
It’s the story, officially, behind two 1-0 losses among four defeats in Detroit’s first five games.
“It’s 100-percent weather,” Castellanos insisted after the Royals had just won their first game of the year, one-zip, at Comerica Park, where the temperature at game time was 40, and where rain soon began to fall, with the heavy stuff holding off just long enough to get in Tuesday’s quickie that lasted 2 hours, 17 minutes.
“If it’s 85 and sunny and we’re all there under the sun and focused on not freezing, it’s a different game,” he said. “But that’s why the A.L. Central is the toughest division to play in.”
He has in his support a stream of upcoming multi-city forecasts.
Today’s menu for the Tigers-Royals series finale features snow showers and a high of 37. Then, of course, the Tigers head for the land of sun and fun, Chicago, where Thursday’s high, on Opening Day, will be 43 and the overnight low 22, all before the Tigers and White Sox plunge into Saturday and Sunday’s tilts where temps are predicted to not exceed 35.
The more disturbing reality for manager Ron Gardenhire’s team is that life won’t automatically turn merry once this team begins swinging bats rather than show shovels.
J.D. Martinez, you might have noticed, no longer is in town. Justin Upton now works in California’s sunshine, as does his new Angels teammate Ian Kinsler. Detroit’s batting order misses them mightily.
The Tigers have a leadoff batter, Leonys Martin, hitting .176. Jeimer Candelario is fighting the chill, as well, at .190. Mike Mahtook is batting .167.
Their numbers will rise, almost surely, as weather warms and more at-bats offer a better barometer on players who will hit higher than those anemic early numbers might suggest.
But overall, offense was destined — not as much as pitching, but destined nonetheless — to be part of a Tigers team’s 2018 trials.
There is upside, absolutely.
Miguel Cabrera is back to being Miguel Cabrera. No surprise there. He feels good, and that’s the only requirement for a man who in two weeks turns 35 and who remains on his career-cruise to Cooperstown.
Cabrera is batting .286 after going 0-for-4 in Tuesday’s match against the Royals. Kansas City starter Jakob Junis did a marvelous job trying to turn Cabrera’s fists into mush as he pounded him inside. Cabrera still managed a smoking liner in the ninth against Royals fire-thrower Kelvin Herrera, so keep in mind this is a superstar who still has three- and four-hit capacity in any game against any set of pitchers.
Castellanos is batting .333 and is on his way to a superb season. He also is playing a far better right field than most have acknowledged or believed was possible. He is at peace in his new position. And that only will help as he slowly rounds into one of the league’s best hitters.
Those will remain your two Tigers heavyweights in 2018.
Victor Martinez should hang on and offer the occasional big hit. But he is not, at age 39, going to get better or seriously arrest what age does to all players of his vintage.
Candelario has nice potential. He looks carefully at pitches, he is happy to hit the ball anywhere on the field, and he has that nice switch-hitting option that will always be his friend. But this is his first full year in the big leagues. He is 24. Best to wait a season or two until the Tigers realm sees what he legitimately can offer in a regular season.
Dixon Machado? Not shabby at all. He has played better two-way baseball than most imagined when he showed up in Florida as the team’s new second baseman. But, again, this is his first splash of everyday big-league life.
He will not make anyone forget entirely what the seasoned star Kinsler delivered every day during his terrific time in Detroit.
James McCann? Who knows. But the lineup doesn’t turn on McCann. He can help the back end. He destroys left-handed pitching. The problem, of course, is that any big-league team sees mostly right-handers, so modest estimates probably are prudent.
Martin has a ceiling, as well, likely on the low side. Remember that this is no rookie. He is 30 years old. He played the better part of four seasons as a Rangers regular. He has a career batting average of .241 and a .661 OPS. That could be as good as it gets in 2018.
So, yes, when every game looks like an ad for North Face it’s no wonder a team isn’t hitting. But reality must also be acknowledged. The Tigers are 1-4 against the Pirates and Royals. They have been conked twice, 1-0.
The weather will change. A team from Detroit will have its season-long habits.