The Tigers flew into Cincinnati a few days ago carrying a five-game win streak and an unexpected opportunity to reach .500 against the abysmal Reds. The goose was loose, and anyone walking along the banks of the Ohio River had better have been prepared to watch their step.
Then a not-so-funny thing happened. The Tigers laid the egg instead, trailing 9-0 at one point in the short-series opener. They dropped both games, and now face an Indians team that can chalk up its American League Central lead to its domination of the Tigers alone.
While it’s safe to believe many people shouting “buy, buy, buy” during the Tigers’ hot streak were being at least a little facetious, it did bring to mind the question whether the team should even be a seller as the July non-waiver trade deadline makes its first appearances on the horizon.
After all, what could be the harm? It’s a buyers’ market this year, with 10 teams entering play Friday behind their division leaders by double figures, and an 11th avoiding the indignity by just a half-game.
While the wild card can often be considered the last respite of playoff dreamers, this year the likely American League teams seem all but sewn up, while a small handful of National League teams should be considered serious contenders.
So, really, what’s the harm in letting the players in Detroit go for it and show us what they can do?
That’s the mindset that just gets you stuck in frustrating mediocrity.
There are pessimists, and there are realists, and at times it’s hard to tell them apart. This year, as people cheer that the Tigers are fun again, or get excited and flap their arms like wings on a goose, there’s a buzzkill voice next to them saying to calm down. The Tigers aren’t that good. They’re just benefitting from a horrible division and a lopsided schedule that has given them far more games against the dregs of the league than the standouts.
Those people are partially right.
Entering play Friday, the Tigers are 25-23 against teams below .500, and just 11-16 against teams that are above .500. To simplify the math, the Tigers are playing two bad teams for every one good team they face.
While it’s clear that the team is nowhere as bad as people outlandishly exclaimed it would be at the start of the season, it’s fair to say the schedule has worked out well to its benefit.
Get wrapped up in the fun the team has had so far, but maybe don’t expect it to continue indefinitely. The Tigers enter Cleveland Friday night five games behind the Indians, but could easily find themselves a week from now 10 games back.
The good news is, they still play a majority (46) of their remaining games against teams under .500. The bad news is, that leaves 42 games against teams above .500, and some of them like the Astros, Red Sox and Yankees are really, really good.
If the Tigers were to keep their winning rates against teams above and below .500 steady, they could be expected to pick up 41 more wins this year and finish at 77-85. That’s not bad at all, but while entertaining it isn’t exactly enough to justify holding onto their tradeable players.
Fangraphs is less optimistic, predicting just 36 more wins for a 72-90 record and gives them just a 0.1 percent chance of making the playoffs.
Baseball Prospectus puts them at 75 wins and a 1.1 percent chance at the playoffs.
There’s just no reason for the Tigers to hold onto players that other teams might want.
Starting pitcher Matthew Boyd is having the best season of his MLB career and has reportedly drawn interest from the Seattle Mariners. Relievers like Shane Greene are always needed. Old friend Dave Dombrowski could probably use him in Boston, although its bullpen is arguably fine -- just not as fine as the Yankees’. Starters Francisco Liriano or Mike Fiers may also be targets for cheaper teams looking a step or two down the ladder.
Outfielder Leonys Martin is having one of the best seasons of his career and could help a team. If Nick Castellanos isn’t part of Detroit’s foundation, GM Al Avila might want to trade him for a player who could be. And then there’s Jose Iglesias, a free agent at the end of this year who could help shore up a team’s middle infield defense.
No one should expect the moon for any one of those players, but an influx of new prospects can only help the Tigers as they continue to rebuild the entire organization.
It might not be the most fun way of looking at the 2018 baseball season. But come 2021, the trades surely would be appreciated with perspective.
Kurt Mensching is a freelance writer.