Streaks and slumps: Tigers' Cabrera, Castellanos hot; Alcantara, Goodrum not

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Victor Alcantara

Detroit – How many times have you heard managers and players say it: It’s a long season and everybody is going to go through streaks and slumps – one week you’re going and the next week you are slowing.

The trick is to accept the fleeting nature of the streaks and keep the slumps short. Easier said than done on both accounts.

The Tigers' 15-16 record, which includes a five-game winning streak and two four-game skids, is proof of that.

So is Tigers’ reliever Victor Alcantara. Talk about highs and lows.

Through his first eight games, he allowed just three hits and a run in 6.2 innings. Opponents were hitting a paltry .136 with five strikeouts.

In his last eight games, also covering 6.2 innings, albeit in higher-leverage situations, he’s been tagged for five runs, 12 hits with just one strikeout. Opponents hit .400 off him with two home runs

“What has been happening, basically, is I’ve been leaving too many pitches up high in the strike zone,” Alcantara said through interpreter Carlos Guillen. “Obviously, they are going to make contact with that. It’s just one of those things I kind of expect to happen. I’m not going to be sharp all the time.”

His money pitch is his power sinker and he’s thrown it 80 percent of the time, with opponents hitting .268 and slugging .415. His slider, which was an effective pitch for him last season, has been missing in action. He’s thrown just seven of them, two of them resulting in extra base hits (double and home run).

He’s only used his change-up 17 percent of the time.

Either his sinker will have to start dancing again, or he’s going to have to mix in more of his secondary pitches to get back on track.  

Also trending, one way or the other:

Jeimer Candelario
(Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

Going: Jeimer Candelario is still hitting just .233 with just one home run, which he will be the first to tell you is well below his own expectations.

But he has taken ownership of the leadoff spot in manager Ron Gardenhire’s batting order. He's presently riding an 18-game on-base streak, and in 13 games batting lead-off, he’s hitting .321 with a .445 on-base average and an .880 OPS.

Since replacing the injured Josh Harrison on a regular basis on April 23 in Boston, Candelario gotten on base at a .389 clip, with 11 walks.

He’s scored 10 of his 15 runs hitting out of the top spot.

It’s hard to imagine Gardenhire would move Candelario back down in the order, even when Harrison gets back.

Slowing: The scouting report is out on Niko Goodrum. Throw him firm fastballs in the upper quadrants of the strike zone – he can’t lay off them and, recently, he can’t hit them.

Royals right-hander Brad Keller exposed this hole in Goodrum’s swing on Sunday. In two at-bats, he threw Goodrum six straight 93-mph fastballs, almost in the identical spot, upper middle of the strike zone.

Goodrum, a switch-hitter batting left-handed, whiffed on all six.

Statcast data shows that it wasn’t an isolated case. They break the strike zone into nine sections – outside, middle and inside horizontally, and upper, middle and lower vertically. Goodrum's swing percent on pitches across the top of the zone is 64, 75 and 80.

And he has a 57 percent whiff rate on those pitches, with just four hits and six strikeouts.

Over his last 10 starts, Goodrum is hitting .135 with 12 strikeouts in 45 plate appearances.

It’s adjustment time for him.

Miguel Cabrera

Going: If Miguel Cabrera has just one home run at the end of May, assuming he’s healthy and the weather finally warms up, then maybe it’s a cause for alarm. But not right now. Not when he’s been swinging the bat as consistently as he has the last three weeks.

His slash-line over the last 21 games: .322/.355/.425. He’s got six doubles and a home run and he’s hitting .448 with a .983 OPS with runners in scoring position.

Statcast data shows he has a 50 percent hard-hit rate and an average exit velocity on balls put in play of 92 mph. And, as his career-high 33 percent chase rate would attest, he isn’t even fully locked in yet after missing three and a half months last season.  

Going: Ronny Rodriguez is on a mission to stay in Detroit. He’s hit safely in five straight games (8 for 19) with four RBIs and three runs scored. And he’s hitting for power. He is slugging .711, with six doubles three homers and a triple. His OPS is 1.091.

Is it sustainable? His .375 batting average on balls in play suggests it is not, but he’s a much calmer and confident hitter now than he was in his 206 plate appearances last year. He showed that this spring, too, and there were more than a few players befuddled that he didn’t make the team out of camp.

The way he’s going, he’s going to make it difficult on the Tigers to send him back to Triple-A Toledo.

Grayson Greiner

Slowing: Catcher Grayson Greiner was hitting .246 on April 23. He’d just homered and singled at Fenway Park in the first game of a doubleheader.

Since then, though, he’s been scuffling, just two hits in his last 25 plate appearances with 12 strikeouts and one walk. He had just 14 strikeouts in his first 61 plate appearances.

He’s been seeing more breaking balls lately – 35 percent of all pitches thrown to him have been curveballs or sliders -- and he’s been chasing them. His chase rate this season, 35 percent, is 10 points higher than it was last season.

Going: Nick Castellanos is perking up. Over his last nine games, he’s hitting .351 and slugging .568. He’s also hit both of his home runs and drove home five of his nine RBIs in that stretch.

Before that, though, Castellanos was producing far below the standards he set last season. Presently, he’s hitting .278 and slugging .435 with a modest 107 OPS-plus (big-league average is 100). He’s 4 for 15 with runners in scoring position and 2 for 10 with two outs and runners in scoring position.

On deck: Angels 

Series: Three-game series at Comerica Park

First pitch: Tuesday-Wednesday – 7:10 p.m.; Thursday – 1:10 p.m.

TV/radio: Tuesday-Thursday -- FSD/97.1 FM

Probables: Tuesday – RHP Griffin Canning (0-0, 6.23) vs. LHP Daniel Norris (1-0, 3.47); Wednesday – LHP Tyler Skaggs (3-2, 3.12) vs. LHP Matthew Boyd (3-2, 3.05); Thursday – TBA vs. RHP Tyson Ross (1-4, 5.34).

Canning, Angels: A second-round pick out of UCLA in 2017, he made his big-league debut against the Blue Jays last week and impressed with a 95-mph four-seam fastball that he liked to use up in the zone – something that could play well against the Tigers.  

Norris, Tigers: This will be his fourth start, and he’s gotten progressive better in each of the last three. He limited a good Phillies lineup to a run and five hits over five innings in his last start. His average velocity on his fastball is 90 mph, and opponents are hitting .353 with four home runs off it. But, he’s also got 10 strikeouts with it.

Twitter @cmccosky