Go through the gallery to see The Detroit News' midseason grades for the Detroit Tigers' 2019 season, compiled by Chris McCosky. Click here if you have trouble viewing the gallery.
Detroit — It wasn’t always this grim.
Nobody was kidding themselves, mind you. Year 2 of a rebuild, inexperienced catchers, question marks all around the diamond, including at first base where Miguel Cabrera was coming back for his age-36 season after missing 3½ months with biceps surgery. Nobody was seriously thinking about a run at the Central Division title.
Still, by the time the Tigers were a couple of weeks into spring training, it looked like this could be one of those scrappy, undermanned and overachieving teams Ron Gardenhire used to manage in Minnesota.
General manager Al Avila signed four veterans — starting pitchers Matt Moore and Tyson Ross, and the old Pirates double-play duo of Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison. With Michael Fulmer, Matthew Boyd, a healthy-looking Jordan Zimmermann, plus the two veterans who seemed like decent bounce-back candidates, the Tigers were wondering how they were going to fit live-armed Spencer Turnbull and Daniel Norris into the mix.
Shane Greene, Joe Jimenez, Victor Alcantara, Daniel Stumpf, Blaine Hardy, Buck Farmer, a Rule 5 right-hander named Reed Garrett who was throwing upper-90s bullets — the bullpen seemed solid.
JaCoby Jones, Niko Goodrum, Mikie Mahtook, Christin Stewart, and a couple of exciting waiver claims (Brandon Dixon and Dustin Peterson), all had encouraging springs.
When the middle of March rolled around, you thought maybe we might have some good times this summer. That thought died quick.
By the time they broke camp, Fulmer was lost of the season after Tommy John surgery. Jones injured his shoulder in one of the last exhibition games and started the year on the injured list. And that was just the precursor.
By May, Moore would be gone for the year (knee surgery). Ross would be gone indefinitely (ulnar nerve neuritis). Zimmermann (elbow) would miss nearly two months. Just before the break, Turnbull, who emerged as the No. 2 starter, was on the injured list at the end of June with shoulder fatigue.
On top of that, pitchers that were being counted on for depth — Kyle Funkhouser, Beau Burrows, Matt Hall and others — either got hurt or they faltered, or both.
Harrison and Mercer would play just 19 games together. Mercer got back just before the break, and Harrison has been out since May 28 with no timetable for return. With chronic knee pain finally forcing Cabrera to a full-time DH role and third baseman Jeimer Candelario fighting injury and a two and a half-month slump, the Tigers essentially lost their entire infield.
So, yeah, things got really grim. Twenty-nine games under .500 at the break grim. A 5-20 month of June grim, the worst month since the dreadful 2003 season. A 12-32 record at Comerica Park grim. Worst-hitting team in the American League grim.
“It’s been a rough go,” Gardenhire said. “We just have to keep working. That’s all we can do. We’ve had the injuries. We’ve had a lot of guys go through struggles. And we just don’t have a lot of depth, so you ride with what you have.
“These guys are giving us everything they have. That’s all I can say about what’s gone on so far. They are really trying and I appreciate that. They come out here every day and they grind it out.”
There were some positives. Boyd has firmly established himself as a top of the rotation starter. Cabrera, even though the power is all but gone, has played in 80 games and is hitting over .300. Nick Castellanos, after a slow start, reached base in 27 straight games in one stretch and has an OPS-plus of 111. And Shane Greene, with a sub-1 WHIP and 22 saves, represented the club in the All-Star game.
Tempering that, though, is the reality that three of those four could be traded in a month.
Other highlights from the first half: Jones, after struggling for two months, hit .313, slugged .574, hit five home runs, walked 10 times, knocked in 16 runs, scored 17 runs in his last 33 games. Candelario, after two demotions to Triple-A, started to look again like a part of the Tigers future hitting .350 with four home runs and seven RBIs in his last 11 games. The Tigers may have found their second baseman of the near future, too, in Harold Castro, who is 25 and hit .313 from June 1 on. Dixon, though his average dipped precipitously, leads the team with 12 home runs.
Those, though, were just small pockets of light in a mostly gloomy three-plus months of baseball.
About the grades: As always, they are based on what the general expectations were for each individual player.