Monday, November 28 2022

Full disclosure: The first draft of this was just a lot of, well … blanks.

But it turns out we’re actually supposed to include some news in this here ‘letter, even when the Detroit Tigers come up, uh … blank.

Look, we thought we were going to go at least a week without mentioning the Tigers’ occasional offensiveness on offense.

Sure, that Monday-night 10-0 shutout in Anaheim was brutal. But it was late — maybe no one else stayed up for it? And then the Tigers scored 27 runs over their next four games … hitting woes solved, right? At least enough so we could stop discussing where Tigers hitters rank in the past 50 seasons of American League awfulness.

But then the Tigers were blanked again Sunday afternoon — only 4-0 this time, and at just 131 minutes, it fit snugly between the start and finish of a certain other franchise’s season opener, almost ensuring a fade into the background. It’s like a koan: If the Tigers are shut out and everybody is watching the Lions, did it really happen?

But sadly, it did: Sunday’s scoreless outing was the Tigers’ 20th time being shut out in 2022. That’s five more than any other team this season — the Royals and Pirates have 15 apiece — and putting the Tigers near some historic markers. (And forcing us to ponder synonyms for “shutout” and “blanked” — blonked?)

Hello, and welcome to the Blank Space Newsletter.

Although the 2022 Tigers are still six shutouts shy of tying the franchise record of 26, set in 1904, they’re in rare company in the American League’s DH era (beginning in 1973): Just five teams have been shut out at least 20 times in a season, and none more than 21. (Surprisingly, the National League — despite having pitchers shuffle to and from the plate with a bat from 1973-2019 — also has only five squads with at least 20 shutouts.)

But about those four other AL squads — were their shutout-heavy seasons one-off flukes, or signs of long-term offensive issues? Let’s take a look:

1973 New York Yankees: Call ’em the Bronx Non-Bombers, we guess, following their 17 shutouts in 1972, the final year of pitchers hitting in the AL. The Yanks actually kicked off the DH era when Ron Blomberg, MLB’s first official hitter at the position, walked in the first inning April 6, 1973. But the extra hitter didn’t keep the Yanks from being shut out 21 times in ’73, including three times in a brutal five-day August stretch in California. The next season was better, however, as the Yanks were shut out just 10 times (in the first of two seasons playing in Shea Stadium in Queens while Yankee Stadium was renovated).

1975 Detroit Tigers: The best part of the ’75 season was the fifth round of the MLB draft, when the Tigers selected high-school infielder Lou Whitaker. The rest of the season? Ugh. Detroit went 57-102 with three rainouts and 20 shutouts in the franchise’s first season without Mr. Tiger, Al Kaline. (His final season, 1974, saw the Tigers shut out only 13 times,) 1976 brought 17 more wins … but another 19 shutouts. Double ugh. (The 1976 draft was pretty decent too, with Alan Trammell, Dan Petry, Jack Morris and an unsigned Ozzie Smith.)

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1976 Chicago White Sox: In their first season under legendary showman/owner Bill Veeck — following a year with 11 shutouts — the ChiSox were more sideshow than big-league team. The one-legged Veeck shuffled the roster in the offseason, played a Revolutionary War fife player in an Opening Day U.S. Bicentennial-themed parade, signed 52-year-old Minnie Minoso for three games and had the team infamously wear shorts in August. Unsurprisingly, his ChiSox were shut out 21 times that summer and went 64-97. But the next year, after some more roster shuffling — Veeck bet big on acquiring sluggers with one year left before newly instituted free agency, such as Oscar Gamble and Richie Zisk, and got a breakout season from future Tiger Chet Lemon — the ChiSox won 90 games and, more importantly, were shut out just twice.

(More on those shorts: The ChiSox wore them three times in August 1976, going 2-1 and averaging six runs a game. Just sayin’.)

1981 Toronto Blue Jays: You may remember them as the anti-heroes of last week’s newsletter, with the AL’s worst offense of the DH era by almost every measure. (This was following a 1980 season in which they were shut out 12 times.) And sure enough, they measure up (or fail to) here, too, with 20 shutouts in just 106 games (thanks to a midseason player strike). They were consistent, too — 11 blankings in 58 first-half games (19%) and nine in 48 second-half games (18.8%) while going 37-69. The 1982 Jays, sans Danny Ainge, took a giant leap forward, however: Just nine shutouts and a 78-84 record, breaking 70 wins for the first time in the franchise’s six-year history. The year after that, the Jays finally finished above .500, then did so every year for the next decade.

So what did we learn from the Tigers’ blanking companions? The good news: Three of the four cut way down on their shutouts the following season. The bad news? The one that didn’t is the one here in Michigan. Of course, none of this history will actually change the Tigers’ fortunes in 2023. For that, they’ll need their rookies (Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson and Ryan Kreidler) and their veterans (Javier Báez, Jonathan Schoop and, yes, even Miguel Cabrera) to pick up the pace at the plate.

And maybe, just maybe, get Nike to add some shorts to the franchise’s 2023 summer alternates.

Wrapping it up

It’s easy to give up on the 2022 season — there are just four weeks left, after all — but there are still 22 games remaining (and 36 runs for the Tigers to score to avoid finishing below those ’81 Jays in runs per game) before we shift our attention to the MLB playoffs, the Pistons’ and Red Wings’ exhibition schedule or even — Goff help us — the Lions. The Freep’s Evan Petzold broke down the biggest story lines facing the Tigers over their … well, run hardly seems right with this team … let’s go with meander to the finish line, from Tork to Joey Wentz.

All eyes on Izaac

But say we were looking ahead to 2023? Well, actually, 2024 or 2025. That’s when we might be able to see the Tigers’ second pick in last year’s draft, Izaac Pacheco, with a shot to make his big-league debut. The 19-year-old has learned a long in his 14 months in the Tigers organization. Our Man Petzold checked in with the infielder who has “a little bit of that ‘it’ factor”; head here to find out why.

3 to watch

While we’re looking to future seasons, here are three Tigers looking for a strong finish to cement their 2023 status:

KERRY CARPENTER: Five of his past 10 games, dating to Aug. 28, have featured multiple hits.

ERIC HAASE: The Dearborn Divine Child alumnus crushed it on the Tigers’ road trip and is slashing .254/.310/.469 at Comerica Park this season.

MATT MANNING: The righty rebounded from a pair of rough starts by pitching into the seventh inning Saturday.

By Josh

Another Tigers minor-leaguer who’ll look to make an impression back in Triple-A: Josh Lester, who spent the past week with the Tigers but only made it into two games. The 28-year-old was the Tigers’ 13th-round pick in 2015 out of Missouri, but he comes from a baseball family. His dad, a longtime scout with the Pittsburgh Pirates and a former minor-leaguer, raised him around the game from a young age. Head here to read how Lester was making scouts take notice at just 7 years old.

Happy birthday, Robbie G.!

Atlanta Braves' Robbie Grossman runs the bases after hitting a solo home run against the Seattle Mariners during the sixth inning of a baseball game Friday, Sept. 9, 2022, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Caean Couto)Atlanta Braves' Robbie Grossman runs the bases after hitting a solo home run against the Seattle Mariners during the sixth inning of a baseball game Friday, Sept. 9, 2022, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Caean Couto)

Atlanta Braves’ Robbie Grossman runs the bases after hitting a solo home run against the Seattle Mariners during the sixth inning of a baseball game Friday, Sept. 9, 2022, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Caean Couto)

Robbie Grossman, meanwhile, is slightly older. A Tiger until the Aug. 2 trade deadline, he turns 33 on Friday. His bat, which seemed revived in his August games with Atlanta, has definitely cooled off: In eight September appearances, he’s 4-for 20 (.200) with five walks, a double and a homer for a .760 OPS. Still, it’s an improvement over his .595 OPS in 83 games with the Tigers this season. (In case you missed it last month, head here for a recap of what the Braves fixed in Grossman’s swing.)

Other Tigers birthdays this week: Jose Urena (31 on Monday), Mickey Lolich (82 on Monday), Derek Law (32 on Wednesday), Delmon Young (37 on Wednesday), George Lombard (47 on Wednesday), Mickey Tettleton (62 on Friday), Beau Burrows (26 on Sunday) and Spencer Turnbull (30 on Sunday).

Mark your calendar!

It’s a quick turnaround for the Tigers, who open a three-game set against the AL-leading Houston Astros tonight at Comerica Park. Normally, this would be the section where we’d bring up ex-Tigers righty Justin Verlander, again a frontrunner for the AL Cy Young at 16-3 with a 1.84 ERA and 154 strikeouts in 152 innings, we’d all curse the baseball gods (or someone else) for allowing him to leave Detroit and then make plans to watch his return to the CoPa. But J.V. is on the 15-day disabled list, robbing us of even that joy this season. Don’t worry, though: Tuesday brings a different type of homecoming as Detroit native (and St. Clair Shores Lakeview and Wayne State alumnus) Hunter Brown is set to start his second career game for the Astros. Brown, the ’Stros’ fifth-round pick in 2019 — 24 picks after the Tigers took current Double-A outfielder Bryant Packard — has dominated Triple-A this season, with 134 strikeouts and a 2.55 ERA in 106 innings (though that includes 45 walks). He was just as sharp in his debut last Monday (called up to replace Verlander) as he struck out five while allowing three hits, one walk and no runs over six innings in a win over the Texas Rangers.

After that excitement, a day game Wednesday and a day off Thursday, the Tigers then host the ChiSox — who are amazingly STILL 2½ games behind Cleveland in the AL Central — for three games from Friday-Sunday.

TL;DR

Meanwhile, on the other end of the shutout scale, no MLB team has ever gone a full season without being shut out. (Not even in the 60-game sprint of 2020.) The Tigers’ franchise record for fewest shutouts in a season, though, is two — achieved in 1993 and 2012. But 13 teams have been shut out just once in a “full” season — including the 1927 Yankees and, most recently, the 2001 Rangers.

Then again, those Rangers went 73-89; turns out preventing runs is important, too.

Contact Ryan Ford at rford@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers Newsletter: Approaching a historic number of shutouts

Source: Yahoo Sports

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