What to expect from Detroit Tigers in 2023 season: ‘I feel like we’re going to be better’
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — In the first game of the 2023 season, the Detroit Tigers relived some of the memories from their 96-loss 2022 campaign they’re trying to put in the rear-view mirror. The offense couldn’t couldn’t produce a hit with runners in scoring position and, ultimately, couldn’t score a run.
So many flashbacks.
Like a quiet clubhouse after a shoutout loss.
But let’s not forget the Tigers faced left-hander Shane McClanahan — coming off a sixth-place finish in American League Cy Young Award voting and a start in the 2022 All-Star Game — in their 4-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Opening Day. The Tigers were blanked on the scoreboard, just as they were 22 times last season, but they’re not the same team.
“I feel like we’re going to be better,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said in spring training, less than two weeks before Opening Day. “That’s about to the extent that I’ve drawn any conclusions.”
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The Tigers, one would think, can’t get any worse this season.
They finished 66-96 last season for fourth place in the AL Central, a significant step backward from their 77-85 record in 2021. Nobody is betting on the Tigers to turn the embers of their rebuild into the flames of a playoff run, but the franchise needs to regain positive momentum in pursuit of building a long-term winning product.
So much has changed from last season. The Tigers fired general manager Al Avila in August and hired president of baseball operations Scott Harris in September, trading an old-school scout for a new-school executive with a graduate degree in business administration.
“Our goal for this year is to play competitive baseball as deep into the season as we possibly can,” Harris said in mid-February. “Coming off 96 losses, there are no shortcuts back to contention.”
In the offseason, Harris traded two established relief pitchers, Gregory Soto and Joe Jiménez, for position players he believes can help reshape the offensive identity through his “dominate the strike zone” mantra. For Soto, the Tigers got outfielder Matt Vierling and infielder Nick Maton from the Philadelphia Phillies.
Harris also signed two starting pitchers, Matthew Boyd and Michael Lorenzen, to one-year contracts.
“We’re being sold short by a lot of people,” Boyd said. “A lot of people don’t believe in us. A lot of people don’t believe what we can do. So, that’s fine. They’re entitled to their opinion. We know where we stand, and let’s go show everybody else.”
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The Tigers, though, didn’t sign any free-agent hitters to MLB contracts. The pitiful offense, which ranked last in MLB with 3.44 runs per game, was the primary reason for the Tigers’ miserable 2022 season.
“On the position player side of free agency, it’s really tough to find young, controllable position players at reasonable acquisition costs,” Harris said. “I didn’t think it made sense for us to invest significant at-bats in veteran players who will not be a part of this team beyond, say 2023.”
Without superstar upgrades, the Tigers are relying on newcomers Vierling and Maton to boost the offense in conjunction with returning players Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson, Ryan Kreidler, Kerry Carpenter, Javier Báez, Austin Meadows and Jonathan Schoop. Hinch plans to mix and match the lineup based on a variety of factors, primarily analytics, to take advantage of favorable matchups.
Miguel Cabrera, for example, could be limited to one game per series while playing against left-handed pitchers in the final year of his career.
Two veterans, Báez and Meadows, are expected to bounce back from career-worst results last season. Báez, 30, hit .238 with 17 home runs and a .671 OPS in 144 games, while Meadows was limited to just 36 games because of several injuries and mental health struggles.
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Greene and Torkelson, the leaders of the young players, are expected to improve in their second seasons. Greene, 22, hit .253 with five homers, 36 walks and 120 strikeouts in 93 games; Torkelson, 23, hit .203 with eight homers, 37 walks and 99 strikeouts in 110 games.
They’re the future of the franchise.
“It definitely motivates you,” Greene said. “You don’t want to lose 96 games. You don’t want to be back there. I feel like that really pushes all of us because we were all there, and we all felt how bad it feels to lose.”
Torkelson has the formula for success.
“Consistency and winning each day,” he said. “It’s like, ‘All right, what does McClanahan have for us?’ We’ll battle that plan out, and then after that game — whatever happens, happens — we’re going to go to the next day. If we keep doing that over 162, I think we’re going to be in a really good spot.”
In Game 1 of 162, McClanahan shut down the Tigers with his elite arsenal, but the players on offense flashed a better overall game plan compared to last season. These Tigers collected six hits and three walks with six strikeouts, and they didn’t strike out against the Rays’ three relievers.
Only once did a hitter appear completely lost at the plate.
There’s no place for moral victories at the highest level, and that’s not what the Tigers are aiming for under new leadership in the front office, but the team approach at the plate on Opening Day served as an early sign that the Tigers won’t be as bad as they were last season, even if the results might not be much better.
“The personnel has changed a lot,” Hinch said. “We’re a lot more versatile and a lot more balanced. You’re going to see just as many number of (different) lineups as you’ve seen in the past. That won’t change. … We’re going to try to put our guys in a position to be successful.”
Contact Evan Petzold at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers are ‘going to be better’ in 2023, but how much?
Source: Yahoo Sports