Tigers Carry Bold Playoff Hopes Into Shortened Season: 'It’s A Sprint'

"We have pitching. We’re going to be good."

Will Burchfield
June 24, 2020 - 2:54 pm
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You'll hear it in clubhouses around baseball over the next few weeks. It's 60 games. Anything can happen. And you'll certainly hear it in Detroit, where for the first time in several years the Tigers feel they have a real shot at the playoffs. 

"Obviously in a shortened season, anything can happen," general manager Al Avila said Wednesday. "If you talk to Gardy, he certainly tells you right now, we have a great chance."

Okay, let's talk to Gardy. 

"With the way this thing is laying itself out there, I think everybody has a shot," said Ron Gardenhire. "I was talking about this with Al, making sure that the 30 guys we take with us (into the regular season) are ready to play, because we can’t afford to fall back. If you get off to a good start, nobody knows what can happen." 

On top of the condensed schedule -- and all the craziness that might come with it -- the Tigers point primarily to three reasons to believe: their offseason additions, the potential of their pitching staff, and the way they swung the bats in spring training. 

"If you talk to Matt Boyd and our players," said Avila, "they certainly feel we have a chance to win it and to get into the playoffs."

Okay, let's talk to Boyd. 

"The knock on our team has been that we’re young and we can’t handle 162 games. Well, the season’s flipped now. It’s a sprint," said Boyd. "And we do have talent, we have a lot of talent, we brought in talent. So it’s exciting to think, who knows what can come from this?

"But I know we all have one thing on our mind, and that’s to dominate like we know we can, one day at a time, and to go crazy on that thought path." 

Boyd will headline what could be an exciting rotation. No, it won't include the Big Three of Casey Mize, Matt Manning and Tarik Skubal -- not out of the gates, at least -- but there's a lot to like about Spencer Turnbull, there's renewed hope for Daniel Norris, and Michael Fulmer, who missed all of 2019 due to Tommy John, is healthy and raring to go. And if those youngsters do enter the picture, well, you start to wonder. 

"Whatever roles all of us kind of fall into, it’s awesome to have an arm like Michael back," said Boyd. "That’s just another cog in our staff, another weapon that we’re going to have. Couple that with who knows who’s (coming up) that could make a difference, we have pitching," said Boyd. "We’re going to be good. I’m excited about it and we’re all excited about." 

Caputo: Why Mize, Manning, Skubal Should Pitch For Tigers In 2020

Avila was careful not to commit to anything with Mize, Manning and Skubal. But the Tigers wanted to give all three of them a shot this season in the bigs, and Gardenhire said that remains the plan. There's no telling how much they could give the team a boost, especially in an environment where hitters who haven't seen them might not have time to adjust.  

"They could be extremely beneficial," said Boyd. "I know that their talent will help us if their names are called." 

On the offensive side, the Tigers will be better for the additions of 1B C.J. Cron and 2B Jonathan Schoop. The duo can provide the kind of middle-of-the-order power the lineup was severely lacking in 2019. And then there's Miguel Cabrera, who looked like a new man in spring training and seemed poised to turn back the clock

"He hasn’t missed a beat in this downtime," said Avila. 

The Tigers aren't going to morph into Murderers' Row. They're not going to pitch like the '96 Braves. On paper, they're still miles behind the Indians and Twins. And if any upstart is going to emerge this season in the AL Central, it's probably the White Sox. 

But if we're going by paper, the Tigers are also miles ahead of where they were last year. That team, one of the worst in franchise history, won seven of its first 10 games. It was within two games of first place nearly a month after Opening Day. What if this team wins 14 of its first 20? What if it's in the race 10 games later, at the halfway mark?

At what point do you start to believe? 

It's 60 games. Anything can happen. 

"We know what we’re capable of, individually and then collectively," said Boyd. "Have we done that, have we even reached close to our potential? Absolutely not. But I think the margin for it all is slim. It’s a lot closer than people perceive and we all know that in the clubhouse. I don’t know what’s going to happen over 60 games.

"The good news is, nobody else does either."