There’s no denying the Detroit Tigers played some bad baseball in the month of May, squandering a handful of excellent Justin Verlander and Michael Fulmer starts while getting shut down by the likes of Mike Pelfrey and Eric Skoglund. The Tigers had a 4-7 record on their recent road trip, and only managed to put up a .500 record during their last stretch of games at Comerica Park.
FanGraphs currently gives the Tigers a 14.4 percent chance of making the playoffs, while FiveThirtyEight is a little more optimistic, giving the Tigers a 20% percent chance of a playoff berth — although a nice win streak would put both of those numbers back in more respectable territory. The team currently sits three games below the .500 mark with a 25-28 record. Despite their recent series win over the Kansas City Royals on the road, rumors of a trade deadline fire-sale are beginning to bubble up.
Nonetheless, there is reason to believe things could get better for the Tigers. They have had one of the most difficult schedules of any MLB team so far — ESPN’s data suggests the Tigers have had the fourth-toughest schedule in baseball. Without a deep statistical dive, it’s easy to see how Detroit’s June schedule is much more favorable than the previous month. Their next six games are against the Chicago White Sox (24-28) and the newly Mike Trout-less Los Angeles Angels (28-29). The Tigers then take a brief trip to Fenway Park for a three game set against the Boston Red Sox (29-24), followed by another stretch of five games at home, hosting the Arizona Diamondbacks (34-22) and Tampa Bay Rays (29-27). After another West Coast road trip to play the Seattle Mariners (25-30) and San Diego Padres (22-33), the Tigers end the month with a three-game series against the Royals (22-30) and the first game of a series against the Cleveland Indians (28-24).
Five of the Tigers’ nine June opponents currently have a .500 record or lower. Fifteen of their 26 games will be within the friendly confines of Comerica Park. Between all the home games and weaker competition, the month of June represents an excellent opportunity for the Tigers to climb back into the AL Central division race, where they currently sit just 3 1⁄2 games behind the Cleveland Indians.
If you paid attention to the 2016 season, this is a familiar dynamic. One calendar year ago, on May 31, the Tigers were 24-27 after a brutal May that saw them win 11 games and lose 17. They put themselves back in the playoff competition with a strong 17-11 record in June.
In spite of their disappointing May in 2017, there are still several dynamics working in their favor. First, the Tigers are finally going to get some much needed days off after a brutal stretch where they played 17 games in 16 days. Second, their bullpen has stabilized, posting a 3.56 ERA in May after an abysmal April.
Most importantly, some problem areas have been addressed. Although the team still has pitching issues and a hole in center field, the front office has been slightly proactive by taking Anibal Sanchez and Tyler Collins off the 25-man roster, both of whom had been dragging down the team.
Meanwhile, the AL Central is wide open. The Indians have not ran away with the division as anticipated — largely because their starting rotation has been just as unstable as Detroit’s thanks to lackluster performances from Josh Tomlin (5.79 ERA), Trevor Bauer (6.00 ERA), and Danny Salazar (5.50 ERA). The Minnesota Twins seem primed to regress giving their recent pitching struggles and the fact that they will play 18 of their next 29 games on the road, including a nine-game West Coast road trip. It’s not hard to see the Tigers giving Cleveland a run for their money (or at least making a bid for a Wild Card spot) if their starting pitching gets a little better and the offense becomes more consistent.
However, the Tigers still have to execute. June looks like an easy month on paper, but bad luck, poor performance, or injuries could all intervene to make it another hard-to-watch month of baseball. But, if you’re inclined to look for light at the end of the tunnel, there is plenty to be found in the Tigers’ June schedule.
Just when you had given up on the Tigers...