Let’s be honest, interleague games are a lot of fun. They’re a nice little mix-up mid-season when you get to see a team you don’t typically face (especially nice after seeing division rivals 19 times a year each), and the even bigger bonus is if it’s not the Pittsburgh Pirates (no shade to the Pirates, but MLB has decided that Pirates/Tigers is an established rivalry and those games happen OFTEN).
So instead of the Pirates, this time around the Tigers will face off against a different NL Central club, the Cubs. Which gave me an opportunity to ask some fun and silly questions I rarely get a chance to. Full disclosure: I also write and edit over at Bleed Cubbie Blue, so it was pretty easy to bend the ear of site manager Al Yellon for some insights.
BYB: The Cubs have had a pretty uneven start to the year and find themselves towards the bottom of a pretty tight NL Central. In your opinion what has been the most challenging thing for them this year?
AY: The most challenging thing, I think, is that a starting staff that was supposed to be solid has been shaky much of the time. Kyle Hendricks, who finished ninth in Cy Young voting last year, has been just this side of awful and Zach Davies, who had a really good year in San Diego in 2020, has been worse.
If those two can get their act together, that will be a significant improvement. The Tigers will see Hendricks on Sunday.
BYB: Which player has surprised you the most this season, for better or worse?
AY: The biggest surprise has to be Hendricks, who has been a quality MLB starter for seven years. Seeing him this bad is a shock to the system.
BYB: A lot of the biggest names on the team started the year slow but seem to be improving, who do you think is the biggest threat to the Tigers this series?
AY: The Cubs have mashed lefthanders this year — 7-3 vs. LH starters — so I’m glad the Cubs will see two lefthanders in this series.
Kris Bryant, in particular, has crushed LH pitching this season (11-for-26, five doubles, four HR) and also has a 1.351 OPS on the road in 2021, so I’d look for him to have a big series.
BYB: Which Tigers player do you think is going to be the biggest menace to the Cubs?
AY: Jeimer Candelario has never faced his original team, who traded him and Isaac Paredes to the Tigers in 2017 for Alex Avila and Justin Wilson.
I’d think he’d want to show Cubs management that they made a mistake.
BYB: Who would win in a fight, a Cub or a Tiger (I rarely have a good excuse to ask this stupid question.)
AY: A Cub is just a baby bear and a Tiger is a big grownup cat, so... probably the Tiger. Those stone statues at Comerica Park are pretty scary. [ed. note: in fairness a baby tiger is ALSO a cub, so this could almost be a fair fight. A super adorable fair fight.]
BYB: Based on what you’ve seen this season so far, where do you think the Cubs will finish out the year?
AY: I am the eternal optimist. The NL Central is a weak division and once the Cubs get healthy (they’re pretty banged up right now), I think they still have a reasonable chance to win it.
BYB: Given his solid start, do you think Kris Bryant will still be with the team after the trade deadline?
This all depends on the Cubs’ contending status. If they are in first place or close as the deadline approaches, it would be really poor form to trade your best player.
If the Cubs have fallen out of contention by then? Well then... he’s probably gone.
Many thanks to Al for taking the time to chat with us, and if you want to read more of his (and my) Cubs coverage, you can head over to Bleed Cubbie Blue!