Are the Detroit Tigers Actually Good?

In the American League, the Detroit Tigers are 14th in hits, 11th in ERA, and last in runs scored. Yet, they are fresh off a sweep of the New York Mets at home and sit a few games back of the Minnesota Twins for first in the American League Central. For a team that finished 25th in MLB last year, the young core is showing signs of life and becoming a potential contender.

Could the Tigers Be Good?: A Tale of Two Seasons

Not too many people have been paying attention to the Tigers this season, and rightly so. As a team who has failed to make the playoffs since 2014, it appeared likely at the beginning of the season that they would fall again in 2023. However, in the five weeks since the season started, the Tigers won two out of three in Houston and swept the San Francisco Giants at home. They also took two out of three from the Cleveland Guardians, won a series in Milwaukee against the Brewers, and just swept the Mets. They haven’t exactly been the easy win opponents may have assumed going into their series. In those games, they are 11-3, outscoring their opponents 62-51. That’s a total ERA of 3.64, good enough for 10th in the majors.

Their Weakness: The American League East

There is a reason that the Detroit Tigers are not dominating the headlines and currently sit with a record below .500. Much like many other teams, they have struggled against the American League East. After getting swept to start the season by the Tampa Bay Rays, Detroit has not improved much against the East. They have lost six of seven to the Baltimore Orioles, swept by both the Rays and Boston Red Sox, and lost a series in Toronto against the Blue Jays. That’s a record of 2-14 for those keeping track at home.

Thankfully for Detroit, they do not play another AL East opponent for two months. The next time is a home series against the Blue Jays in the first week of July. Additionally, most of their games against the American League East this season have already been played less than 20% of the way through the season. Time away from the AL East allows Detroit to prove they are ahead in their rebuilding plans.

What’s Changed?

Not much has changed for the Detroit Tigers of 2023 from a year ago. Javier Baez has the same batting average, the team batting average is about the same (.226 vs. .231), and only three hitters are hitting above .250 (Matt Vierling, Zach McKinstry, and Eric Haase). Eduardo Rodriguez has turned himself into an ace of the staff, improving his 4.05 ERA in 2022 to 2.21 this season. Additionally, relief pitcher Alex Lange went from a 3.81 ERA in 2022 to 1.32 and has become their closer. The only difference from last season is their defense. In 2022, the team was 12th in the American League in errors and 11th in fielding percentage. Now they are fifth best in the AL in both categories. 

Some front-runners have been able to pad their records against teams at the bottom, but the Tigers have not had that luxury. In fact, as of Thursday, the Giants and the Guardians are the only below-500 teams they have played this season. With the Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals off to cold starts, the Tigers could be contenders in the AL Central. They may even have an outside shot to win it. It could depend on what they do in the next two months without a single game against the AL East. 


Photo Credit: Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

Players Mentioned: Javier Baez, Matt Vierling, Zach McKinstry, Eric Haase, Eduardo Rodriguez, Alex Lange