The Mariners were originally scheduled to start the 2022 season with a series against the Detroit Tigers, but instead the teams face each other for the first time today, August 30th. The opening series was, of course, rescheduled to early October due to the season-delaying lockout. This will be a quick road trip, with the Mariners playing series in Detroit and Cleveland before returning home next weekend. If the season ended today, the M’s would host the Toronto Blue Jays at T-Mobile Park for a best-of-three wild card series. What a prospect! Instead, the team plays 34 more regular-season games, seven of which are against Detroit.
After a promising end to the 2021 season and significant offseason additions including Javier Báez and Eduardo Rodríguez, fans hoped this would be the start of an ascendant arc for Detroit, or at least their first winning season since 2016. Unfortunately, what transpired has been more of a tailspin. Rodriguez missed three months on the restricted list for personal reasons and returned to the team only two weeks ago. The team ranks last in MLB in batting, with a cumulative fWAR of 1.2 (!) and a team wRC+ of 79. General Manager Al Avila was fired earlier this month. Despite all of that, the Tigers have won or tied their last four series, and most recently won two of three against the Rangers in Texas.
My usual angles for talking about opponents’ lineups in these previews don’t serve me here, since the Tigers have no breakout hitters this year, nor even consistently productive ones. Nationally known players like Jeimer Candelario and Javier Báez have regressed significantly from their offensive numbers last season; the former had a 120 wRC+ in 2021 compared to his 78 wRC+ this season, and the latter’s has likewise dropped from 117 to 80. At the start of the year the most anticipated batter in Detroit’s lineup was rookie Spencer Torkelson, who the Tigers picked first overall in the 2020 draft. Torkelson debuted on Opening Day but struggled to adjust at the big league level, eventually getting sent down on July 17 (he’s currently playing for the Triple-A Mud Hens). Detroit’s offense did pick up in their most recent series, and the team has scored six or more runs in each of their last four games. Candelario in particular was hot against the Rangers, so the Tigers will be hoping that this signals a return to his offensive production of 2020-21.
Matt Manning was the Tigers third ranked prospect last year and the 12th ranked prospect in the majors but was greeted with a rude introduction to the big leagues after he made his debut in June of last year. Among all starters with a similar number of innings pitched, his swinging strike rate was tied for the second lowest in baseball, a big reason why his minor league strikeout rate didn’t translate to the game’s highest level last year. A shoulder injury sidelined him after just two starts this year and he only returned from the IL at the beginning of August. He’s been better in his sophomore season, but still hasn’t shown the front-line ceiling he was pegged with as a prospect. Encouragingly, his swinging strike rate has jumped up to 11.5% with his slider’s 40% whiff rate helping immensely.
LHP Tyler Alexander
Tyler Alexander was a second round pick in the 2015 draft and has been a useful up-and-down spot starter throughout his four year career in Detroit. His stuff isn’t overpowering and he relies on excellent command and a knack for suppressing hard contact to find success. After hovering around 20% for the first three years in the majors, his strikeout rate has fallen to just 12.3% this year. That’s a big reason why his ERA and FIP have both risen close to five.
LHP Eduardo Rodriguez
Eduardo Rodriguez has had a rough first season in Detroit. After signing a big five-year contract in the offseason, he suffered a rib injury in late May and was then placed on the restricted list as he was rehabbing to attend to some personal matters. He only recently returned to the team a couple of weeks ago. When he has been on the mound, he hasn’t looked like himself. While pitching for Boston, he utilized a deep repertoire to post a strikeout-to-walk ratio around three. That mark has fallen to 1.8 this year and his strikeout rate has fallen by more than five points. The Tigers have him throwing his three different fastballs more than ever to the detriment of his excellent changeup. De-emphasizing his best pitch has really hurt his ability to put batters away consistently.
The Big Picture:
The AL West
The Wild Card Race
Not much has changed in the AL West standings since the last series preview (or, in any meaningful way, since before the All Star Break). During the course of the weekend series against the Guardians, however, the M’s gained 1.5 games on the Blue Jays in the Wild Card standings, and are now one game back of the Rays, in solo possession of the second Wild Card slot. Unfortunately for the Mariners, their primary Wild Card rivals the Rays and Blue Jays both play teams under .440 this week (the Marlins and Cubs, respectively). The Orioles head to Cleveland while the Twins host the Red Sox; these series get increasingly interesting as the the top of the AL Central remains neck-and-neck.