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Are the Detroit Tigers an outside contender for the AL Central?

Early season MLB predictions have the Detroit Tigers as outsiders to challenge the Chicago White Sox for the AL Central. Is there any truth to the hype?

Jeffrey May
Apr 11, 2022; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Tigers shortstop Javier Baez (28) celebrates with third base coach Ramon Santiago (39) after hitting a two run home run during the eighth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Raj MehtaUSA TODAY Sports

Let’s be crystal clear about one thing: it is far too early in the season to make sweeping statements about who will and will not win the division. That sort of talk should be saved until after the All-Star Break. But after taking the first game of the series off the Red Sox yesterday, two questions popped into everyone’s minds. First and foremost, has any of that contract hokum with Bogaerts and Devers perhaps dulled the Red Sox for the moment? And secondly, are the Tigers really an outside contender for the AL Central this season?

Let’s look at the two questions separately. As to the first point, there is no doubt that when players are involved in anything outside of the game, it will affect them. It might be family issues, or perhaps working conditions, or any number of distractions that can take these players off their game. An uncertain contract situation will definitely qualify.

This is not to say that the players will stay in this funk for long. If anything, it would tend to make them raise their game since the better they perform, the higher their value rises in future negotiations. But being so close to the window, only recently having negotiations come to nothing, it cannot help but weigh on them slightly. They will snap out of it, perhaps they already have, and bring back the pop that this Boston infield is known for.

The second question is more ephemeral. The Detroit Tigers have certainly put together an impressive squad, having concentrated on their farm system with its core of great pitchers. They are looking to bring up young players and veterans like Wily Peralta, which gives a tingle of excitement to Tiger fans everywhere. And with the addition of shortstop Javier Baez and catcher Tucker Barnhart, their infield and bats are looking to have taken a step in the right direction as well.

Computer simulations, such as those favored by oddsmakers and betting websites, don’t give much love to the Tigers, but then that is the issue with baseball. It is more than just stats and numbers. It is about heart. Almost more than any other sport, it is about staying in the long game. Nine innings a day, every day. Through the cold of spring, the heat of summer, and the biting fall wind. Heart.

The AL Central is a tricky division. Not very strong on paper, perhaps, but with offseason moves that raised eyebrows, it is ripe for the plucking. The White Sox are fielding pretty much the same team that took the division last season and the oddsmakers like them to take it again. But the marquee signings by the Twins have raised the spectre of a thrust from them. They likely don’t have enough to take the division, yet. But Minnesota are making moves that must, sooner or later, pay dividends.

Into this breach, the Detroit Tigers are comfortably sliding. They could give Chicago a run for the title and stave off the Twins’ hopes for the second spot. The second game of the series against Boston will not tell us anything definite one way or the other. Nor will the third, or even the next series. But in the grind that is the MLB regular season, the Tigers just need to win one game at a time. They made a start yesterday, let’s see if they can continue.