Detroit Tigers

White Sox Talk Podcast: What the heck happened in the home opener?

moncada.jpg
USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: What the heck happened in the home opener?

The White Sox were on the verge of an exciting win over the Tigers in the home opener. But it all came to a crashing halt in the late innings. What happened? 

Chuck Garfien and Vinnie Duber discuss the bad (the bullpen, Leury Garcia’s miscue, Yoan Moncada’s strikeouts) and the good (Tim Anderson, Yolmer Sanchez and Matt Davidson).

Take a listen here or in the embedded playlist below. 

White Sox opposition research: What's there to know about the Detroit Tigers?

0326_miguel_cabrera.jpg
USA TODAY

White Sox opposition research: What's there to know about the Detroit Tigers?

As the 2018 season nears and the White Sox get ready to take on the rest of the American League, we're taking a team-by-team look at all 14 of their opponents.

What’s there to know about the Detroit Tigers?

Comin’ out around the world, are you ready for a brand-new beat? Well, whether Tigers fans are or aren’t ready, their getting a brand-new beat of baseball in the Motor City.

Dancing might not exactly the thing Tigers fans do in the street this summer, as their team, which was very, very bad last year, is expected to be very, very bad again.

Like many other teams around the game, the Tigers entered a somehow simultaneously abrupt and long-overdue baseball transition, moving from an era of high-priced veterans and contention to one of rebuilding. Justin Verlander ain’t walking through that door. J.D. Martinez ain’t walking through that door. Ian Kinsler ain’t walking through that door. Alex Avila ain’t walking through that door. Justin Upton ain’t walking through that door. All five of those guys were jettisoned in the last calendar year (four of the five traded during last season), leaving Miguel Cabrera with a skeleton crew and a new manager in former Minnesota Twins skipper Ron Gardenhire.

In an all-too-fitting example of how atrocious the Tigers were last season, things even went poorly for Cabrera, the shoo-in future Hall of Famer who is quite simply one of baseball’s all-time greatest hitters. But after seven consecutive All-Star seasons, even he caught whatever bug crippled the Tigers, slashing just .249/.329/.399, massive dropoffs from his usual eye-popping averages. He put up some of the worst statistics since he was a 20-year-old with the 2003 Cubs-slaying Florida Marlins.

But it’s no surprise to learn that Cabrera doesn’t know his teammates’ names. Cabrera, Victor Martinez and newcomer Leonys Martin are the Tigers’ only position players over 30. Jordan Zimmermann, Mike Fiers, Francisco Liriano and reliever Alex Wilson are the lone pitchers north of 30. And of the seven guys I just named, only four were on the team last year.

The newbies aren’t exactly the kind that vault a team into a pennant race. Martin was a backup outfielder for the Cubs last year. Now he’s leading off in Detroit. Liriano was in the Houston Astros’ bullpen. Now he’s the Tigers’ third starter. Fiers? Well, let’s just say he had a 5.22 ERA. Because he did.

Help should be on the way in the next few years, as the Tigers have four pitchers ranked in baseball’s top 77 prospects, per MLB Pipeline. But for now, expect a gloomy 2018 season in Detroit.

Don’t worry, there are other fun things to do in Detroit. Go sit on Belle Isle and listen to Marvin Gaye. That sounds like an excellent way to spend a summer day. Now, what to do for the other 161?

2017 record: 64-98, fifth place in AL Central

Offseason additions: Leonys Martin, Francisco Liriano, Mike Fiers

Offseason departures: Ian Kinsler, Anibal Sanchez

X-factor: Outside of a return to form from Cabrera, there isn't much to like about the Tigers' chances. But Nicholas Castellanos was quietly one of the league's best hitters down the stretch last season. He led the American League in triples and had 101 RBIs but more importantly slashed .272/.320/.490 on the season, including putting up a .353/.362/.626 line over his final 47 games. Not bad at all.

Projected lineup:

1. Leonys Martin, CF
2. Jeimer Candelario, 3B
3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
4. Nicholas Castellanos, RF
5. Victor Martinez, DH
6. James McCann, C
7. Mikie Mahtook, LF
8. Jose Iglesias, SS
9. Dixon Machado, 2B

Projected rotation:

1. Jordan Zimmermann
2. Michael Fulmer
3. Francisco Liriano
4. Daniel Norris
5. Matthew Boyd

Mike Fiers might not be ready for Opening Day.

Prediction: Fifth place in AL Central

Catch up on the AL:

Oakland Athletics
Texas Rangers
Seattle Mariners
Los Angeles Angels
Houston Astros
Tampa Bay Rays
Toronto Blue Jays
Baltimore Orioles
Boston Red Sox
New York Yankees
Detroit Tigers
Kansas City Royals

Catch up on the NL:

San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Francisco Giants
Los Angeles Dodgers
Miami Marlins
Philadelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves
New York Mets
Washington Nationals
Pittsburgh Pirates

 

Cubs confident they'll see the real Justin Wilson in 2018

justin_wilson_rebound_slide_photo.jpg
AP

Cubs confident they'll see the real Justin Wilson in 2018

Justin Wilson is proof that not everything Theo Epstein touches immediately turns to gold.

Though, that's not to say it's the fault of Epstein or the Cubs' front office.

Who could've possibly predicted Wilson's epic struggles in Chicago after pitching well with the Detroit Tigers earlier in the season?

When Epstein and Co. traded for the dynamic left-handed reliever, he was one of the top high-leverage pitchers in baseball — sporting a sparkling 0.94 WHIP, 2.68 ERA, 13 saves and 55 strikeouts against only 16 walks in 40.1 innings.

But in Chicago, Wilson was suddenly ineffective. He managed just 53 outs in 23 appearances, walking 19 batters and serving up 18 hits in 17.2 innings. His strikeouts actually went up a tick, but the lack of control was alarming.

Things got so bad, Wilson was used to get just two outs in the postseason and wasn't even active for the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Yet none of that has scared the Cubs off from counting on Wilson to be a big part of the 2018 bullpen.

"I think you will [see a rebound]," GM Jed Hoyer said. "Sometimes guys come to a new place, they get off to a rough start and that kinda snowballs on them. When you look at his track record, there's no reason in the world to think he won't be pitching late in the game or won't have a big role.

"That's what he's done his whole career except for the blip with us and I think he'll get right back to doing that again."

But Wilson wasn't the only Cubs reliever who struggled with walks. It was a bullpen-wide issue in 2017 — a problem the Cubs hope to correct in 2018, in part due to a new pitching coach (Jim Hickey) providing a different voice.

Dig deeper, however, and it's clear to see Wilson's issue wasn't only that he forgot how to throw strikes. 

In Detroit, 36.9 percent of pitches Wilson threw were balls. In Chicago, that number rose to 42 percent, which is only a difference of 5 extra balls every 100 pitches thrown. 

That's not enough to account for such a huge increase in walks. So what gives?

A huge part of the problem was a precipitous dip in batters swinging at pitches Wilson threw out of the zone. Over his career, Wilson has hovered around batters swinging at his pitches out of the zone around 1/3 of the time. In Chicago batters swung less than 1/4 of the time at pitches out of the zone.

That may be because he started throwing his fastball a lot more with the Cubs and relied less on his breaking stuff (slider and cutter). He has rarely thrown his changeup in his career, but never even tried it with the Cubs.

What it boils down to is fastball command, which Joe Maddon typically points to first whenever a pitcher is experiencing inconsistency on the mound. Wilson didn't always know where his fastball was going, which means his breaking stuff didn't play as well in conjunction with that and he was thus forced to throw his fastball more often just to try to get more strikes.

Now that they're not in the middle of a pennant race, both Wilson and the Cubs have had time to digest what went wrong. The organization is optimistic good times are coming, mostly because they see the issues as clearly fixable.

"Oh sure. No question," Hoyer said. "We saw some glimpses at the end. You've seen it happen enough times that a guy gets off to a bad start. 

"It's all fixable. We still feel the same way about the player. I think coming into a new season, a new spring training, a new pitching coach — I think that's all positive."

The "new season" part may be the biggest factor working in Wilson's favor.

There's no doubt his struggles last fall got inside his head. How could they not? 

But a new year means time to hit the reset button on the confidence and mental side of the game, which can make all the difference.

"If things don't get off on the right foot, they probably try too hard," Hoyer said. "They want to impress their teammates and it can go south on them. It's not the first time [this has happened].

"I have a ton of confidence in him. This guy's had a really good career — pitched late in the game for a long time. There's no reason to think he won't come in and be good for us next year."