'Not happy' with first half, Tigers eye opportunity ahead

July 6th, 2022

DETROIT -- Minutes before the Tigers took the field to try for their first four-game series sweep against the Guardians in Detroit since 1986, general manager Al Avila took a spot in the Comerica Park press box with beat writers and tried to sum up his thoughts on the season.

“I’m not happy,” he said. “I’m very angry, as a matter of fact, with how things have turned out. We expected to have a better record and we’re working towards that. No, nobody’s happy right now. We’re happier now, lately, I’d say the last few games.”

The work, and the happiness, continued with Wednesday’s 8-2 win. And as the Tigers packed up to hit the road for a 12-game, three-city, in-division road trip before the All-Star break, they left with a sense of opportunity to change the narrative.

“There’s a definite opportunity to put us in a position to have very meaningful baseball in the second half of the season,” said catcher Tucker Barnhart, who had a pair of RBI hits in the series, including a second-inning, two-out single off Shane Bieber on Wednesday. “If we have a good trip and play good baseball, we’ll go into the break with some momentum. And then coming back for the second half of the season, it makes it interesting, you know? And I think that’s all you can ask for is to play meaningful baseball in September. Hopefully we can put ourselves in that position, even though we started pretty bad.”

In terms of games played, Wednesday marked the halfway point of the Tigers’ season. Their 34-47 record is two games below last season’s halfway record, seven games better than 2019, and nearly the same as their 36-45 records from 2017 and 2018.

“Obviously at this point, you can see that there could’ve been some mistakes, and we’re trying to correct them,” Avila said when asked if they could’ve done better building the team. “But at the same time, we have to get the players that we have on the field better.”

Compared to the 100-loss pace the Tigers were on just a few weeks ago, it’s an improvement. They’re 10-7 since calling up Riley Greene last month, and they’ve scored four or more runs in six consecutive games, matching their longest streak since 2018. The predictability of low run outputs and overreliance on pitching to stay in games has given way to a more productive offense.

“Especially coming off the Royals series where it just felt like we were a little flat all around, to come in here against a team that’s competing for first place in our division, it’s big,” Michael Fulmer said. “Everybody stepped up and did their job.”

What to make of this stretch falls on Avila, who this month will face the task of measuring this team heading into the Trade Deadline and trying to figure out how to improve going forward. The first words from Avila when asked Wednesday about the Trade Deadline said plenty about the debate within the organization.

“Kind of like last year, we’re not a rebuilding team anymore,” Avila said. “We want to be better than where we’re at right now, but that doesn’t mean that we have to take a step backwards. The step backwards was at the beginning of the season and the record that we have. We’re going to try to make the team better as we move forward. Whatever that means, whoever we can acquire, whatever it takes, then we’ll have to consider every option that we have.”

That step back, Avila said, has been a group effort. While Javier Báez has been the focus of fan reaction -- the product of the six-year contract he signed in November -- Avila pointed out that the shortstop has shown flashes of his talent and remains in the prime of his career.

Báez’s recent stretch has been better, including two runs scored Wednesday. Others have stepped up as well.

“Right now, we’ve won a few games in a row,” Avila said, “so you’ve got [Jonathan] Schoop producing, you’ve got [Eric] Haase producing. We bring up Riley Greene -- producing. Miggy’s getting three hits a game. So all of a sudden, if your players are producing, you’re going to win some games. 

“It’s not one player. It’s really been a plethora of players and the situations of injuries that have compounded. And when you get into this situation where you’re getting the good pitching that we’ve been getting, even though we’ve had a series of injuries, with a lack of hitting, it’s going to be a problem. And then all of a sudden, you get some guys getting their hits, and then the pitching starts to leak a little bit, and you lose a few games like that. It’s been that kind of a season. It’s been a little bit of everything, and we’re all responsible. The players have to be accountable. The coaching staff has to be accountable. The front office has to be accountable. And it all starts with me. Now our job is to get it back together. 

“Our hope is that we’re playing more like we’ve played the last few days, because that was the expectation coming into the season. And that’s what we need to get back to. Come the Trade Deadline, hopefully we can make some improvements along the way.”