Perhaps you read colleague Jeff Edelstein’s rather unflinching preview of the Detroit Tigers’ upcoming season a couple of weeks ago?
If so, you might recall that Jeff isn’t particularly high on the Tigers’ 2023 chances, which — for those who watched them often last season — won’t sound all that wacky. Among his observations was this one about a Tigers offense that finished last in wRC+ (81) and fourth in strikeout rate, a rather noxious combination for scoring runs: “As it turned out, the 2022 Tigers offense was only dangerous to narcoleptic scorekeepers.”
Ouch, direct hit.
But the championship odds, of course, reflect the Tigers’ dim chances of taking a massive step forward in the upcoming season. Those odds haven’t budged this month, even after a fairly productive spring, with the Tabbies still tabbed as 200/1 consensus longshots to win the World Series. Only the Cincinnati Reds, Colorado Rockies, Washington Nationals, and Oakland A’s have longer odds.
The Tigers are keeping lousy company these days, and what makes it even more depressing is that they’re spending about $40 million more on player salaries than the least-penny pinching of those other teams. But we’re not here to further lament the Tigers’ shortcomings. Let’s find some good-value plays that accentuate the positive before Thursday’s opener in Tampa Bay:
Over 68.5 wins (at multiple books)
Is it so crazy to think the Tigers could improve upon a 66-96 season that began with some fairly robust expectations? We’re willing to strap on the rose-colored lenses for a minute and absolutely make that claim.
For one thing, it’s hard to get as much bad injury news as the Tigers’ rotation had last year, and despite that, they really didn’t pitch all that poorly.
Former overall No. 1 pick Casey Mize underwent Tommy John and back surgery last April and might return sometime in ‘23. Tarik Skubal was sidelined with an elbow injury in August, but he has already begun his throwing program and could be back sometime in June. Eduardo Rodriguez is coming off a strong spring training (1.47 ERA) after spending a lot of last year on the restricted list. He could be the anchor this rotation lacked last season.
Also, the Tigers — who had almost no power in ‘23 — finished second in all of baseball by mashing 46 home runs this spring. Those long balls, of course, aren’t going to travel from Lakeland to the regular-season stat sheet, but perhaps it’s at least a suggestion that the entire lineup won’t once again flop, especially if Spencer Torkelson starts living up to the hype. Just the typical ebbs and flows of baseball careers would suggest they’ll get a bit more production this season. It’s hard to get less.
Tigers 30/1 to win division (at BetMGM and others)
Is it going to happen? Well, probably not. Those odds, after all, imply a probability of just 3.2%. But are those at least tempting odds? Well, just maybe, because this is a division without a lot of certainty to it. In fact, it might end up being just a flat-out bad division, meaning a team that has a slightly surprising season could sneak into the playoffs with a very low win total.
The Guardians (+130 at PointsBet) are the AL Central favorites for good reason. They’re a strong young team. But they’re extremely cheap, with an estimated payroll of around $75 million, and they might not be willing to spend what it takes to put themselves over the top at the trade deadline if their season isn’t going the way they had hoped. The White Sox were nearly as disappointing as the Tigers last year, and the Twins are awfully hard to figure out year to year.
It might be worth buying this ticket just from lack of confidence in everybody else in the AL Central. If you’re buying the narrative that the division will be bad, it might also be worth a +1200 bet (at DraftKings) on the Tabbies to make the playoffs in a six-team playoff field.
Most April wins in AL Central (11/1 at DraftKings)
It might be smart to limit the sample size with this team, given that the overall prognosis isn’t great, and that’s where this fun little bet could come in handy. It’s not so much that the Tigers’ April schedule is easy. Their non-division games include clashes with the Rays, Houston Astros, and Toronto Blue Jays.
But we’ve already expressed some hope that the offense can improve and some doubt about the rest of the division. If Javy Báez, Torkelson, and Rodriguez start off hot, they could carry this team for a while. It’s not all that crazy to imagine the Tigers eking this one out over a month with a roster that has more veterans than those of other division foes.
If you’re going to bet on the Tigers to have success in 2023, you’re probably better off banking on them doing it over 28 games rather than 162.
Photo: Steph Chambers/Getty Images