Section 313, Seat No. 12: The 5 biggest surprises from the first half

Section 313

Seat No. 12


Hello and welcome back to Section 313, today we’re in Seat No. 12. It’s been a few weeks since we last got together, but it isn’t without good reason. However, since we last spoke the Tigers season has spun out of control and they look to be sellers here in the next few weeks.

While we come out of the Fourth of July week and head directly to the All-Star break, I figured it’d be as good a time as any to discuss what has surprised me most in this 2017 season. Now, admittedly surprise can be positive or they can be negative, so each will be discussed following. Here are the 5 biggest surprises of the Detroit Tigers first half of the season.

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Miguel Cabrera has underperformed

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Tampa Bay Rays
Apr 20, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA;Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera (24) reacts after he stuck out during the fourth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I hate to start negative, but hey, it can only get better from here, right? There is no doubt in my mind that over the course of a decade, we as Tigers fans have been privileged to watch a once-in-a-generation talent like Miguel Cabrera. Since putting on the Old English D  Miggy has been nothing short of the guy that one day we’ll tell our grandkids, “yeah, I got to see him play.”

Miguel throughout his career in Detroit has been the embodiment of a clutch performer, “the big fella,” and Mr. Triple Crown. He has been worth the price of admission. Since joining the club in 2008, Miguel has merely hit .322, 319 HR, 1,070 RBI, and 1747 hits; pretty damn good if you ask me.

The problem becomes the expectation that is placed on guys like this, though fair as they may be. We expect guys to continue to perform at the level we’ve grown accustomed to, yet maybe forgetting that these players do age and decline. That decline has happened, though there’s still season to play, for Miguel this year.

Miggy has battled numerous injuries throughout the season, starting with the World Baseball Classic back in March. From the tight back came a strained oblique which in turn became sore hip flexors. Cabrera is 34-years-old this season and his numbers are showing it.

Currently, Miggy is hitting .266, with 11 HR, 40 RBI, and just 26 total XBH. Definitely not numbers people are accustomed to seeing from Miggy. Add to that he’s currently sitting at a 0.4 WAR, just above a replacement level player, and you really begin to scratch your head. Add to that the Miguel has a swinging strike rate of 11.3%, the second highest since his rookie season, and you can start to place your finger on why the big fella is struggling this season. Hopefully, Cabrera can turn it around in the second half, but his offensive performance, thus far, is the biggest surprise of all.

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Anibal Sanchez on path to redemption

Sep 14, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez (19) pitches in the first inning against the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Anibal Sanchez has had a two and a half year stretch worth forgetting. Since the start of the 2015 season, Sanchez has been the bane of Tigers fans existence. Okay, maybe that was a little harsh, but the reality is still true, Sanchez has not been good since 2015.

In 2013, his first full year with the Tigers, Sanchez posted a 2.57 ERA and won the ERA title. By the end of the 2015 season, he saw his ERA inflate to 4.99 and it continued to grow into this season. So much so that the Tigers weren’t even sure if he’d make the Opening Day roster.

We all know he did make the roster, but as a long reliever, a role in which he did not do well in. In 21 IP out of the pen to start the season, Sanchez boasted a 9.00 ERA, had given up 9 home runs, and was walking nearly 4 batters per nine innings (3.86). It was then that he accepted an assignment to Toledo to work on something, truly a classy move on his part.

Work on things he did. In a rather controversial move, the Tigers brought Sanchez back up to start in Seattle on June 19. Since then he’s boasted a 3.09 ERA — bringing his season ERA down to 5.89 — and has only allowed one home run in 23.1 innings of work. It’s definitely a short sample size, but a huge surprise to see Anibal Sanchez as the second best starter we’ve had in the past month.

Role players providing big production

Apr 28, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers first baseman John Hicks (55) tags out Chicago White Sox second baseman Yolmer Sanchez (5) on his way to second base during the sixth inning at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into the season if I had said the names John HicksJim Adduci, or Alex Presley would anyone of had an idea who I was talking about? Probably not. But, all these guys have done is come in when called upon and produce.

Adduci was hit with an oblique strain right as J.D. Martinez came back from injury, but before then he was hitting .318 with six extra-base hits, eight runs scored and seven RBIs. Not too shabby for a guy who was playing in Korea last season and who never really had proved anything on the Major League level.

John Hicks has been up and down from Toledo more often than anyone this season, but when called upon he’s produced. In 22 games with the big club, Hicks has hit .299 with 3 home runs, 9 extra-base hits, 12 RBIs and 11 runs scored. Hicks is the most versatile of the three and will most likely see full-time action if Alex Avila gets traded away.

Presley has played in 19 games with the club hitting .269 with little pop (3 total extra-base hits), but he has been a tough out most nights he’s played and has given the Tigers a really good option in center field.

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Mikie Mahtook is slowly becoming everyone’s new favorite Tiger

MLB: Spring Training-Baltimore Orioles at Detroit Tigers
Feb 24, 2017; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers center fielder Mikie Mahtook (15) signs autographs before during a spring training baseball game at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

At the beginning of the season, everyone was looking at the center field position and scratching their heads. Since Opening Day the Tigers have had 5 different players play center field, and none of them really stood out, that was until June 16.

Until June 16, Mikie Mahtook looked to be a type of guy that would maybe stay on a Major League roster and maybe contribute, solely because he just wasn’t playing all that often in Detroit. Then Mikie made everyone take notice.

From Opening Day until June 14, the day before he started to play regularly, Mahtook was hitting .241 / .277 / .433. He had four home runs and a handful of RBIs. Then, with Tyler Collins and JaCoby Jones stationed at Triple-A and Alex Presley on the concussion DL, Mahtook took over.

All he’s done since then is hit .314 / .314 / .392 with six runs scored and five RBIs in just 53 plate appearances.

Oh, and he’s making plays like this:

There’s a lot to be said about a guy getting into a rhythm and confidently knowing that his name will be penciled in on most nights, there’s no doubt about it. Mikie Mahtook could be a mainstay in the Tigers outfield for a few years, and if he performs like this, that will be alright with me.

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Justin Upton finally living up to the contract

Oct 2, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Detroit Tigers left fielder Justin Upton (8) bats against the Atlanta Braves in the fifth inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Before you start to call the insane asylum on me, just hear me out. There’s no doubt that Upton got off to a horrendous start to 2016, but since July 6 of last season (one calendar year), Upton has been arguably the most productive person in the Tigers lineup.

Since that day, Upton is hitting .266 with 38 home runs and 105 RBIs — that’s in 151 games, too, so a full season. That ranks him tied for fourth in the MLB in home runs, 10th in RBIs. He also has scored 95 runs which places him 25th in the MLB. This is the Justin Upton we assumed we’d be signing back before 2016.

Now, at the end of this season, Upton has the ability to opt out of his contract with us and test the free agent waters. Given the numbers he’s put up he could cash in again; however, the prospect seems highly unlikely. With the likely departure of J.D. Martinez, maybe Justin Verlander, and others it seems like Upton could be the man in Detroit for the foreseeable future. Not necessarily a surprise that he’s been good, just surprised that he’s been this good.

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Written by AJ Reilly

A.J. is a lifelong baseball fan and an avid storyteller. His debut novel, The Askren Boys, won the Literary Classics Gold Medal and Seal of Approval in November of 2018. When not writing, he is spending time with his wife Jessica, son Jack, daughter Nora, and new arrival Teddy. A.J. lives in Metro Detroit.

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