Detroit Tigers wrapping up 2020 season: 12 things to watch with 12 games to go

Evan Petzold
Detroit Free Press

Through 46 games, the Detroit Tigers are just a game out of last place in the American League Central Division.

Two weeks ago, that would've been hard to believe.

The Tigers (20-26) were flirting with the playoffs before being swept by the Chicago White Sox over the weekend. They are 5½ games out of the AL's eighth and final spot in the expanded 16-team postseason.

Tigers designated hitter Miguel Cabrera heads home to score from second on a hit by Willi Castro during the fourth inning against the Brewers on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, at Comerica Park.

The remainder of the schedule features six games with the Kansas City Royals, four with the Cleveland Indians and two with the Minnesota Twins. Two games in doubleheader form could be made up against the St. Louis Cardinals if necessary.

Here are 12 things to watch for with 12 games remaining in the Tigers' 2020 season:

Candy Land

First baseman Jeimer Candelario, who was at third base before C.J. Cron elected for season-ending knee surgery, has emerged as one of the best hitters in baseball since the beginning of August. He was named AL Player of the Week on Monday by slashing .423/.500/.923 with three homers and nine RBIs. Since his 0-for-17 stretch in July, Candelario is 50-for-137 (.365) with seven home runs. The organization seems to believe he has turned a corner in his career.

[ How Candelario went from a concern to carrying team in playoff push ]

Big Willi Style

Willi Castro has four errors in 55 chances in 16 games at shortstop. Last season, he had four in 29 games. Castro's offense — a .337 clip with three homers in 25 games — is enough to keep him in the lineup. He is going to need to make improvements on defense. He has a big offseason ahead, but his production at shortstop is worth focusing on the rest of the way.

Tigers third baseman Isaac Paredes makes a throw to first base for an out during the second inning on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, at Comerica Park.

Hit parade

While Castro must put his focus on his defense, third baseman Isaac Paredes, who might project best in a long-term role at second, has to improve offensively. A rookie slump was bound to happen, but it became unreasonable to keep him in the lineup with an 0-for-23 streak. He is 3-for-12 with a double in his last four games, perhaps a sign of good things to come. Even if he can't get it figured out this year, the 21-year-old will get plenty more chances.

[ How Isaac Paredes was discovered in Mexico: 'This guy's got it' ]

Day in, day out

The lack of consistency is a problem. From the offense and defense to the pitching staff, the Tigers can't seem to sustain anything positive for more than a handful of games. The pitching staff, for example, is the worst in baseball in several categories, and the offense so often fluctuates between slumps and successes. Finding a consistent balance of all three aspects would help the Tigers end on a high note.

Scoreboard watching

The postseason has been discussed since the Tigers bounced back from a nine-game losing skid in August with a six-game winning streak to move one game above .500 on Sept. 1. Since then, they've lost nine of 12 and have just a 1% chance of making the expanded 16-team playoffs, according to Yes, that does mean there's a chance. For that to happen, the Yankees need to crumble as the Tigers rise once again.

For subscribers: Can the Tigers really make the playoffs? We predict rest of the way

Detroit Tigers pitcher Casey Mize throws against the Minnesota Twins in the first inning Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Minneapolis.

Earn your stripes

Casey Mize wasn't allowed to work out of a one-out jam  in the sixth inning of his last start, after taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning against the AL Central-leading White Sox. Manager Ron Gardenhire replaced him following one hit and reliever Jose Cisnero gave up a three-run homer to squander the lead. Even if he would've kept the no-hitter, Gardenhire said he would have pulled him out on a pitch count. He threw 83 pitches on Sept. 6, and then 76 more against the White Sox on Friday. If he is strong again, it will be interesting to see how much leeway Gardenhire gives him.

[ Mize's flirt with no-no is reminder how good the Tigers' future can be ]

Be kind, rewind

Catcher Austin Romine and second baseman Jonathan Schoop — a pair of one-year rentals preparing to enter the free-agent market — began the season with offensive success. Entering September, Romine was hitting .291, and Schoop registered a .303 batting average with eight homers. Since then, Romine is 2-for-25 and Schoop is 9-for-43. As free agency looms, both players are looking to finish strong. If the Tigers remain interested, both could be re-signed. 

Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer, left, leaves in the third inning against the Twins on Monday, Sept. 7, 2020, in Minneapolis.

For starters

Right-handers Michael Fulmer and Spencer Turnbull, after making starts Saturday and Sunday against the White Sox, respectively,  both said their bodies felt the best they had in a long time. Fulmer is recovering from Tommy John surgery and has a 9.27 ERA in eight starts. Meanwhile, Turnbull is the most consistent pitcher in the starting rotation with a 3.94 ERA, but hasn't been able to put together back-to-back scoreless outings. They'll each get at least two more starts this year.

[ Fulmer desperate to back up statement: 'I felt good' ]

Always be closing

Right-hander Bryan Garcia is a must-watch reliever. The 25-year-old has an inside track to the closer role with a 1.56 ERA and 1.096 WHIP in 21 games. The Tigers have had Joe Jimenez targeted for that role for years, but because of his 10.13 ERA in 19 games, he hasn't pitched in close games recently. The role is Garcia's for the taking.

[ Why Joe Jimenez is angry with Twins' Miguel Sano: 'He was wrong' ]

New role

The Tigers used Jordan Zimmermann for a spot start in a Sept. 10 doubleheader, and he tossed three scoreless innings. Gardenhire will use him as a bullpen piece, but his specific role is unclear. It might make the most sense for him to piggyback with one of the rookies or Fulmer. Because there's basically no chance the Tigers re-sign him, he's going to be pitching to keep his career alive.

[ Zimmermann makes comeback, ready for 'fun experience' ]

Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire removes pitcher Joe Jimenez from the game during the third inning of the Tigers' 12-2 loss in the first game of a doubleheader on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020, in St. Louis.

Guarded about next year

This is the final season of Gardenhire's three-year contract, so general manager Al Avila must decide what's next. Even in a 60-game schedule, the 62-year-old made the Tigers relevant for a few weeks in the playoff race — and there's still a slight chance the team enters back into the picture. Gardenhire has said numerous times the COVID-19 pandemic took a lot out of him. Maybe he wants to hang it up, or he wants to continue leading the ballclub. To this point, he hasn't given any indication of how he feels.

[ Gardenhire on contract talks: 'I don't do that during the year' ]

Mr. Rogers' neighborhood

At the end of August, Avila said calling up catching prospect Jake Rogers — one of three prospects who came the Tigers in the Justin Verlander trade — would be "tough" unless there was an injury. Last season, Rogers played in 35 games, hitting .125 with four homers and eight RBIs. Avila didn't close the door on another chance, but he likes the combination of Romine and Grayson Greiner.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here's how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content