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Baseball has begun if you haven’t noticed

Ryan Stieg

Baseball season has arrived, but it sure doesn’t feel like it.

It did a few days ago when I wore a T-shirt outside for the first time in months and I actually felt motivated to spend the entire day outdoors.

That hasn’t been the case this week, though, as on Thursday I brushed a good two inches of snow off my car and hoped my SUV could make it up the hill near my apartment so I could go to the gas station.

Seriously, as I’m typing this, large flakes are piling up outside my window and I’m thinking about the big college hockey series in town this weekend.

Yet despite what Mother Nature is showing us, it is baseball season as Major League Baseball teams train in Florida and Arizona and various college programs compete in southern tournaments to prepare for their respective conference seasons.

It’s not exactly an exciting time as there is a cloud hanging over the season thanks to the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal and whatever cheating the Boston Red Sox did two years ago.

I’m battling a cold and I already have a literal sour taste in my mouth. The last thing I need is a figurative one, but that’s what Houston and Boston have given me.

Still, with spring training underway, it’s a sign that good things may be on the horizon. That is if your favorite team is a good one. I’m a Minnesota Twins fan and a Chicago Cubs fan, both of whom might have big seasons, so I’m feeling pretty good as the regular season approaches. I imagine Detroit Tigers fans aren’t feeling the same way, though.

I’ve lived in Michigan for six years and this might be the least anticipated Detroit baseball season I’ve seen so far. There’s more people looking forward to seeing if the Michigan Wolverines can get back to the College World Series than if the Tigers will be a functioning ball club this year.

I don’t want to open up a wound for Detroit fans, but I have to, simply to paint a picture of where the Tigers are currently at. After two straight 98-loss years, Detroit hit rock bottom in 2019 with 114 losses, the second-most losses and second lowest win percentage in franchise history.

How bad are the Tigers? According to an Athlon Sports article, an opposing scout was asked for an opinion and said “If the game’s on the line, I can’t tell you there’s anybody I’m worried about throwing to.” Yikes.

Miguel Cabrera, once the most feared hitter in the game, is on his last legs and his monstrous contract has crippled the team in their attempt to rebuild. He’s a walking, more like hobbling reminder that nobody deserves a contract of that size unless they have a lot left in the tank.

Jeimer Candelario is slowing down in the field and the pitching rotation is a mix of both promising and discouraging. Matthew Boyd looks great, Daniel Norris looks solid and Michael Fulmer will come back home at some point this season from Tommy John surgery. But Spencer Turnbull is hit or miss and Jordan Zimmermann is the perfect example of taking a bunch of money and lighting it on fire.

Is there any hope right now for loyal Tigers fans? Yep, but it’s not going to come quickly. Detroit has four strong pitching prospects in 2018 top overall draft pick Casey Mize, Eastern League Pitcher of the Year Matt Manning, Alex Faedo and Tarik Skubal — that could be the rotation of the future.

As far as hitters go, Isaac Paredes, Daz Cameron and Willi Castro are making their cases for a serious look. Jose Azocar was Eastern League Rookie of the Year, so all in all, the future looks bright in the Motor City. However, to get there, Tigers fans are going to have to suffer through at least one more disastrous season and will have to take solace in the fact that maybe another former player could win a World Series title.

If you’re looking for a more positive team to pay attention to, Upper Peninsula baseball fans can look across the border to Milwaukee. Two years ago, the Brewers came within a game from making their first World Series since 1982, and last year Milwaukee came within a whisker of winning the National League wild card game. Who knows how far it’d have gone after that?

So this could be a make or break year for the Brewers as teams typically have a three- to four-year window at winning a World Series.

The Brew Crew have already lost Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas and they’ve added a bunch of new players to their roster, so things are already a little different. The good thing is slugger Christian Yelich is back to anchor the offense and Lorenzo Cain looks primed for a rebound after battling injuries last year.

Milwaukee added another potential power hitter to back up Yelich and Ryan Braun with first baseman Justin Smoak. Things look pretty good for the Brewers at the plate, but as is the case for many teams, they’ll only go as far as the pitching staff will take them. All Star Brandon Woodruff returns as does solid starter Adrian Houser, while Milwaukee also added veteran hurlers like lefty Brett Anderson and Josh Lindblom. There’s also Brent Suter and Freddy Peralta, who can switch to the bullpen if needed.

The rotation may not exactly strike fear into opposing hitters, but it should be good enough to support the offense and nab another playoff berth for the Brewers.

In the U.P. right now, there’s two ways to look at baseball. You can focus on Milwaukee, a team that seems to be on the cusp of a World Series title, but whose window may be starting to close with cloudy skies starting to approach Miller Park.

At the same time, Detroit has snow piled up against its window, but if you look closely, sunlight is lightly peaking through a crack at the top.

Either way, it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out. All we need now is for the weather to cooperate and make us want to pay attention to baseball again.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.

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