After tough series, Detroit Tigers must ‘turn the page’ to stay in MLB playoff contention

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers bench coach Lloyd McClendon made a good point Monday afternoon.

The 61-year-old watched his club slam into another roadblock in Minnesota, where the breaks didn’t seem to go the Tigers’ way, the offense (mostly) sputtered and the pitching didn’t hold up while playing five games over four days. 

“It was a tough trip for us,” said McClendon, who led team the past two games in the absence of manager Ron Gardenhire (gastrointestinal issues). “We lost some tough ballgames. You can say if, could’ve, would’ve, should’ve, but the fact is we lost. And we got to go home, and we got to regroup.”


In other words: Move on. Reset. 

And fast. 

The Tigers (18-21) dropped four of five to the Twins amid a tight race for the American League’s eighth and final wild-card spot. With Monday’s 6-2 loss, they fell to 11th place (behind the Baltimore Orioles and Seattle Mariners) and are 2½ games back of the eighth-place New York Yankees for the final playoff berth.

The Tigers are fortunate to be in contention with three weeks remaining in the season. But there’s a reason they’re still hanging around. 

On Sunday, the Tigers clawed back from a 6-2 deficit to carve out a gotta-have-it 10-8 victory. It was their only win in the series, but it’s a reminder the Tigers have been surprisingly resilient in this shortened season.

Remember: This is the core of the team that lost 114 games in 2019, but started this season 9-5. This is the same team that lost nine straight after C.J. Cron went down with injury. But it’s also the same team that rallied to get back to .500 entering the Minnesota series. And it’s the same team that has come from behind to win 11 times this season, including Sunday, among the most comebacks in the majors.

The reason is grit, and it’s the best trait the Tigers have that could salvage their first postseason berth since 2014, however unlikely it might be.

The Tigers are getting massive offensive contributions from center fielder Victor Reyes, second baseman Jonathan Schoop, first baseman Jeimer Candelario and shortstop Willi Castro, who leads the club with a .349 average over 18 games.

[ Why Tigers reliever Joe Jimenez is angry with Twins’ Miguel Sano: ‘He was wrong’ ]

Now, they need everything to mesh. Because the Tigers no longer have margin for error; they lost almost all of it in Minnesota. 

Like when left-hander Matthew Boyd allowed back-to-back homers to open a 2-0 loss in the first game of Friday’s doubleheader. Or how a slew of relievers carried the pitching staff in the second game until closer Gregory Soto blew a one-run lead in the seventh, resulting in a 3-2 loss. Or on Saturday, when the bullpen squandered rookie Tarik Skubal’s one-run outing as speedy Byron Buxton collected a walk-off infield single. 

Those were three losses that — if a few pitches were executed better, or a couple of plays had gone differently — the Tigers could have won. But as McClendon said, imagining what may have happened doesn’t matter.

“This is baseball, man,” Candelario said Monday. “You just try and learn. You don’t want to take anything for granted. You’ve just got to turn the page and come the next day expecting to win a ballgame. … Everything’s gonna be all right.”

[ Tigers rookie picks up where his uncle left off with surprise homer in victory ]

Move on. Reset. 

And fast. 

With 21 games remaining, Detroit still is a legitimate playoff contender. The Yankees and Blue Jays are in the top three of the AL East and began a three-game series Monday. New York then plays four games against the Orioles and three more against the Blue Jays, meaning teams within that division should start weeding themselves out.

Which opens the door for the Tigers. 

If they can bounce back again. 

“When you can play meaningful games, you take a lot out of them,” McClendon said. “You grow. Obviously, you like to win them more than you lose, but if you’re not working hard, you’re not learning on a daily basis, then you’re not getting better.

“So I think this club is getting better.”

[ Jordan Zimmermann’s mind has helped Matthew Boyd. Can his arm help the Tigers? ]

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. 

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