The Detroit Tigers finally joined the 10-win club.
That they got there Saturday, a full week after the 29th team — the Colorado Rockies, on May 1 — did so tells us a couple things. First, the Tigers, at 10-24, still have the worst record in baseball. Second, a last-place finish in the American League Central won’t come as a surprise. Their win Wednesday in Boston snapped a six-game losing streak and was just their third win in 19 games since departing Houston in mid-April with a 6-6 record.
That’s why Saturday’s victory, their second in just four games, feels like a big deal. The Tigers reached the 10-win mark with a 7-3 win over the Twins thanks to a five-run seventh inning and dominant relief pitching from Michael Fulmer, who entered to a bases-loaded, one-out jam.
“We all put in so much work before the game, and it’s getting to the point where we don’t want to let each other down,” outfielder Robbie Grossman, a nine-year MLB veteran, said. “We’re playing for the guy next to us, and we’re looking to build on that.
“It’s fun to win. And it sucks to lose. The days when we win, we just want to remember that feeling and what it takes to get there.”
Saturday’s win was big for another reason: It was a textbook example of what the Tigers must do to score runs.
The offense has picked up since arriving in Boston on Tuesday for three games against the Red Sox. In the past five games, the Tigers are 54-for-184 (.293) with 32 runs, 24 walks and 49 strikeouts. And they’ve only needed four home runs.
Entering the Red Sox series, the Tigers owned a league-worst .195 batting average. They finished Saturday at .212, passing Cleveland (granted, they were no-hit on Friday night and Seattle) to rank 28th.
Their scoring started Saturday with a leadoff home run from Grossman, but the Tigers found other ways to score the rest of the way. In the fourth, Nomar Mazara — fresh off the injured list — tripled, and Niko Goodrum connected with another pitch to make it 2-0.
The hit by Goodrum that scored Mazara should have been a single. Instead, he continued on to second, turning a single into a double. This is the type of smart and prepared base running Hinch has wanted to see from his team since spring training.
The offense exploded for five more runs in the seventh. Grossman opened it with a single, then added a walk after the scoring was over; in all, the Tigers had five singles — including two-out, two-RBI shots from Goodrum and Jake Rogers (recalled Friday from Triple-A Toledo) — and three walks in the inning.
In that inning, the Tigers accomplished everything Hinch has asked of them at the plate.
“When we have action (on the bases), we’re a different team,” Hinch said. “The ball in play was pretty good. The activity on the bases, first to third, two-strike hitting. It just creates a much different look to an offense.”
Grossman reached base five times, going 3-for-3 with a walk and hit-by-pitch. The No. 2 hitter, Harold Castro, went 3-for-4, giving the Tigers eight baserunners from the top two batters in the lineup. Even Miguel Cabrera picked up two hits for the second straight game.
The Tigers finished with seven runs on 12 hits and nine walks, with only three strikeouts. By drawing walks, limiting their strikeouts and not waiting solely for home runs, they played a competitive game and came out with a win.
“It started before this game,” Hinch said. “There were better at-bats in Boston. Our game-planning has gotten a tick better. The players taking it into the game and executing it, and really, to a man, have dove a little bit deeper into what we need to do to be successful.”
“When you see it on the field, and you see the benefits of it, you hope that it catches a little momentum and we can continue that.”
A reality check
Remember Goodrum’s base running in the fourth inning? That’s an example of what to do. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they received a lesson of what not to do in the next inning, a reminder that they’ll likely still struggle to win this year.
Don’t forget: Hinch’s crew has a .294 winning percentage through 34 games, a 48-win pace not much better than their awful 2019 campaign.
With runners on first (Castro) and third (Grossman) with no outs, Candelario flied out to shallow center field. Grossman tagged up and darted toward home plate once center fielder Jake Cave made the catch. But halfway home, Grossman slammed on the breaks and attempted to retreat to third.
He likely would have scored if he continued home; instead, he was out at third — Cave to first baseman Miguel Sano to third baseman Josh Donaldson. The double play nixed a likely scoring opportunity.
“I saw some miscommunication between Chip (Hale, third base coach) and him,” Hinch said. “He heard stop, and Chip did tell him to stop early, whether it took a long time to process, you have to ask him about it. It was just a funky play where you’ve either got to stay or go. Maybe a little bit of miscommunication.”
Grossman said: “I made the play. It’s a bad play on my part. I stopped. I’ll take full blame for that. I made the mistake. I was the one running. I should have continued to run, and that’s all on me. I made a mistake and take full responsibility for that.”
Between their visits to Houston and Boston, the Tigers went 2-15 while scoring just 30 runs, an average of 1.8 runs a game. That led to pressing, trying to create positivity, rather than allowing it to happen organically. It’s a symptom of a poor offense, one that will probably go through many ups and downs this season.
In short, Saturday wasn’t the last time these types of mistakes will be made.
“Part of this team, I see some mistakes like that, whether it was coaching or the player, like we just want to do so much,” Hinch said. “Because we want some good things to happen. So, it was a bad play, but luckily we escaped with no problem.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.