After Sunday’s 6-2 win, Detroit Tigers outfielder Robbie Grossman referenced the American League wild-card race. Infielder Jonathan Schoop uttered the word “playoffs” following Friday’s 4-3 loss, which featured an eighth-inning near-grand slam from Miguel Cabrera.
“You never know,” Schoop said.
The Tigers (51-57) finished July with a 14-12 record, giving them three consecutive winning months. (They ended May and June with 14-13 records.) They started August on the right track, too, beating the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday at Comerica Park to split the four-game series.
Entering Monday, the Tigers are three games behind second-place Cleveland (51-51) and 12 games back of the first-place Chicago White Sox in the AL Central. They’re also nine games out of the second wild-card spot, so it might be too soon for the playoff chatter.
But here’s the point: The Tigers are thinking about the postseason because they expect the postseason. They’re focused on, in order: winning games, then winning series, then winning months and then playing for a chance to win the World Series.
“The winning months have been our goal, and winning series,” Grossman said. “Winning series is about the smallest goal you could set, but that means so much at the end of the year. You look up at the end of the year and say, ‘Hey, we won X-amount of series, and look where we are record-wise.”
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The Tigers’ 8-19 record in April was just about the complete opposite of everything this team is doing now, a time where it felt like the Tigers hit rock bottom in Year 5 of the rebuild. That month happened and counts. But since May 8, Detroit is 42-33, including an 11-6 run since the All-Star break.
That April, though, and the Tigers’ 1-5 start to May that left them at 9-24, makes it feel unrealistic to predict the playoffs.
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But the Tigers are winning months now, an important step in the long-term plan.
“From where we started to where we are now, it’s huge,” Grossman said. “We just want to make people respect the ‘D’ on our chest and build a brand of baseball that makes our fans proud to say they’re Detroit fans. I feel like we’re on our way there, if we’re not there already.”
Grossman credits the coaching staff.
Hinch preaches winning every day, and the team has bought in.
While managing the Diamondbacks in 2009-10, Hinch had an 89-123 record in parts of two seasons before getting fired. By the time Hinch was hired to manage the Astros in 2015, he had a better perspective on his role as a manager. He went 481-329 in Houston (2015-19), chipping in four playoff appearances, two World Series showings and a championship ring.
“Over the course of time, you learn that it doesn’t do you any good to dwell on things well into the next day,” Hinch said. “As a manager, I have a responsibility to come in with a fresh mindset if I expect them to do it. In Arizona, we had some really terrible losses. We didn’t have a ton of success there. When I got the opportunity in Houston, I promised myself I was going to live in the day and then get to the next day.”
For the last three months, the Tigers have fulfilled his request.
Look no further than July for the latest example.
“It starts at the top with our leadership, our coaching staff,” Grossman said. “And always believing in us. Players believing in each other. You have to give a lot of credit to the guys we have in this clubhouse. It could have been easy for us to shut it down after our tough start.
“That’s not how it went. Look at us now. I’m looking forward to these last two months of baseball.”
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.