Detroit Tigers continue to keep us guessing. But here are 10 reasons to remain optimistic

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Tigers just added a few more surprising twists to this crazy, unpredictable season.

Just when you think this team has gone down the drain, it wins three straight.

Just when you think this offense has died a slow painful death, it comes alive in a three-game sweep of the Baltimore Orioles.

Just when you think the injuries and illnesses can’t get any stranger, Victor Reyes pulls his other quad and Austin Meadows gets another bout of dizziness.

Just when you wonder if Miguel Cabrera has lost his power for good, he puts this team on his back, jacking two home runs and two doubles in four games.

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And just when you think Tarik Skubal can’t get any better, he climbs to another level — the dude looks like an ace.

“Happy flights are better than brutal, sad ones,” manager A.J. Hinch said after Sunday’s 5-1 victory. “We feel like we’re in a good place. We’re getting better.”

So let’s focus on the good things that have emerged from this strange season.

Here are 10 positives — the silver lining, so to speak — that have sprung from all the injuries and losses:

1. Special K’s

Let’s start with Skubal.

He was fantastic on Sunday, hammering the strike zone, getting ahead in the count.

“Tarik was dominant,” Hinch said.

Skubal seemed to run out of gas in the top of the sixth and walked two batters — his only walks of the game. But he got out of it. As he left the field, he got a nice ovation and a Hinch handshake, finishing with 11 strikeouts, tying a career high.

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2. Who’s on first (or at least on the team)?

It’s hard to keep all the Tigers’ injuries straight.

Reyes had been on the injured list out with a quad strain since April 23. He got healthy and was crushing the ball at Triple-A Toledo (.500 with two home runs).

He came up Sunday, was put into the lineup, hit a double and then got hurt rounding a base. Of course, right? Just fits with this season.

How did the Tigers respond?

Derek Hill came into the game and promptly stole third base and Harold Castro knocked him in.

You know what they say: When life gives you lemons, bring in Hittin’ Harold to knock ‘em home. Or something like that.

“Keep playing hard,” Castro said. “The wins are going to be there at the end of the day.”

3. From out of left field

Then, there is the curious case of Meadows.

He has been dealing with an inner-ear issue for about a week. He was put into the lineup on Sunday, got one at-bat and was pulled.

“I feel for him,” Hinch said. “That’s something that we got to get to the bottom of so I’m expecting him to go on the injured list.”

All the injuries have been a huge opportunity for Willi Castro, who has proved that he can play outfield — at least in a pinch — while hitting .455 in his last seven games. Considering he is a lifetime .254 hitter, there is no telling how long this will last. But Hinch will ride it for as long as possible.

4. Miggy’s power

For all the talk of the dead ball in MLB, Cabrera is suddenly having no trouble hammering the mush ball deep. He has four extra-base hits in three games. And he is hitting .423 in his last seven games.

“Clearly he’s been a spark for us,” Hinch said.

5. Sun comes out tomorrow

This team could have given up after its recent struggles, losing 16 of 19.

But it showed resolve over the last three games.

How?

“There was no dramatic speech,” Hinch said.

Nope. For three days, they just started to hit, play solid defense and mix in strong pitching. Turns out, the old formula still works.

But Hinch refuses to look at the big picture. He preaches one thing: Forget yesterday, focus on today.

“We just won today, that’s what’s important,” Hinch said. “We got a different challenge tomorrow. It’s a new team. But I certainly like what we’ve done.”

6. Oh, that bullpen

The bullpen, more than anything, has been the most consistent part of this team.

And it faced a huge challenge Saturday when Michael Pineda suffered a broken finger.

But the relievers were outstanding. Hinch rolled out Wily Peralta (2⅔ innings), Jason Foley (two), Joe Jiménez (one), Andrew Chafin (one) and Gregory Soto (one), and they allowed just four hits.

Hinch has kept the bullpen fresh by keeping extra arms.

“That helps them be fully gassed up when they’re coming out to pitch,” Hinch said. “Secondly, we’re trying to match up strengths on weaknesses and if you can do that and the pitchers execute that’s a positive recipe for the pitchers.”

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7. Rookies step up

The Tigers have lost Tyler Alexander (elbow), Matt Manning (right shoulder), Casey Mize (elbow) and Pineda.

Yes, that’s four starters. But all of those injuries have turned into opportunities for Alex Faedo (3.60 ERA over 10 innings) and Beau Brieske (3.86 ERA over 21 innings).

And those youngsters have been impressive.

8. The glove still works

Spencer Torkelson has played incredible defense at first base, preventing errors by scooping balls in the dirt and jumping into the air to snag them.

But Torkelson continues to struggle at the plate. In his first 16 games, he went 11-for-49 with three home runs. In his last 16 games, he has gone 4-for-49 with no extra base hits — and one of those hits was a gift that should have been an error. The Tigers have given him a leash — in part because of his defense — but it has to be getting shorter because of the lack of production.

9. More relief

You can’t say enough good things about this bullpen.

And the relievers produced again on Sunday. After Skubal left, Jacob Barnes threw 21 pitches, 15 of them strikes. And Rony Garcia pitched two innings to close out Baltimore.

They join a long list of relievers who have looked fantastic. Will Vest had a magnificent save against Baltimore on Friday and Alex Lange has been impressive. Day after day, they give this team a chance to win.

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10. Room for improvement

Now, the best news of all.

The Tigers can still get better. Because some guys are still struggling.

In their last 15 games, Robbie Grossman is struggling through a .100 slump, Javy Baez is hitting .155, and Torkelson got only one hit Sunday — and that was ramming a guy trying to run to first base.

“Strong man,” Cabrera said.

So this team can play even better.

Where does this leave us?

When it comes to this team, I refuse to make a declarative statement. Because nothing is certain with them. I wouldn’t be surprised if they fell into another slump starting Monday at Tampa Bay. Or if they ripped off a string of wins.

It has been that unpredictable. But despite all of the injuries, there are signs that this team is on the upswing. There are positives to see here.

Coming straight from those lemons.

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Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.

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