The Detroit Tigers beat the Minnesota Twins, 3-2, on Thursday for their seventh win in nine games. They took four of five from the American League Central-leading Twins, giving them their second straight series win.
They’ve won 12 of their last 19 games, which is a .631 winning percentage — a better clip than any team in the AL Central and all but two teams in the AL; only the Yankees and Astros have won at a higher clip this season.
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Yes, it’s still a small sample size, but it’s also almost 20 games, or an eighth of the season, enough to suggest that the Tigers we’ve watched the last three weeks are not the Tigers we watched the first five.
Who are the real Tigers?
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Maybe we need another 51 games to find out. If they keep winning near a .630 clip, that means they’d go 32-19. That would put them at 53-49 with 60 games left in the season.
Probably. But then the Tigers just won seven of nine despite scoring more than five runs only once — a 7-5 win over the Twins on Monday.
In other words, they still aren’t mashing the ball, which means the winning isn’t built on an unsustainable run at the plate.
To be sure, the Tigers are hitting better. They are also hitting in a timelier manner.
Daz Cameron’s eighth-inning home run Thursday afternoon, the eventual winner, is only a tying home run if Eric Haase doesn’t single first. Before the single, Haase had gone 1-for-13.
Jonathan Schoop is starting to hit. Harold Castro is finding a rhythm, too, and maybe, just maybe, so is Spencer Torkelson.
The Tigers, in their hot streak, have won while scoring four runs four times, three once and two once. It’s just that the Tigers were struggling so thoroughly at the plate that four runs feel like an avalanche.
That they are scoring more without Austin Meadows (vertigo symptoms) and Riley Greene (broken foot) is surely hopeful. And when Meadows returns, and Greene makes his MLB debut, it’s not foolish to think the Tigers can be even better at the plate.
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Still, they are winning because of their bullpen and their patchwork starting rotation. Tarik Skubal is starting to look like an ace. All six of Alex Faedo’s starts have gone at least five innings with two runs or less allowed. Andrew Chafin and Jason Foley get outs when they need to. Gregory Soto is a steady presence in the ninth.
“We feel like we’re playing better,” manager A.J. Hinch told reporters Thursday. “The results will happen if we continue to play better. That’s the key, how we’re controlling ourselves on both sides of the ball. It’s the result of what our process is. The results are going to come as soon as we continue to play more consistently like this.”
Process is a word used all the time in sports these days. And while it may sound trite and overused, it’s used because it means something real.
Rebuilding is a process. Learning to hit at the major-league level is a process. Same for learning to pitch.
Sometimes beginning a new season requires a process, too. Schoop showed skill at the plate last season. It’s not always easy to roll into the next.
“We’ve been on a roll,” Cameron told the media after hitting that home run Thursday. “We’ve been putting in the work before the game, just doing a lot of practice leading up to that point where we go out there and perform. It’s starting to show out there.”
That’s part of the process, too. It’s not that the Tigers are suddenly working harder. They’ve worked hard since the spring.
It’s a matter of the kind of work and the kind of approach, whether at the plate or on the mound. Process can simply be about repetition, which is another way of saying: Time.
Hinch and Tigers general manager Al Avila weren’t shy about expectations coming out of spring training. Competing for a playoff spot was the goal. They thought that much of the roster.
Whether it was injury or pressure or just a slow start that built its own negative energy, the Tigers looked nothing like their preseason buzz, or even the team that finished 68-61 over its final 129 games last season.
The Tigers deserve credit for fighting the way they have the last few weeks. They were the worst team in baseball for a bit, lucky to string two singles together in an inning.
Now, they look like the team so many of us thought they might be. Not a contender, but competitive, at least.
A team that can pitch and defend and come up with a home run in the bottom of the eighth against a division-leading rival.
“Right now,” Faedo said, “we’re playing really good baseball.”
Imagine saying that early in May? Heck, imagine thinking Faedo would be in a position to say that by early June?
Well, he said it, and he’s right, and the summer is suddenly a lot more interesting.
Who are the real Tigers?
Check back in a few weeks. Because if nothing else, the Tigers are worth checking on again.
Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.