The streaky, all-or-nothing Detroit Tigers, are streaking once again.
They swept a doubleheader against the New York Mets on Wednesday.
The Mets? That team with a $346 million payroll?
You try to figure out this team. The Tigers could win their next five, and it wouldn’t be surprising to me: I’m telling you, this team isn’t as bad — and it definitely isn’t a Dumpster fire — as some people thought earlier this year.
WEDNESDAY’S GAME 2: Tigers chase Max Scherzer in fourth inning en route to 8-1 win
Then again, they could lose their next five, too — because, well, the line that separates winning from losing for this team is razor-thin. It is certainly not a championship team, but it’s not horrible, either. They have some talent. They just need more offense.
They got it on Wednesday from Eric Haase, the hometown boy who grew up watching Max Scherzer pitch for the Tigers.
All Haase did was knock in five runs in Game 1, a 6-5 win.
“We’ve been having our opportunities, having guys on base and haven’t been able to capitalize on those opportunities,” Haase said between games. “Thankfully today I had some pitches over the plate and was able to. So, obviously, we want to keep it rolling.”
Yes indeed, they kept it rolling.
So did he.
Haase hit his second homer of the day in Game 2 — this one off Scherzer — and then he added a double as the Tigers rolled to an 8-1 win.
“What would 15-year-old Eric Haase think about hitting a homer off Scherzer?” I asked him.
“He wouldn’t believe it,” Haase said. “It’s just cool.”
When Haase heats up, he can be one of those players that lifts this team over that razor-thin line of frustration.
“As our lineup starts to get a little bit longer and the at bats get a little bit better, having (Haase) anywhere from a four-hole hitter against lefties to down in the order against righties, he’s awfully dangerous,” Hinch said.
Mad Max struggled
One thing is clear: The Tigers can beat anybody when everything comes together, when they get strong starting pitching and timely hits and great defense.
And that’s exactly what they did on Wednesday.
First of all, Michael Lorenzen outpitched Scherzer — didn’t see that coming, did you?
“He’s a legend,” Lorenzen said.
Lorenzen went seven innings, giving up one earned run on four hits and two walks.
Meanwhile, the legend struggled on Wednesday, right from the start.
Scherzer walked Zach McKinstry — the Tigers’ leadoff hitter — and it all went downhill from there.
I wondered if the crowd would acknowledge Scherzer.
“Max!” somebody yelled.
Or maybe it was: “Zach!”
Either way, it wasn’t exactly a massive reaction.
And before the inning was over, Nick Maton had a sacrifice fly and Spencer Torkelson drilled a double in the left-center gap, a one hopper off the fence.
Sixteen pitches in, the Tigers had a 2-0 lead.
And that freed up Lorenzen to relax.
“I wasn’t afraid to give up a one-run homer,” he said.
Amazing what happens when a team gets both offense and pitching.
When it was over, the crowd gave Scherzer a nice ovation.
As he walked to the dugout looking defeated.
The defense was outstanding
But there is one more element.
This team got several huge, defensive plays.
First lesson: Matt Vierling has a hose for an arm.
Francisco Lindor tested it, trying to stretch a single into a double, and Vierling threw him out, as Javier Báez applied a great tag.
Another lesson: Akil Baddoo has no fear of walls.
Baddoo made a great defensive play in Game 2, catching a fly ball in foul territory while crashing into a padded wall in the third inning.
“Those are huge outs,” Hinch said.
Final lesson: Zack Short can play some defense.
Hinch put him into the game for his defense and it was one of those subtle moves that proved brilliant.
In the eighth inning, the Mets started to put some pressure on the Tigers, until Short made a tremendous play, diving to the dirt while fielding a grounder by Jeff McNeil and killing a Mets scoring opportunity.
McNeil was left to throw his helmet in disgust.
I mean, just think about it.
Just a few days ago, Short was in Toledo.
“The big one was Shorty at the end with the diving play,” Hinch said. “Knocking that ball down.”
Final, final lesson: Don’t forget about Maton.
He made a great, diving play in the ninth.
“Defensively, in the first game, we made a couple of silly mistakes and there’s going to be an error,” Hinch said. “We’re not perfect, nobody is, but the defensive efficiency part of our team and the awareness and in the execution has been really really good the last couple of weeks and those clean type games make you feel good at night.”
The good, the bad and the streaks
This streaky team is just so strange.
So how do you harness this?
How do you smooth out some of the dry spells? How do you prevent these losing streaks?
Well, the answer is right there, too: Have a good approach at the plate. Get strong starting pitching. Get the big hit when you need it. Mix in some strong defense.
But it’s not, of course. This team is offensively challenged, so nothing is ever certain.
The Tigers will be going for the series sweep Thursday.
Some guy named Justin Verlander will be on the mound for the Mets — hey, Mr. Haase, what would your 15-year-old self think about facing J.V. and …
Hmm. This is gonna be interesting.
Say what you will about this team, it has been oddly consistent — in small sections.
There have been ugly losing streaks and fun winning streaks — and not a whole lot in the middle.
To read Seidel’s recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.