Minneapolis — Baseball is stupid, as Eric Haase once famously and correctly said.
How else do you explain the manic swing of the Tigers’ offense this month? It defies logic.
They were shut out three times in the first eight games of June. Opposing pitchers were threatening no-hitters almost every night, it felt like. They scored just 14 runs in those games, losing each one.
Then, for no obvious reason, it flipped.
In their last six games, including an improbable 7-1 win over the Minnesota Twins Friday night at Target Field, they’ve scored 38 runs.
Why was the win Friday improbable? The Tigers were deploying a bullpen game opposite the Twins’ dynamic right-hander Joe Ryan, who had never lost to the Tigers in his young career and allowed just two runs in his four wins against them last season.
Then they went out and scored five times against Ryan in the third inning.
After an RBI single by Jonathan Schoop and a sacrifice fly by Kerry Carpenter, Javier Báez launched a 1-2 splitter into the left field seats, just inside the foul pole. The three-run homer was his fifth.
Báez certainly has been one of the catalysts of this Tigers’ run explosion. Over the last 10 games, he’s 12-for-39 with a homer, double, triple and seven RBI.
Another catalyst has been center fielder Matt Vierling. He smashed two monster home runs, both in the second deck in left field. He hit a 428-foot shot in the fourth inning against Ryan. Then he capped the night with a 430-footer against Josh Winder.
He has seven homers. In the five games since he’s been back off the injured list, Vierling is 9-for-17 with a double and three homers.
Spencer Torkelson has heated up, as well. He doubled Friday and is 9-for-23 with three doubles, two homers and six RBI in his last six games.
The Tigers, still operating with a four-man starting rotation, used six relievers to cover the nine innings.
After Will Vest breezed through an 11-pitch first inning, things got sticky for Mason Englert.
His velocity was down on his fastball – from 91-92 mph to 88-89 mph – and his secondary pitches seemed flat. It was enough of a concern that manager AJ Hinch, pitching coach Chris Fetter and athletic trainer Matt Rankin all came out to the mound to check on him in the second inning.
The five balls the Twins put in play against him in the second had an average exit velocity of 102 mph. It was a minor miracle only one run scored – that on an opposite-field home run by Alex Kirilloff.
Englert got bailed out by some faulty base running by Donovan Solano. He went from first to third on a one-out double by Joey Gallo but he rounded third base too far. He was thrown out on a crisp relay from right-fielder Zach McKinstry to Báez to Schoop at third.
Englert, even without his best stuff, gutted his way through the third inning, too. Mostly spinning sliders, he struck out Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton.
From there, Tyler Holton (1.2 innings) and Brendan Smith (1.1) got the game to the eighth with no damage. Jose Cisnero punched out Edouard Julien and Correa in a clean eighth. Lefty Chasen Shreve finished it off with a clean ninth.
Báez had a stellar game. He made a five-star defensive play to end the sixth inning. Solano hit a hard ground ball in the hole at shortstop. Báez dived quickly to his right, snared the ball and somehow made a strong, accurate throw to first across his body and on one knee.
With these two wins, the Tigers (29-39) are now four losses behind the Central Division-leading Twins (35-35).