August 25, 2016
Tigers’ maddening, wonderful thrill
ride to continue through final week
By KEITH GAVE
OK, we’ve got this thing figured out, so pay attention; there’s a tiny bit of math involved in analyzing the Tigers’ chances of completing an amazing turnaround and qualifying for the post-season after finishing dead last in their division a year ago.
Entering this series with Minnesota, which concludes today at Target Field, Detroit had 38 games remaining in the season. Ten of them were against the Twins, the worst team in the American League. That’s 26 percent of the Tigers’ remaining schedule.
Detroit also finishes the season at Atlanta – the worst team in Major League Baseball. To catch Cleveland in the Central Division race, the Tigers need to go at least 10-3 in those games, and they got off to a good start by winning the first two against the Twins by lopsided margins.
Speaking of Cleveland, the Tigers have seven games remaining against the Indians, three on the road and four at Comerica in the last home stand of the regular season. Detroit must win five of those games to make up ground. Anything less, and they’re barely treading water – or losing ground – to a team that held a 5½ game lead heading into today’s games.
If they can play that kind of baseball against those three teams, the Tigers would compile a 15-5 record. That means they could split the remaining 18 games and finish fairly strong with a 24-14 record. That gets them to 89 wins. Good enough to make it to the playoffs? Maybe.
Those 18 games include six against the Chicago White Sox and three against the Los Angeles Angels, two of the bottom feeders in the American League. But they also include six against Kansas City, which has had Detroit’s number for too long now, and three against Baltimore. Both those clubs are in the wildcard race, and Baltimore is only a game behind in the race for the AL East title.
Going 9-9 in those other 18 games isn’t asking too much. But anything better than that should make them a good bet to advance to the playoffs.
Cleveland, for the record, appears to have a more difficult schedule with 24 of its 37 remaining games against teams still fighting for something. Besides those seven with Detroit: Kansas City (6), at Texas (4), Houston (4) and Miami (3).
In other words, strap yourself in tightly. A season that has been wildly entertaining at times and always interesting is about to get even better.
Who’s your Tiger?
Belly up to the bar, let me buy you a beer and ask you who your MVP pick is for the Tigers so far this season.
You like Justin Verlander in his turnaround season or rookie Michael Fulmer, who wasn’t even on the Detroit roster when the season began, for the way he’s pitched? Can’t blame you, though it’s hard for a guy to be a team MVP when he plays only every five or six days. (The exception, of course, is when a guy like Verlander has the kind of season that earns him the AL MVP and Cy Young awards.)
You like Miguel Cabrera? Who doesn’t? Any discussion of who is the most important player on the roster begins with him – especially the way he’s hitting the ball lately. He has nine hits in his last 13 at-bats. He hit his 28th home run, a 421-foot shot, among four hits Wednesday, the 44th four-hit game of his Hall of Fame career. In his last 31 games – during which the Tigers clawed their way back into contention in their division, Cabrera is hitting .393 with a .726 slugging percentage, 10 home runs, nine doubles and 27 RBIs.
But the MVP conversation doesn’t end there. You can make a good case for Ian Kinsler, who has been as spectacular in the field as he has at the plate. As the every-day leadoff hitter, Kinsler has hit 22 home runs, doubling his total from last season and trailing only Cabrera and Victor Martinez (23). He has scored a team-high 93 runs and knocked in 63.
After hitting around .300 most of the season, however, Kinsler has tapered off, settling at .275. One of the finest-fielding second-basemen in baseball, he has made some uncharacteristic blunders in the field lately, too. Finally, manager Brad Ausmus had season enough. Every-day Ian was given a day off Wednesday. Kinsler didn’t care much for the decision, and he was back to work in today’s lineup.
Ausmus might have thought seriously of giving Kinsler another day off – a decision I would have endorsed. He can do that because of another guy who I’ll argue deserves at least a mention in the MVP conversation – and we all saw why in Wednesday’s game when Andrew Romine made two pivotal plays that led to Detroit’s 9-4 victory against the Twins.
Romine was playing second base – rare for him to be at that position because, obviously, Kinsler is almost always there. In the first inning, with starter Matt Boyd in trouble with the bases loaded and one out, Romine fielded a grounder, tagged the runner going to second and threw to first for a double play.
And with the Tigers ahead, 6-3, in the top of the eighth – a precarious lead all season with the inconsistencies in the bullpen – Romine rapped a two-out, two-strike, two-run single to give his team some breathing room. And in a previous at-bat, Romine drew a walk after a 10-pitch at-bat that forced Minnesota manager Paul Molitor to call for another reliever.
This from a rather light-hitting (.225 in 111 at bats) guy batting ninth in the order. But this is less about Romine’s hitting than it is his value to the Tigers as a utility player. A shortstop by trade, Romine has played seven different positions – all four in the infield, left-field, center-field and he’s even pitched an inning in a blow-out loss.
And the amazing thing is, he might be a better fielder than most of the regulars in those positions.
Romine has made no secret of his goal to play all nine positions in a single game. But that’s not likely to happen this season as the importance of each game seems to magnify as the season progresses. That kind of stuff happens only with teams that are either far out of the pennant race.
Then again, if the Tigers have a five-game lead over Cleveland when they head to Atlanta for that final series of the regular season. . .