Postseason in sight as Tigers win 6th straight
Hours after JaCoby Jones excitedly talked about being part of a playoff race, the Tigers drew within a half-game of the final American League Wild Card spot. But they’ll have to carry on their chase without Jones.
The Tigers’ 12-1 win over the Brewers on Tuesday night at Miller Park moved them just behind the Blue Jays in the expanded AL postseason bracket. Detroit’s six-game winning streak is its longest since 2016, which is also the last time the club held a winning record in September. The Tigers haven’t carried this long of a winning streak into September since 2011, when they rode 12 straight wins to their first of four consecutive AL Central titles.
But the win came at a cost, as Jones suffered a fractured left hand when he was hit by a pitch in the eighth inning and will miss the rest of the season.
“I feel bad for JaCoby,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He's taking strides in his game to become a pretty good player and now we lose him.”
After 310 losses over the previous three seasons, including a 114-loss campaign last year, a postseason berth would be a historic turnaround for Detroit, even in a shortened season. For now, the Tigers are playing like a team with no pressure on its shoulders.
“As far as a playoff push, we're not really talking about it much, because there's no need to change anything,” said starter Michael Fulmer, whose three scoreless innings with six strikeouts set the tone. “Everybody's having fun and staying loose and we keep winning ballgames, so that's all that really matters.”
Fulmer was part of the Tigers’ last winning team and playoff race in 2016, winning the AL Rookie of the Year Award at season’s end. That club took its Wild Card hopes into the final day of the season. But it was also a veteran team with All-Stars Justin Verlander, J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton, Ian Kinsler, Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera in his 38-homer prime.
This Tigers club ranks among the youngest rosters in the league, despite veteran contributors Cabrera, Jonathan Schoop and Austin Romine. Daniel Norris, whose 2 1/3 innings of one-run ball earned him the win Tuesday, was a key starter in the late-season charge in 2016, along with Fulmer and Matthew Boyd.
For this team to vault into a playoff spot would be fitting for 2020.
“I don't think anybody knows anything about this funky year,” Fulmer said. “Back in the playoff push of 2016, you [saw] it coming. But right now, we haven't really had that talk, because why change something that's not broken?”
Most of the Tigers’ offense Tuesday came from players who weren’t in the Majors in 2016, let alone in Detroit. Victor Reyes, a Rule 5 Draft pick before the 2018 season, had his second four-hit game in four days from the leadoff spot, contributing a two-run homer and two-run double in a career-high five-RBI performance. Rookie infielder Willi Castro, who made his Major League debut last August, hit a third-inning double and fourth-inning RBI triple off Brewers starter Josh Lindblom. Christin Stewart, a first-round Draft pick in 2015, added a solo homer.
Bryan Garcia, Detroit’s sixth-round pick in 2016, recorded the most critical outs of the game when he inherited a bases-loaded, one-out jam from Norris in the sixth inning with a five-run lead. The rookie reliever ran the count full on Eric Sogard before inducing a pop-up that Castro caught at the top of the third-base dugout. Once Orlando Arcia flew out to Jones to end the threat, the Tigers’ lead was safe.
“We trust a certain amount of guys out there with the bases loaded,” Gardenhire said. “That’s not the situation you want to bring him in.”
Asked how to keep Jones’ injury from deflating the enthusiasm over the win and the streak, Gardenhire kept it loose.
“Drink heavily? Maybe not,” he joked. “No, we’re enjoying the win. We knocked the fire out of the ball, and we played good. We got decent enough pitching. Our bullpen hung in there really good. … A lot of stuff happened tonight, and we’ll just have to turn the page.”