DETROIT -- The Tigers have raised eyebrows by competing well against contending teams over the last couple of months. This series is different.
These are the White Sox in town, about to clinch their first American League Central title since 2008. With the bevy of young talent on their roster, they have a chance for many more.
If the Tigers are going to contend in the years to come, this is the contender they have to figure out how to beat. Monday’s 4-3 win at Comerica Park was a start.
“This team has handled us all year,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said before Monday’s game. “We have not gotten into games very cleanly against these guys, and they’re one of the few playoff teams that have had their way against us.
“Yeah, they’re in our division. This division will run through Chicago for the foreseeable future until somebody steps up and dethrones them.”
The Tigers would obviously love to be that team. Harold Castro’s go-ahead single in the eighth inning Monday helped them at least delay Chicago’s division title celebration.
“We face them a lot more than the other teams,” said Castro, who battled Craig Kimbrel for a go-ahead single for the second time in as many at-bats this year. “We know a little bit about their players. We know how we can play with them, how the pitchers are.”
Detroit has lost nine of 14 against Chicago, but 10 of those games -- and eight of those losses -- were played before mid-June. Their last meeting was a three-game series in July at Comerica Park, where the Tigers claimed two wins. With five more games over the final two weeks, weather permitting, they have a chance to measure their progress, albeit against a White Sox team that’s more concerned with preparation for October than any message about 2022.
“I think the rest of the year is just for pride for us,” said starter Matt Manning, whose recovery from a three-run third inning gave the Tigers a chance. “We want to win the rest, and we want to go above .500. We want to win all these games. We want to show them what we’re about, and we want to head into the offseason on a high note.”
The White Sox want to head into the postseason as close to full strength as they can, which played into All-Star Carlos Rodón pitching just three innings Monday before leaving with soreness. But the Tigers made him work while he was pitching. They milked 30 pitches from him in the second inning without putting any of them in play -- four 3-2 counts ending in a walk and three strikeouts. Then they used a wily bit of baserunning from Victor Reyes to beat a double-play grounder and fuel a three-run third to answer Chicago’s three-spot in the top of the inning.
Reyes put on the brakes and backed up to try to avoid White Sox second baseman Cesar Hernandez. Instead of going to second for the force, Hernandez tried to tag him with his glove hand while holding the ball in his throwing hand. The extra time allowed Jonathan Schoop to beat the throw to first, which allowed Reyes to slide into second safely while Willi Castro scored. The out they avoided set up a Miguel Cabrera sacrifice fly.
“Everybody in the dugout, everybody at first base -- I think [first-base coach Kimera Bartee] and Schoop -- was telling Victor to get to second base,” Hinch said. “So avoiding the tag was a huge part of that inning.”
What became a battle of bullpens, including three scoreless innings combined from Ian Krol and Drew Hutchison, turned with another bit of smart baserunning once Kimbrel hit Robbie Grossman with an 0-2 pitch to continue the eighth inning. Grossman took off on a 1-0 fastball that ended up sailing to the backstop.
Grossman’s 18th stolen base in 23 tries this year turned Castro’s at-bat into an RBI situation, the kind of high-leverage work in which he has thrived. He’s 13-for-36 (.361) with two outs and a runner in scoring position this year -- and 16-for-46 (.348) in close-and-late situations.
And with his bouncer through the right side of the infield, Castro is now 2-for-2 off Kimbrel, including a May 15 walk-off single when the closer was with the Cubs.
“When [Grossman] got to second,” Hinch said, “who do you want up to get a single? For me, it’s Harold Castro, no matter who’s pitching.”