DETROIT -- The last time the Tigers won four consecutive games, they were over .500. That was shortly after the midway point of last year’s abbreviated season, when they won six a row to move to 17-16 and spark short-lived speculation at a run at the expanded postseason field. That streak included a three-game sweep of the Twins at Comerica Park, which was the last time Detroit swept a series at home.
Nobody is talking about October baseball for the Tigers quite yet after Thursday’s 4-3 win completed a three-game sweep of the Royals. But Detroit’s fourth straight victory was a reminder that the Tigers can play effective, winning baseball when they’re on, something that seemed in question after they lost 18 of 21 following last month’s three-game sweep of the Astros.
“It’s just such a different mentality when you start winning. You win a few in a row and get a sweep. It’s just been a little bit since we’ve had that feeling,” said Spencer Turnbull, who threw 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball with seven strikeouts for the win Thursday.
“We’re a good team. We knew we were a good team in Spring Training. We feel like we’re a good team now. It’s just for whatever reason -- everybody scuffling at the same time -- it’s just hard to kind of get that momentum going back. And baseball’s such a game of everybody kind of playing off each other.”
They kept it going Thursday, winning the final game of a series for just the second time all season, not including last weekend’s rain-shortened series against the Twins.
Here are a few ways the Tigers turned the tables on the Royals after Kansas City swept them in four games at Comerica Park a couple weeks ago:
Situational hitting fuels opportunistic offense
The Tigers have stopped being reliant on home runs for their offense over the last week and a half. Against the Royals, they strung together smaller hits, pairing them with alert baserunning to create RBI situations. All four of their runs Thursday came in a second-inning rally built on four singles, a double and a sacrifice fly. Four were opposite-field hits from right-handed batters off Royals lefty Daniel Lynch in his third Major League start. Willi Castro singled in the first run, then went from first to third on JaCoby Jones’ single to set up an Akil Baddoo sacrifice fly.
The Tigers went 12-for-33 with runners in scoring position for the series, including 3-for-6 on Thursday. They went from first to third on singles seven times in this series; five of those runners scored. Their three first-to-third occasions Thursday included Niko Goodrum taking the extra base on Eric Haase’s infield single in the third inning. It’s a facet that the Royals used against Detroit in their previous visit.
“It needs to be part of our identity,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “This is the pressure part that we talked about in Spring Training. We didn’t have it in April because we weren’t getting guys on base. We weren’t putting the ball in play like we have these last few series. I think it can be part of what we do here in a big ballpark. You have more opportunities, certainly at home, to put pressure on the opponent if they’re going to play deep.”
As a result, the Tigers won as many games without a home run in this series as they had all season.
Strong starts continue
Not only had Turnbull never beaten the Royals, he was winless in his career against the AL Central before Thursday's strong effort. Add his outing to starts from Matthew Boyd and Casey Mize in the previous two games, and Tigers starters allowed just three runs on 13 hits over 18 1/3 innings this series, walking five and striking out 16.
Detroit has had strong starting pitching the last few weeks since Mize got rolling, but this is the first time since Houston that the rotation strung together solid starts. One issue was the inconsistency of Turnbull, who had two strong starts and two bad starts since returning from the injured list a few weeks ago.
“I kind of got away from myself a little bit,” said Turnbull, who used his slider for 10 swings and misses out of 21 pitches Thursday. “I don’t exactly know what was going on, but mechanically, mentally, all of it, [I] just kind of didn’t feel like myself. I think a lot of things probably played into it, but I definitely felt more like I should feel today, much more myself today.”
Fulmer emerges as bullpen stopper
Gregory Soto had never pitched three consecutive days in his career until this series, and he didn’t handle it well Thursday, allowing a leadoff walk and two hits while struggling to finish off back-to-back hitters out of 0-2 counts. Once Salvador Perez put the tying run on base with an RBI single, Hinch went to his former starter, Michael Fulmer. He retired Jorge Soler -- who tied Tuesday’s series opener with a bases-clearing double in a similar situation -- and Andrew Benintendi for his second save.
Fulmer has now pitched back-to-back days twice in the last 10 days. He teamed with fellow ex-starter Daniel Norris for a scoreless inning each in Wednesday’s win. In a bullpen without set roles, Fulmer is emerging as a versatile weapon.
“We talked about this earlier in the year, how it could evolve to this,” Hinch said. “Then he goes out and has performance after performance.”