DETROIT -- The Detroit Tigers have won seven of their last 10 games and have a three-game winning streak going on. They're two games away from being eliminated from Wild Card contention. The last 10-game stretch is their best since the beginning of April, and the team is winning close contests and extra-inning nailbiters. With eight games left to play this season -- five of them being against division opponents -- the team is fighting. And having fun.
"Absolutely, this offense can go out and compete with anybody," Alex Wilson said after the Tigers' 6-4 win over the Twins. "And now that everybody's healthy, I think things have actually kind of turned around here. We've started playing some better baseball and there's no quit now. I felt like earlier in the season we'd get down, like, literally get down. Now we've got some young guys and guys really fighting for jobs, and it's kind of turned the attitude around."
It seems like, at least from one perspective, the wrong time to be bouncing back. There's little chance the Tigers come back to take a Wild Card spot at this point. It's not for a playoff spot that the team is playing for. They're playing spoilers and something to prove for next year. That means beating the Twins. And the Rangers. But that also means if they keep it up, the team will be in danger of losing a top-10 protected pick -- the Tigers are currently tied for the eighth-worst record in baseball, along with the Padres.
It felt like, for the entire year, nothing was going right no matter what the team tried. The pitching's to blame. The offense is to blame, the bullpen's to blame (OK the bullpen's nearly always to blame), management is to blame. A rash of injuries are to blame. Someone or something is always to blame. That's baseball. It created a murky funk that the Tigers just fell into. Breaking out of that hasn't looked like a possibility. Get the pick, abandon ship, exorcise the baseball demons in the offseason, and try again next year.
"Confidence, you'd get a little deflated, get down, as a team and as a whole we really struggled," Wilson said. "Guys weren't healthy, guys weren't performing. I think everybody in this clubhouse has had their ups and downs this year and that's one of those things where you just gotta keep plugging away, keep fighting. As you can see now anything's possible. We've turned it around and we're playing some pretty good baseball."
It's taught the club a lot of lessons this year, some not so pretty, and revealed the true character of everyone on the team. For Wilson, who has been dealing with right shoulder fatigue since early August, he said Friday felt like the turning point of an exhausting and trying last month and a half. Wilson had hit the proverbial wall hard unlike anything in the past, and he'd needed the week of rest -- as well as the last few days -- to break out of it. For him, this was his comeback.
It wasn't a result of pain, Wilson was just worn out. So has the rest of the team been worn down. Which, he said has made teammates like Rajai Davis such a blessing. The clubhouse has gotten so down at times that his personality has been the only upbeat one around. And on Friday night Davis came through yet again -- with the two-run homer, sure, but Wilson said it was the 14-pitch at-bat was the turning point of the game for the Tigers. That, at that point the life came back into the team.
"He's just a ray of sunshine every day," Wilson remarked. "That's the best way you can put it. The guy never stops smiling, never stops having a good time. Great clubhouse guy. Really cares about each and every person in here. You need guys like that. You have guys that are your serious guys, your serious competitors, and Rajai puts a fun spin on it. It's unbelievable. You can see everybody else's attitude around him when he's in the room."
That attitude carried the team at times, held the clubhouse together when things were at their worst. And after the trade deadline when the reality of the season set in, those players became increasingly important. Especially after the team lost players like David Price and Yoenis Cespedes. The middle of August rolled around and the team started looking at the game differently. They started fighting for the team again, and for themselves.
Is there a chance to make it to the Wild Card? Technically speaking, yes. Realistically, no. So, the Tigers aren't playing for what they can't win, but they are playing spoilers and preparing for next season. For a lot of guys that means showing what they can still offer the team to stay with the Tigers. And for fans it's fun to see the team winning again -- regardless of whether it protects a pick in the offseason.