DETROIT — No one wants to recall the rough patch that the Detroit Tigers went through. The seven-game losing streak, the period of baseball where fans were calling for manager Brad Ausmus’ head, or when the team dropped 10 of 12 games. This team looks nothing like the team from a month ago, and it’s because they’ve finally meshed as a team.
The Tigers appeared listless at times, especially with regards to baserunning. Silly mistakes were made early on and injuries piled on the frustration. The list of whom the Tigers were missing even one month into the year was not short and it ate away at the starting pitching, bullpen, and the lineup.
Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy both had spring training issues that overlapped the start of the season. Cameron Maybin had one injury after another, Daniel Norris fractured his back, and James McCann landed on the disabled list. Drew VerHagen’s sudden struggles were later found to be due to injury, Jordan Zimmermann had to miss a start for a strain, and Shane Greene was lost for a blister issue.
The Tigers were about as snake bit as a team could be early in a season. They were dipping into their minor league system even in April. When May hit there were near-daily treks back and forth from Toledo trying to swap out fresh pitching arms and players for the lineup. But slowly, players began to return, and after their worst stretch of baseball, something changed. And the turning point coincides with Ausmus’ epic ejection and tirade.
That’s also the day that Maybin joined the team. He had multi-hit games in seven of his first nine games back, and bat .429/.481/.510 with a home run, four stolen bases, and seven RBI for May. Alex Wilson turned a corner at the end of the month, McCann has been hot since June 1 — he’s batting .283/.317/.585 with four home runs and 12 RBI — when he eliminated a front leg kick, Zimmermann has been back to his old self, and Greene has been a godsend in the bullpen.
Oh, and Norris made his first start of the year on Thursday, and Michael Fulmer has been a beast in the rotation since mid-May. Regardless of the perspective, things started turning around at the middle of last month.
“We have our team together,” McCann said after Thursday’s win. “Maybin wasn't there at all. The first series (against the Indians at Cleveland) I wasn't there, and it was just my first series back off the DL the second time we faced them. Fulmer hadn't really become the Michael Fulmer that we've seen here lately. A lot of the same guys (are here) but there's a different feel in the clubhouse.
“Roles have been established in the bullpen and it's just a different ... swag, if that makes sense. I don't really know the right word other than just the way that guys walk around. Just a different swag about our team.”
That’s quite the 180 from where May when the team was admittedly in a funk. It took Ausmus getting ejected to see players fired up for the first time in what seemed like forever. But the main reason for the Tigers’ .611 record since May 16 has been the result of better pitching, a steady bullpen, and a lineup that has been tattooing the ball to all fields — and out of the park.
Since May 16 the Tigers have the fourth-best record in the American League, are 22-14, have won four straight, and they’d be in second place in the Central — only to the Indians — based on that period of time. They’re clicking, but now they have to face the one team they haven’t been able to beat once this season — Cleveland. They’ve faced off six times and were swept both times, including once at home.
But that’s on Friday and tomorrow will take care of itself. On the whole, the Tigers have been playing with a fervor not seen since last season. Even when the team started out well enough this year the same fire wasn’t there. It is now, and they intend to keep it that way.