Gage: Tigers bendable for sure. But breakable?
This is test for you, Tim or Tina Tigers fan.
You have a decision to make.
Are the Tigers struggling, in your opinion, because they’re 9-10 since they were 9-1? And because, to take it a step further, they are only 7-9 since they were 11-2?
Or do you agree with me that instead of just a bland back-and-forth time for this team, it could be looked back at some point as one of the most important stretches of the season?
You can grumble, "No, they’re struggling." Or you can say, "Yes, they’re still in good shape, but I’m not sure why."
Look, I’m not claiming the Tigers are playing well. That’s not the case at all. They have some struggling pitchers and hitters.
We don’t know who the real Shane Greene is. We’re also not sure yet who the real Alfredo Simon is.
Victor Martinez might be coming out of his slump, but J.D. Martinez doesn’t yet appear to be.
What impresses me most about the Tigers so far, however, is this: At their worst, they only bend; they do not break.
After beating the boring (quite dreadful, in fact) White Sox 4-1 on Thursday in Chicago to break even on their 10-game trip, the Tigers have completed nine series.
They’ve won the final game in eight of them. That makes for more than a happy trip to wherever they’ve traveled next, whether it’s home or somewhere else on the road. It’s also made for a long line of salvaged series that could be the difference, I think, in something big at some point.
When you’re playing well, of course, it’s a bonus to win the last game of a series. But when you’re playing only okay, as the Tigers have spent a while doing now, winning the final game prevents you from ever thinking the boat is severely rocking.
Case in point: Thursday’s victory.
The Tigers were candidates to come home in a bad mood. Heading for a first-place vs. second-place series at Comerica Park against the tough Kansas City Royals, the Tigers were ricocheting off Wednesday night’s disappointment into a day game that could have been a trap for them.
The 10th game of a long 10-game trip? A day game after a bad night game? Plus, the lingering specter of how they let one get away?
No problem, no problem, no problem. Kyle Lobstein gave them a wonderful outing, and the White Sox reverted to some of the many reasons they’ve underachieved this season.
The outcome might have been different, in other words, if Alexei Ramirez hadn’t hit into a first-pitch double-play with the bases loaded and the score tied in the bottom of the fourth.
Terrified of falling behind in the count — because he’s 3-for-30 when he does — the slumping Ramirez jumped on the first pitch from Lobstein and bounced it to third for the start of a 5-2 double play.
After that, the White Sox weren’t offensively heard from again.
I can understand the concern that existed after Wednesday night’s collapse, but the truth is that in the course of a long season, a team will have stretches of playing well, of playing badly — and it’s also going to make you angry at times.
You’ve been around baseball long enough to know that.
What often decides how a team ultimately does, though, is how it fares while treading water.
How bad are you when you’re only okay?
And to what extent does your season unravel when you’re only okay?
This is how the Tigers have helped themselves by winning all but one of the last games of their series.
They’re weathering this stretch of being only okay because their season, even when the road’s been bumpy, hasn’t yet seemed to be on the brink of unraveling.
Their leadership helps in that regard. As Victor Martinez told FSD’s Justin White, "Something that we do, this team, is that whatever happened, happened. We turn the page."
When asked to what extent that’s because of "all the veteran guys," Martinez replied, "Well, we’ve been here before. That helps a lot."
So the Tigers head home to face what appears to be the only other good team in the American League Central.
If you’ll recall, they lost the first two games of their series in Kansas City last weekend, only to win the final two.
True to form, you could say.
They’ve been pretty good at bending, but haven’t come close to breaking.