Tigers can reach .500 with win over Reds

The Detroit Tigers certainly weren’t supposed to be here at this stage of the major league season. Not at all.

Only a season after finishing 38 games behind in the American League Central with a 64-98 record and a veteran roster led by one of the major league’s highest-paid players in Miguel Cabrera, they’re 36-37 and are right behind Cleveland in the division.

If they can beat the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on Tuesday night, the Tigers — these no-name Tigers — would be at .500 for the first time since early April.

And it’s not so much how they’re doing it — with surprisingly strong pitching and a better-than-expected offense — but the players they’re doing it with. Even with Cabrera out for the rest of the season with a ruptured biceps tendon, they’ve won five in a row and six of eight with a not-well-known cast.

Not that they care.

“We just go out there and try to get every single win. That’s it. We got close (to the Indians) a couple of weeks ago and then we’re here again,” center fielder Leonys Martin told reporters after a three-game weekend sweep of the White Sox in Chicago. “We only care about getting every single game. That’s it.”

The Detroit bullpen has been especially good behind a surprisingly efficient starting pitching staff, allowing only one run and 12 hits in 17 1/3 innings during the five-game streak –and while walking only one and striking out 20.

Closer Shane Greene saved each of the first four games of the streak, and right-handed setup man Joe Jimenez hasn’t allowed an earned run in 18 of his last 19 games.

Left-hander Matthew Boyd (4-4), who opposes Reds right right-hander Sal Romano (3-7) on Tuesday night, was 6-11 with a 5.27 ERA last season, but he has won his last two starts and has trimmed his ERA nearly two runs per game from a year ago to 3.23.

And then there’s left-hander Blaine Hardy (3-1), who had only nine career wins going into this season. He was designated for assignment in spring training and wasn’t claimed by any other team but was brought back to Detroit in May and pitched his way into the rotation. He gave up one run in 5 1/3 innings in beating the White Sox 3-1 on Sunday.

Hardy takes pride in the fact that the Tigers are closing in on a winning record.

“Any team wants to be over .500, it’s kind of a mark that lets you know that you’re playing good baseball,” he said. “When we’re within (a few games) of the Indians, that’s a good sign, especially since we go (to Cleveland for a three-game series next weekend). We can go in there and say we have full control over what the standings will be.

“It’s huge. … We need to try to make a push, and I think we’re doing a good job of it.”

The Reds are making a modest push despite losing two of three last weekend in Pittsburgh and being 16 games out of the National League Central lead. They’ve won four of six, in part because of the way Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett are hitting.

Suarez has homered in each of his last two games and is among the NL leaders with 52 RBIs. During an eight-game hitting streak, Suarez is 9-for-29 (.310) with three homers, and he’s closing in on a .300 average — he’s currently at .297.

“He’s been one of the best players in the league,” Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman said of his third baseman. “He’s always played his position well. He’s a smart player and he’s a very well-rounded baseball player.”

Since May 10, Gennett has raised his average from .301 to .336, with a high of .345, by getting hits in 26 of 33 games. He has a five-hit game, a four-hit game and three three-hit games during that run.

None of the Reds have faced Boyd before, and none of the Tigers have gone against Romano.

In Boyd’s last start, he gave up two runs and three hits in five innings of a 5-2 win over the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday.

Romano has lost four of his last five decisions but is coming off his best start of the season, limiting the Kansas City Royals to one run and four hits in eight innings of a 5-1 Reds victory.

Both teams had a day off Monday.