DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers are suddenly one of the hottest teams in baseball, ripping off five straight wins since starting with the league’s worst record.
One week ago in Toronto, the Tigers’ bullpen blew a two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth to set up a sixth-straight loss. Detroit was 2-9 and fell behind the Oakland Athletics to claim the worst record in MLB.
Everything was out of whack. The bullpen was imploding. The offense wasn’t scoring. A.J. Hinch was frustrated by a string of uncharacteristic base running mistakes.
There was no silver lining. The Tigers had scored the fewest runs in the league and allowed the third-most runs. Meanwhile, frustrations with the highest-paid player, Javier Baez, were at an all-time high as he struggled to produce.
But since that last game in Toronto, Baez has caught fire, and the team is following his lead.
In the first 11 games, Baez went 4-for-40 (.100) with one RBI and no extra-base hits. During this winning streak, he’s 7-for-17 (.412) with three doubles, two walks, and six RBI.
It’s no coincidence that the offense as a whole has come alive with Baez. After averaging exactly three runs per game over the first 11, the Tigers are averaging 4.4 runs during this winning streak.
And best of all, there’s been a different hero every game.
In the series finale against the Blue Jays, it was the bullpen. Four relievers combined to shut down the powerful Blue Jays lineup, allowing just two hits while striking out four across four scoreless innings.
When the Tigers returned home to host the San Francisco Giants, it was Nick Maton’s turn to have a moment. He came up in the bottom of the 11th inning with two outs, two on, and the Tigers trailing by one run. Giants closer Camilo Doval tried to sneak a 3-0 fastball by him at the top of the zone, and Maton jumped all over it, sending the Tigers into an on-field frenzy with a three-run homer.
The Tigers victimized the Giants in the 11th once again the next day, with Miguel Cabrera chopping a walk-off single up the middle against lefty Taylor Rogers. It was fun to watch Cabrera get mobbed by his teammates on his final Jackie Robinson Day.
Michigan weather didn’t cooperate with the team’s hot streak, postponing back-to-back games Sunday and Monday. But the Tigers picked up right where they left off.
On Tuesday, against the AL Central favorite Cleveland Guardians, the Tigers picked up two more wins, the first thanks to Kerry Carpenter.
After delivering a game-tying double in the fifth inning, Carpenter came up in the bottom of the ninth against Cleveland’s James Karinchak. He fouled off a handful of two-strike fastballs before depositing the ninth pitch of the at-bat over the right-field fence for a third-straight walk-off win.
A few hours later, Eduardo Rodriguez delivered eight scoreless innings while striking out 10 batters to give the Tigers their first shutout win. Riley Greene’s opposite-field homer in the sixth provided the only run of the game.
This week has served as a reminder for everyone -- myself included -- that the baseball season is long. There are going to be hot streaks and cold streaks, and everything in between.
The Tigers have been a frustrating team for the better part of a decade, but this last week was fun to watch. No, they aren’t going to compete for a playoff spot, but maybe, just maybe, they could be more competitive than we thought, in a 2021 kind of way.