Set points: How Tigers salvaged a split in KC
The quiet tranquility of the Tigers’ Sunday morning clubhouse was briefly interrupted by the arrival of Miguel Cabrera in his getaway-day gear, including a fuschia suit that caused a stir.
It was a different suit than Cabrera wore on his way into Kansas City four days earlier. In the American League Central standings, however, the Tigers left town looking pretty much the same as they came in, a half-game up on the Royals. Considering where they stood two games into their four-game series, it was a good look.
Even for a team that knows better than to make too much of an early series, it was noticed. It wasn’t something they welcomed, but it was a nice test for a team that won its first six in a row and had generally won over the rest of the division in April.
“To lose the first two here against a team that’s very hot [and split], I think, could certainly show some resilience on their part,” manager Brad Ausmus said.
They recovered with the same formula that has worked for them for the past four years, leveraging solid starting pitching into games that could be won by key hits. The Tigers were outscored in the series, 17-10, and didn’t top the two-run mark until Sunday’s series finale, but they allowed just two runs over a 22-inning stretch from the second inning Friday night through the sixth inning Sunday. Most of those innings came from starters Kyle Lobstein, David Price and Anibal Sanchez.
By the time the Royals offense reignited against a tiring Sanchez and Detroit’s setup relief, the series split was relatively secure.
“We had three really good pitching performances in a row from Lobstein, DP and Anibal,” catcher Alex Avila said. “Those are the types of things we’ve come to expect from our staff, though. It was just a matter of getting some timely hits the last few days. They’re not an easy team to beat, and it was nice to get some wins. …
“When you get pitching performances like that, you have momentum. That’s why they say it’s as good as your next pitcher, because when you’re able to get guys going out there throwing strikes and innings are moving along, guys are pitching well, that adds to the momentum.”
That momentum will likely be long forgotten when the two teams meet again Friday to start a three-game series at Comerica Park, culminating in a Sunday night showcase on national television. Price and Sanchez will pitch in that series, too, but at the start rather than the end.
What went right: The front line of the Tigers rotation did what they should, and what the Tigers needed. They took over the final two games of the series. For Sanchez especially, that was a major development, giving him three very good starts since two-start issue with home runs. At the other end of the rotation, Kyle Lobstein again looked like someone who could stick for a while, despite a three-run opening inning. His ability to eat innings after an early debacle was Verlander-like, and it avoided a scenario that would’ve left the Tigers bullpen taxed in back-to-back games to start the series. Detroit’s defense, shifts aside, had a good all-around series, not just with more Jose Iglesias highlights but with a couple nice plays from Nick Castellanos.
What went wrong: The Tigers offense struggled to produce until Alex Avila and Miguel Cabrera hit Jeremy Guthrie on Sunday, continuing good matchup numbers for both. J.D. Martinez fell into what was arguably an overdue slump. Detroit’s shift tendencies were exploited for the first time thanks to Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, forcing a tweaking of the shift but no shying away from the shift itself. Meanwhile, Alfredo Simon was hit hard.
Takeaway: While Victor Martinez is producing better swings, they still aren’t producing much offense. It’s not so much the swing as it seems to be the momentum behind it. He generates a lot of power from his lower body, and his legs don’t have that power from last year, at least not yet, turning what might have been doubles and homers last season into outs now. While some clamor for a trip to the disabled list, the advice is iffy at best whether a 15-day DL stint would make any difference at all on his surgically repaired knee, given that his meniscus was clipped rather than fully repaired. Like it or not, he’s probably going to have to manage the discomfort while managing his swing in his new reality.
Snapshot moment: Castellanos’ third-to-first double play didn’t have the artistry of an Iglesias play, but it gave David Price two of his biggest outs of Saturday night. It also showed an awareness on the part of Castellanos, who said after the game that he decided quickly he had little chance to get an out at second base.
Turning point: Anthony Gose’ takeout slide on Christian Colon Saturday led directly to Detroit’s first lead of the series. They never trailed the rest of the weekend.
Pitching performance of the series: Price’s complete-game five-hitter was the illustration of what an ace does to stop losing streaks in their tracks. He not only shut down a Royals offense that had been rolling, he did so with quick enough innings to keep sending the Tigers offense up to bat.
Hitting performance of the series: Alex Avila drove in almost as any runs Sunday (three) as he plated all season leading up to Sunday (four). That doesn’t include the extra run scoring on a Paulo Orlando error.