Game 33: What to make of Tigers offense
Not long after delivering the game-winning single Tuesday night, Ian Kinsler was asked to sum up the state of the Tigers offense. It was Kinsler, after all, who said Sunday that they should’ve scored more runs and that they lost the game.
“We’re actually swinging the bats pretty well, I think,” Kinsler said. “Runs-wise, it’s not good, but we’re swinging the bats well. I think Miggy on Sunday night lined out three or four times. Victor’s definitely coming around and getting his rhythm back. Everyone’s swinging the bat well. It’s just right now, we’re not getting anything to show for it. Hopefully we can start clicking in that aspect.”
Brad Ausmus was asked something similar.
“Anemic right now,” Ausmus said, “but it just tells me that at some point, this offense will bust out. You always go through stretches where you have trouble scoring runs. You seem to even get your hits, but you have trouble scoring runs. I’m very confident in this offense in the long term, even though it’s been a little struggle lately to score.”
Tuesday was the third consecutive game – and the eighth game in the last 13 — the Tigers were held to two runs or less, albeit from a starter who hadn’t allowed a run in 20 innings until J.D. Martinez jumped Kyle Gibson’s first pitch after a 10-pitch battle with Victor Martinez.
They have six wins when scoring two runs or less. They have six 2-1 games, of which they’re won four. They have nearly twice as many games scoring four runs or less (21) than five-plus runs (12).
They have the second-best batting average in the American League, trailing only the Royals. They’re one point off KC’s pace for on-base percentage, and their .751 OPS ranks fifth.
Go to runs, though, and the production doesn’t compute. Their 140 runs tied them with the Red Sox for eighth, and their 128 RBIs place them 10th. Reduce the sample size to May, and their .238 average ranks ninth, their .648 OPS ranks 11th and their 32 runs rank 13th. The result is a run differential that looks more resembling a .500 club than a team that’s a game off the pace for best league in the American League.
Even with serious questions about Victor Martinez and his knee, and Nick Castellanos’ sophomore season, and a rookie catcher in James McCann, it’s a better offense than this. Ausmus clearly believes that, and players seemingly feel similar. Players believe there’s a BABIP factor that should balance out for them over the long haul, given their relative lack of strikeouts.
“We might not be getting the hits or pushing across runs,” Anthony Gose said, “but I think overall, personally I feel like we’ve swung the bats well and everything else will fall into place.”
Some of that will come by balls falling in. More, ideally, will come through balls clearing the fence, which hasn’t happened much lately between Victor Martinez’s recovery and J.D. Martinez’s recent slump. Still more could come if they’re able to exploit baserunning opportunities at the rate they did in April.
For now, they’re trusting in a turnaround.
Play of the game: Kinsler’s RBI single completed the Tigers’ second walkoff win on a ball he put in play. Given Gose’s speed, though, his double was the setup piece, an extra base that meant Kinsler merely needed to flare a single and didn’t have to worry about a potential double play. “Just trying to get a good pitch to hit, like any other at-bat,” Gose said. “That’s basically it.”
Out of the game: The strikeout-throwout double play from Angel Nesbitt and James McCann was a potential mistake pitch, a cutter that didn’t move much and rose up and out of the strike zone. Because the Twins had Aaron Hicks running, though, Brian Dozier chased a full-count pitch that would’ve surely landed him on base and moved Hicks to scoring position if Dozier hadn’t swung.
“We got away with ball four, but we’ll take it,” James McCann said. “It just ended up working out.”
Strategery: Once Nick Castellanos struck out in the seventh inning, Brad Ausmus was pretty well committed to bringing in Andrew Romine as a defensive replacement at third base for the eighth inning in what was then a 1-0 game. Once Torii Hunter’s sacrifice fly tied it, though, Ausmus had to worry about more innings and Castellanos’ spot, which came up in the ninth after Yoenis Cespedes’ one-out double. Ausmus hit with Rajai Davis, whose groundout to the right side advanced Cespedes to third base but with two outs.
Line of the game: Because Simon lasted 7 2/3 innings, Ausmus had a situation where he could go to his setup relief because he wanted to, as Jim Leyland would put it with himself, not necessarily because he had to. He could turn to Joba Chamberlain for one out, which he got in four pitches for the strikeout.