After finishing last in the American League’s Central Division four of the last six seasons and overcoming a dreadful 9-24 start in 2021, the Detroit Tigers enter the final week of the season just two games behind the second-place Cleveland Indians.
The Tigers (75-81) play their final six games on the road starting with a three-game series against the last-place Minnesota Twins (69-87) on Tuesday night in Minneapolis.
Left-hander Tyler Alexander (2-3, 4.10 ERA) will pitch the opener for Detroit. Minnesota has Michael Pineda penciled in for Wednesday and rookie Joe Ryan for Thursday, but has not announced its starter for Tuesday.
Alexander is 1-0 with a 4.58 ERA in six career appearances, including three starts, against the Twins.
If the Tigers can win their final six games — they finish up with a three-game series against Central Division champion Chicago — they can snap a streak of four consecutive losing seasons. The worst of the bunch was a 47-114 mark in 2019, the club’s second-most losses in franchise history.
Regardless of the Tigers’ pursuit of finishing at .500, chairman and CEO Christopher Ilitch told the Detroit News he likes what he has seen this year of manager AJ Hinch.
“I’ve talked about the importance of seeing progress each and every year, and this has been a year of steady of progress,” Ilitch said. “It’s been a good step forward.”
Detroit has bounced back to go 66-57 since its 9-24 start and finished with a winning home record (42-39).
“I love the way our guys compete night in and night out,” Ilitch said. “There’s no quit in this Tigers’ team, and we’ve all seen it. We play until the last out and have actually changed the trajectory of a game with only one out or one strike remaining.”
Detroit showed some of that fight in Monday’s home finale, an 8-7 loss to the White Sox that featured the benches emptying in the ninth.
Reigning AL MVP Jose Abreu, who was hit on the wrist by a 1-2 fastball from Alex Lange after the Tigers scored five runs in the eighth to close to within one run, started the tussle when he tried to steal second and slid hard into shortstop Niko Goodrum, who tagged him out.
“He went aggressive into second, a little ‘old school’ in the slide,” said Hinch. “And then tensions got a little bit high and emotions got high, and then we’re all out on the field.”
Minnesota comes in off a four-game home split with Toronto, losing the final two games, including a 5-2 decision Sunday afternoon.
One bright spot for the Twins was Byron Buxton’s 16th home run of the season, tying his career high. Buxton, who has missed two large chunks of the year with a right hip injury and then a fractured left hand, accomplished the feat despite playing in just 55 games and having 210 at-bats.
He played in 140 games and had 462 at-bats in 2017 when he also hit 16 homers.
“He’s been basically the best player in baseball for the time he’s had on the field,” Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I don’t think anyone can say (that) they’ve affected their team’s outcomes (more), and he does all the peripheral stuff for us too, because guys love it when he’s out there playing and the energy he brings.”
–Field Level Media