Through their first 33 game of the season, the Tigers had the worst record in the majors, a 9-24 mark that was 3 1/2 games worse than the 29th-best team in the bigs.
“A miserable start,” manager A.J. Hinch called it on Tuesday.
That .273 winning percentage was worse than the 2019 squad’s .292 winning percentage, when they lost a soul-crushing 115 games. But a funny thing happened on the way to yet another lost season disguised with a “rebuilding year” label.
“We figured out how to win,” veteran second baseman Jonathan Schoop told Sporting News on Tuesday afternoon, smiling as he wiped sweat from his brow while sitting in a sauna-esque visitors dugout on a 96 degree day in St. Louis. “With the mentality to go out there every day and try to win that day. Just go out and win that day. We started putting things together. We started doing the little things you’ve got to do. You’ve got to play defense. You’ve gotta score more runs. You’ve gotta pitch better. It’s the little things the good teams do to win.”
The turnaround has been dramatic. Since that 9-24 start, the Tigers are 52-43.
Nine games over .500, and that’s not really a small sample size. That’s more than three months’ worth of games, not quite five months into the season. That’s the same record as the Red Sox since May 7, and it’s better than the A’s (50-43), Mariners (51-43) and Padres (50-45), three other teams still in the heart of the race for October playoff spots this year.
The Tigers are a good baseball team. It’s a welcome change of pace for their fans, and for those in the organization. Think about it this way: With 61 wins this year and five games remaining in August, the Tigers have an opportunity to post their highest season win total since 2016 before September even begins (they won 64 in 2017 and 2018, and were on a 63-win pace in 2020's shortened season).
It’s different now. But what does this mean? Is this just a good stretch of baseball in 2021, or are there 2022 implications?
“That's what the hope is moving forward,” said Hinch, who is in his first season as the Tigers’ manager, “as we take this momentum and carry it into a successful offseason and into next season and make this momentum matter.”
Make this momentum matter.
It almost sounds like a new franchise motto, doesn’t it?
The Tigers do have momentum, and they will have a lot of familiar faces back in 2022. Let’s start with this: The top 11 players, as ranked by bWAR, are under contract at least through 2022, most longer than that. Their top two pitchers, right-hander Casey Mize — the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft — and left-hander Tarik Skubal — a ninth-rounder in that same draft — are both still pre-arbitration.