Improved play from Tigers a byproduct of some streaking players

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MLB: Chicago White Sox at Detroit Tigers
Aug 30, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers left fielder Justin Upton (8) hits an RBI single in the sixth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Tigers are playing more spirited and stress-free baseball as of late. They have won three in a row and five of six overall. If not for a late-inning hiccup in the bullpen vs. Houston and some miscues defensively in the Bronx, they could very well be riding a seven-game win streak right now.

But nevertheless, it’s certainly refreshing to see the Tigers playing a little bit better if even they have already waved the proverbial white flag and cashed in their chips for 2017. But there are a number of players on the team that have really stepped up for the better part of the past 2-3 weeks.

Streaking is commonly discouraged and morally wrong. But in sports, it can be a wonderful thing to watch. And in these few instances, some streaking Tigers have been enjoyable to watch.

‘Everyday’ Ian is back

Sep 30, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Detroit Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler (3) prepares for an at bat against the Atlanta Braves in the first inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Second baseman Ian Kinsler is having a bit of a down year for his standards, that much is for certain. But he’s gradually been improving his overall numbers by and large due to a couple streaks he’s currently riding.

The 35-year-old has collected a hit in six-straight games. Just as impressive, if not more, he’s reached base safely in 21-straight games played going back to July 7. During that stretch, better than a third of his 23 hits are for extra bases. He’s also driven in eight runs out of that leadoff spot and has nearly as many walks (10) as he does strikeouts (11) in those 98 plate appearances.

Kinsler’s name was floating around the rumor mill prior to the MLB trade deadline. He provides a stable glove at second base and his professionalism and veteran presence are great qualities to have in the clubhouse. It’ll be interesting to see the direction Detroit goes with Ian, especially considering his contract contains a $10 million club option for next season.

J-Up has done his thing in 2017

Mar 20, 2017; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers left fielder Justin Upton (8) hits a single to left field during the first inning of an MLB spring training baseball game at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Outfielder Justin Upton has been the unquestioned No. 1 source of offense for the Tigers this season, and he’s continued that hot-hitting during a modest five-game hitting streak as well as a 20-game on-base streak.

Upton is 8 for 22 over his last five games, three of those hits leaving the yard. He’s also driven in 10 runs during that time, six of which came in one game last weekend against the Astros.

Overall, during his 20 straight games reaching base safely, Upton is hitting a cool .333 with an OPS north of 1.000. Like Kinsler, it will be worth paying attention to him this offseason. Unlike Kinsler, Upton has control of whether or not he will play for the Tigers in 2018, with the first of four player options kicking in after this season. The 29-year-old has considered the possibility of leaving Detroit, possibly for a club better suited to win now.

Mikie Likes It!

MLB: Spring Training-Baltimore Orioles at Detroit Tigers
Feb 24, 2017; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers center fielder Mikie Mahtook (15) signs autographs before during a spring training baseball game at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Fellow outfielder Mikie Mahtook has morphed into an everyday player for the Tigers and perhaps a piece to build around for years to come. And his recent stretch goes well beyond his current on-base streak of 17 consecutive games.

Since July 17, Mahtook is hitting .339 and also has an OPS higher than 1.000. What’s been more impressive with Mikie is his plate discipline and patience. Here is a look at his numbers before and after July 17.

GMS AVG. OPS BB SO
Before July 17 52 .264 .690 3 34
Since July 17 17 .339 1.054 11 11

And really, this surge by the former LSU Tiger turned Detroit Tiger has been lasting nearly two months. After playing in just 25 games between April in May and mustering a .186 batting average, he was among the better hitters in the American League in June and July when he earned regular playing time. (41 games in June/July, .341 BA).

The 27-year-old is starting to show his ability that he displayed as a rookie back in 2015 as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays when he hit .295 in 41 games. And in doing so, he has effectively cemented at least one spot in the outfield for the foreseeable future in Detroit.

Playing time is McCann’s best friend

It’s hard to argue finding a sight more encouraging than that of catcher James McCann. The young backstop has been the biggest beneficiary of the recent trades Detroit has made after Alex Avila was dealt to Chicago.

Sep 30, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Detroit Tigers catcher James McCann (34) follows through on a RBI single against the Atlanta Braves in the fifth inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

But his spark started well before that and he finds himself among the hottest hitters in all of baseball right now. James is on a career-best 13-game hitting streak, tied for the longest active streak in the majors through the August 3rd games. He’s collected 20 total knocks in that time, good for a gaudy .417 batting average.

Entering July 16, McCann was still stuck on the interstate, hitting just .199. But his hitting streak has vaulted that all the way to .251.

McCann figures to get the bulk of the reps behind the plate for the Tigers moving forward with the goal to continue his development as an everyday performer in the big leagues. Though if ever need be, Detroit has an adequate backup to relieve him in John Hicks, who too has been a bright spot when called upon.

No doubt that manager Brad Ausmus was in a pickle a lot earlier in the year having to find spots to play both McCann and Avila. The former catcher himself knows as much as anyone the importance of staying fresh and maintaining momentum. That has been evident by dips in some of his defensive numbers, but hopefully being the No. 1 option down the stretch, McCann can improve on some of those stats.

Anything positive the Tigers do from here on out will be looked at as a huge building block heading into the offseason as they hit the reset button. Amazingly, they sit only six games back in the AL Wild Card race; 8.5 games back in the Central Division. Obviously, there’s a lot of teams to leapfrog over between now and game No. 162, but it’s not completely crazy by any stretch of the imagination.

And if the Tigers are going to make things interesting down the stretch, it could very well fall on the shoulders of the four players mentioned above.

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