Detroit — Ian Kinsler laid it out plain and simple before the game.
“Listen, we had one of the hardest schedules in the league the early part of the season and now we have one of the easiest — I shouldn’t say easiest, but it evens out now,” he said. “We haven’t had our full squad really all year.
“But if we continue to play good ball the way we have since the All-Star break, and we get our guys back, hopefully we can start rolling and rack up some wins.”
No hopefully about it. The Tigers won their fourth straight Friday, putting a 14-6 hurt on the Houston Astros, one of the hottest teams in baseball, who came in winning 67.8 percent of their games (38-18) since May 24.
The Tigers, now seven games above .500 for the first time this season, remain 4 1/2 games behind the Central Division-leading Indians but move 1 1/2 games out of the final wild-card spot.
“We were able to hang in there in the first half with all that adversity that we had to deal with,” Kinsler said. “We’re in a good position right now and we have a lot of time left.”
But don’t try talking to the players about being in a playoff chase, not at the end of July.
“Nah,” said Nick Castellanos. “We had a game today, we have a game tomorrow.”
Justin Upton agreed.
“There’s still a lot of baseball to be played,” he said. “But we know how important it is to win ballgames — at any point in the year and especially in the second half. We’re playing good; got to keep doing that.”
Astros starter Collin McHugh had allowed three runs or fewer in his last seven starts, but on Friday the Tigers KO’d him the second inning, batting around and scoring seven times.
“Lot of fun, lot of balls hit hard, lot of high-fives, lot of smiles,” Castellanos said. “Good times.”
The Tigers banged out seven hits in the inning with Tyler Collins providing the big blow, a three-run home run deep into the seats in right off reliever Chris Devenski.
“That was big,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “It kind of opened up the game right there and gave us some breathing room.”
Collins, who also tripled, is making it hard for the Tigers to send him back to Toledo when J.D. Martinez comes off the disabled list.
“The better he plays, the more we have to think about keeping him — simple fact,” Ausmus said. “He seems to be learning how to slow the game down a little bit.”
McHugh was touched up for eight runs and 10 hits and the Tigers didn’t stop.
“(We) were hitting some balls over the middle of the plate,” Ausmus said. “We’ve seen him sharper. He’s obviously a better pitcher than he showed tonight.”
Upton hit a three-run home run in the sixth, his 12th of the season. Cameron Maybin, back in the lineup after missing the Boston series with back spasms, had three hits, scored a career-best three runs and knocked in two.
Castellanos had a pair of hits and knocked in two. Miguel Cabrera knocked in a pair of runs.
And James McCann ended the scoring in the eighth with a pinch-hit home run deep into the seats in left field. It was his seventh homer of the season and first pinch-hit homer of his career.
“We felt like we’ve been swinging the bats pretty well and playing good ball,” Upton said. “It was important for us to establish ourselves early. We came up in that second inning and put together some good at-bats.”
In all, the Tigers banged out 16 hits. The 14 runs was a season high, and marked the 10th time they scored at least 10 in a game this season.
“That was awesome,” said left-hander Matt Boyd, who was the beneficiary of all that offense. “The boys swung it really well and played some great defense. It was a good way to start a series.”
Back on June 13, Boyd was given a 7-0 lead against the White Sox and let it slip away. This time he was given a 9-2 lead and he limited the Astros to three runs and four hits over five innings.
“You learn from something like that,” he said. “It was something that had been drilled into me by my father growing up. If it’s 0-0 or 10-0, whether you are winning or losing, you’ve got to pitch the same game. Keep attacking. You don’t look at the scoreboard, you just attack.”
He gave up home runs to Jose Altuve and Jake Marisnick, but he struck out six and evened his record at 2-2.
“It was a little bit of a struggle for him,” Ausmus said. “He had trouble commanding the ball. He was behind a lot of hitters. But he was able to muscle through five innings and he got the win.”
Slowly but surely, the Tigers are starting to win back a fan base that before the All-Star break had all but given up on them as legitimate playoff contenders.
“I know how it is,” Castellanos said. “I’m a Dolphins fan. Every week I either love everybody or I want everybody fired. I get it. But it’s our job as athletes, as the people playing, to stay even keel. We can’t get too high or too low.”