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Inconsistency, injuries at root of Tigers' manic ways

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Ian Kinsler, left, is trying to shake an August funk and Cameron Maybin is one of several Tigers who has missed extended time this season.

Detroit — It’s baseball.

It’s probably the most unsatisfactory explanation for the Tigers’ schizophrenic run through the 2016 season thus far.

How can the Tigers lose two out of three at home to the lowly Angels after sweeping the Twins in Minnesota?

It’s just baseball. Their players are paid to win, too.

How can the Tigers score 35 runs in four games and then, against the Angels and the second worst pitching staff in the American League, manage just six runs in three games?

It’s baseball. It’s not who you play, it’s when you play them.

Such responses, and we’ve heard it out of the Tigers’ clubhouse all season, suggests that somehow their performance and the outcome of these games are out of their hand. As if they are images in a video game and somebody else has the controller.

“I can’t explain it,” manager Brad Ausmus said before Monday’s game. “It’s just, we’ve been streaky offensively. You always need to get decent pitching, but when we’re hot offensively, that’s when we win. And when we’re struggling to score runs, that’s when we go into slides.

“But I couldn’t tell you why.”

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The Tigers have averaged 6.3 runs in wins and 2.6 runs in losses — to back Ausmus’ point. But it seems counterintuitive that a team that is among the league leaders with an average 4.63 runs a game and is among the leaders in home runs and OPS has been shut out nine times this season.

“It may just boil down to coincidence,” Ausmus said. “Guys struggling at the same time and guys getting hot at the same time. Sometimes you can share the wealth, so to speak, and keep streaks going.”

Feast or famine

Third baseman Casey McGehee said this Tigers’ team reminds him of the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers team he played on that won the NL Central and lost to the Cardinals in the NLCS.

“That team was constructed a lot like this team,” McGehee said. “We were built for power and we had bigger swings (hot and cold) than most teams.”

That Brewers team featured Prince Fielder (38 home runs), Ryan Braun (33), Corey Hart (26) and Rickie Weeks (20). Like the Tigers, a large percentage of their runs were produced by the long ball.

“Sometimes teams that are more built to kind of bump and run are more predictable, a little bit,” McGehee said, citing the Royals as an example. “Maybe they don’t get that same top-end, you know, that week where you just score a ton of runs. But maybe they don’t get the same low-end, either, where you go cold for a week.”

Certainly, though, there must be tangible reasons other than roster construction for the Tigers’ manic ways. As Fangraphs.com illustrated recently, the Tigers have eight win streaks of four or more games countered by five losing streaks of four or more games — that’s not just happenstance.

Even though the Tigers, to a man, are loathe to point this out, injuries have certainly been a factor.

If you want to paint the issue with one broad stroke, this may be the only statistic you need: The Tigers have had their regular batting lineup healthy and available for just 25 games this season. And within those 25 games, there were four games in which a starter was rested.

“Really?” said McGehee. “That’s impressive.”

Meaning, it’s impressive the Tigers are still in the race despite that.

Injuries and inconsistency

• Center fielder Cameron Maybin missed the first month and a half and has played in 70 of 131 games.

• Catcher James McCann missed a month and wasn’t fully healthy for the better part of two months. Right fielder J.D. Martinez missed the better part of two months.

• Third baseman Nick Castellanos hasn’t played since Aug. 6 and isn’t expected back until, most optimistic guess, the last week of the regular season.

• Shortstop Jose Iglesias returned to the lineup last week after being out 17 days.

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As for the pitching staff, starters Jordan Zimmermann and Mike Pelfrey are still trying to work their way back. Zimmermann has made one ill-fated start since June 30 and Pelfrey hasn’t pitched since July 31.

Relievers Shane Greene, Alex Wilson and Justin Wilson have also missed time due to injury.

“Yeah, we’d much rather have our starting lineup in their 80 percent of the time — just figuring some guys get rest days occasionally,” Ausmus said. “But even still, I can’t put my finger on why we go cold then heat up.”

Besides having key players absent for long stretches, there’s been another batch of key players whose production inconsistencies have mirrored the team’s.

You can start with Anthony Gose, who was expected to start in center field while Maybin was hurt. He was sent down after 30 games, and has spent most of the season in Double A.

Justin Upton struggled for four months and is just now producing like the Tigers expected. Victor Martinez’s offense went cold in July, at the same time J.D. Martinez was on the disabled list.

Ian Kinsler, who carried the team for long stretches early, is in a 5-for-55 funk this month.

Right-handed starter Anibal Sanchez struggled so badly earlier in the season that he was removed from the rotation. Current starters Michael Fulmer, Matt Boyd and Daniel Norris began the year at Triple A. Right-handed reliever Mark Lowe was supposed to be a back of the bullpen anchor and has been relegated to low-leverage outings most of the season.

When you start adding it all up, the mystery seems less about the Tigers’ streakiness and more about how they’ve managed to stay in contention.

But then again, that’s baseball.

Twitter: @cmccosky