Detroit — One traveling baseball circus leaves town and another rolls in.
After hosting the best team in baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers, over the weekend, the Tigers invite in another storied franchise, the New York Yankees.
And while the Yankees are hardly threatening any regular-season victory records with their 66-57 mark, they do own the top wild-card spot in the American League and they feature Michael Fulmer’s likely successor as American League Rookie of the Year, if not the next “quintessential Yankee.”
Aaron Judge, all 6-7, 282 pounds of him, has the physical stature of a Babe Ruth and, reportedly, the demeanor and professionalism of a Derek Jeter.
“You know, he’s a little bit like Derek to me,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi told the New York Daily News earlier this season. “He has a smile all the time. He loves to play the game. You always think that he’s going to do the right thing on the field and off the field.
“When you look at him, he’s got a presence about him. He plays the game to win all the time and that’s the most important thing. … I understand that’s a big comparison, but I remember Derek when he was young. He grew into that leadership role.”
Judge has scuffled mightily since he stole the show during the Home Run Derby contest at the All-Star break. And still, he’s hitting .282, with a 1.006 OPS, leading the American League in home runs (37), runs (91) and walks (90).
But these days he’s in the headlines less for his home runs than for his strikeouts. He has set a major-league record for non-pitchers by striking out in 37 straight games.
“It’s a little frustrating, but there’s nothing you can do about it,” Judge told reporters after losing to Boston on Sunday. “You can’t pout. You can’t cry. You just have to keep working and move on.”
Judge has struck out 167 times this season. And since the All-Star break, he’s hitting .169 with seven home runs and 14 RBIs in 35 games, striking out 58 times in 155 plate appearances.
The Tigers, naturally, are less concerned about the Yankees’ business than they are their own. And make no mistake, even though their wins and losses won’t impact the playoff race, these final 39 games matter.
“We’re trying to win,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “That is the goal in every sport. There are other things, for sure. There is a possibility of Nick (Castellanos) playing some outfield (toward the final week of the season). There will be some September call-ups that may get playing time here and there.
“But there’s not going to be a lot of changes. Miggy (Cabrera) is still going to play first base. Ian Kinsler is going to play second base. Iggy (Jose Iglesias) will play shortstop and J-Up (Justin Upton) is going to play left field.”
These final five-plus weeks is a time for organization evaluation.
“Guys either have a job to do, a job to secure for next year and in some cases a contract to secure for next year,” Ausmus said. “But in terms of priority, it all falls under winning the games.”
Outfielder Mikie Mahtook probably summed up the Tigers’ mindset best on Saturday night.
“You look within yourself,” he said. “We are all athletes in here and you don’t ever want to lose. You come here to compete and play hard. You play for your pride, for the guys in this clubhouse and for this organization.
“Nobody likes to lose. No matter how far out of the race you are, winning is still fun.”
ON DECK: YANKEES
Series: Three-game series at Comerica Park.
First pitch: Tuesday-Wednesday – 7:10 p.m.; Thursday – 1:10 p.m.
TV/radio: Tuesday-Thursday – FSD, 97.1.
Probables: Tuesday – RHP Masahiro Tanaka (8-10, 4.92) vs. LHP Matthew Boyd (5-6, 5.70); Wednesday – RHP Luis Severino (10-5, 3.18) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (7-10, 5.87); Thursday – LHP Jaime Garcia (5-8, 4.52) vs. RHP Michael Fulmer (10-11, 3.60).
Tanaka, Yankees: It’s been a puzzling season. He is giving up more hits (9.3) and walks (2.2) per nine innings than he ever has. He’s already yielded 28 home runs, six more than last year in 66 fewer innings. His biggest struggles have been on the road, where his ERA is 5.81, WHIP 1.530 and opponents’ batting average is .293.
Boyd, Tigers: Last August, he was skipped for one start, did a one-game stint in the bullpen and pitched much better down the stretch. Will history repeat? Boyd’s last start was Aug. 13, so it will be eight days between starts with another bullpen stint mixed in. He’d given up 13 runs covering 14 innings in his previous three starts.