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Tigers still have much to play for with playoff hopes slipping away

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Chicago — All that talk about a chase for a wild-card spot, and making the playoffs, and how wonderful and unexpected it would be, yes, it was fun.

But it’s likely, very likely, not going to happen.

Heading into play Sunday, the Tigers stood 4½ games behind the New York Yankees for the eighth and final playoff spot in the American League.

Willi Castro (49) and the Tigers have lost four of five heading into Sunday's game in Chicago.

With just two full weeks left on the schedule, the playoffs have become the longest of long shots.

It was a nice diversion in this pandemic-shortened regular season, but that doesn’t mean motivation or intensity should be absent these final two weeks for a team like the Tigers.

“You’re playing Major League Baseball games. If you can’t get up for these games, you shouldn’t be here,” manager Ron Gardenhire said before Sunday’s game.

Gardenhire emphasized there’s still plenty to play for, in a variety of different ways, in these final days.

“We have to go out and finish a season,” Gardenhire said. “You never know what might happen. You run off five or six wins in a row and everything is back to roses. If you can run off two wins in a row, you feel better about yourself.

“We have to figure out, day to day, how to win. That’s the only way you can play this game, is one game at a time, and I can’t control anything other than that. So much of it is you can’t look too far ahead. You just have to go out and play.”

More: Tigers' Matt Manning vows to 'come back stronger,' sharper after layoff

There’s no mistake, though, in how the Tigers can finish strong and give themselves an opportunity to close out the season on a positive note.

That is have their starting pitchers go deeper into games and give a tired bullpen a breather.

“We need some pitching,” Gardenhire said. “We need somebody to get into the second half of games and give our bullpen a little bit of a break — and score some runs.

“Those guys (bullpen) have had a lot of pressure put on them and they’ve held up pretty decent. But it takes a toll when you keep running guys out there and they’re throwing 15 or 20 pitches every other day.

“It takes a toll. The biggest part is the starters going deeper.”

Keep your head up

Gardenhire and his coaching staff have always done it, but these last few days, particularly Sunday, they’ve made a point of going through the clubhouse and talking to their team.

Before Sunday the Tigers had been outscored 52-11 in the last five games, suffering three blowouts in the process, including Saturday’s 14-0 rout to the White Sox.

“It’s important the coaching staff, myself, we walk through and say hello to everybody and let them feel comfortable,” Gardenhire said. “It’s really hard when you take some of the beatings we’ve been taking lately, a lot of runs scored against us. You have to make sure as the manager, and our coaches, to tell them to keep your heads up and keep playing. It’s one game.

“A game like last night, it’s still one loss but you have to keep pushing. Just ease their mind a little bit.”

Goodrum close

Gardenhire said shortstop Niko Goodrum (right oblique strain) will take part in baseball activities Tuesday and there’s a good chance Goodrum will be activated from the injured list.

Goodrum was put on the list retroactive to Sept. 2, but has been progressing steadily.

“He’ll join us when we get home, after the day off (Monday), and come and work out. He’s been doing great. He’s swinging from both sides," Gardenhire said.

“The next step will be for him to do that in front of us when we get home. Take batting practice and ground balls, the whole package, and he’ll probably be activated. It sounds like he’s doing real good.”

Around the horn

The news isn’t as positive with Harold Castro (hamstring), who continues to be bothered with a pull.

“We thought we’d have him back by now,” said Gardenhire, who added Castro had a setback while running bases.

…Jonathan Schoop was not in Sunday’s lineup, but it wasn’t necessarily injury related.

“He’s available if we need him, but it was just to give him today and he’s got tomorrow, so that’s a couple of days (off),” Gardenhire said. “He’s been playing pretty much every day and his legs are a little sore.”

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan