Miguel Cabrera joined the 500-home run club and the Detroit Tigers had their best season in five years.
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The historic feat was worth celebrating in late August when Cabrera became the 28th major leaguer to reach the milestone. It allowed some joy for a team that finished 77-85 and in third place in the American League Central.
Detroit manager AJ Hinch said his players believed they would beat the AL champion-White Sox to the end of the regular season — and they did — carrying over a mindset he sensed developing at spring training.
“I think our players’ belief matters to me more than a spin rate or more than an adjustment at the plate or more than baserunning aggressiveness,” Hinch said at the close of his first season with the franchise.
Right-hander Michael Fulmer, who made a successful transition from starter to reliever, said closing the season by having some success against playoff teams such as Chicago, Tampa Bay, and Milwaukee was encouraging.
“Going forward, it just kind of motivates us to see the success we’ve had against those types of teams,” said the 28-year-old Fulmer, who had the first 14 of his saves this season. “And, to win those types of games, the one-run games and the comeback wins. It’s been a lot of fun. I think it gives everybody hope for next season.”
Cabrera, who won the Triple Crown and the first of back-to-back MVP awards in 2012, fell just short of becoming the first hitter to reach 500 homers and 3,000 hits in the same season. He finished the year with 2,987 hits, making it only a matter of time next year before he becomes the seventh player with both milestones and joins Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Rafael Palmeiro, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, and Eddie Murray.
With each home run and hit, Cabrera’s career totals were displayed beyond the left-field fence at Comerica Park.
“The numbers that are changing on the board are really cool,” Hinch said. “I’m proud of him. I think he’s been in a good place mentally, which is important. Seeing your numbers grow, both the big numbers on the Miggy Milestones and the overall, like 700-plus OPS, that’s got to be encouraging going into next season.”
Detroit had winning records against the AL East (18-14), AL West (18-16), and NL (11-9) and struggled mightily in the division, going 30-46 in its Central-heavy schedule.
“This should wake us up as to addressing some needs,” Hinch said.
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Right-hander Casey Mize, the No. 1 pick overall three years ago, was 7-9 with a 3.71 ERA in 30 starts with 118 strikeouts and 41 walks.
“Casey has something to build off of this experience,” Hinch said.
The ex-Houston Astros manager said he saw some similarities with Mize and aces like Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole.
At the age of 32, outfielder Robbie Grossman had a breakout season that no one saw coming from a player with no more than 11 homers and without a double-digit total in stolen bases previously. Grossman became the seventh Tiger to have at least 20 homers, 20 stolen bases, and 20 doubles to join players in club history such as Hall of Famer Alan Trammell and Kirk Gibson.
ON THE BASEPATHS
Detroit stole 88 bases, a total that trailed just six teams in the majors, after ranking no better than 21st the previous five years.
“It’s kind of what we tried to build our identity around is when the opportunity comes up, we want to take advantage of it,” Hinch said.
Detroit finished 16 games behind Chicago and almost as far back in the AL wild-card race. When the Tigers were eliminated from the playoffs, Hinch met with the players as a group and spoke with them individually over the rest of the season.
“I thanked them for their effort, for their attention, for everything that they did to move this organization forward,” Hinch recalled. “And then I challenged them to consider this a progressive year, but not ultimately the success that we want.”
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