A baseball season is a grinding 162-game epic.
There are times during the long six-month marathon when energy can be lacking on the field. There will be stretches when a team plays with a lack of spark, as if it were simply going through the motions.
It is just part of the game. But the good teams have the ability to ride it out, and to somehow find that missing enthusiasm.
A week ago, the Tigers were losers of 11 of 13 games. They’d slipped into fourth place after starting the season off strong at 14-10.
But perhaps most disturbingly, they were missing a spark, an zest, a charge, whatever you want to call it. They didn’t have that intangible fire that lifts a team and gives it the confidence that it can win.
The players themselves denied it up and down, which is understandable. They insisted that nobody wanted to win more than the players in the clubhouse. Everybody was giving it 100 percent, so they said. Everybody hated the losing.
But where was the passion?
And then, the Tigers called up Cameron Maybin from what had been a seemingly endless rehab assignment.
Since his name was inserted into the lineup on May 16, Detroit has won five of six to save a season that was quickly spiraling out of control. Perhaps manager Brad Ausmus’s job was spared as well.
For now, that is.
The Tigers have a lot of question marks moving forward. But the presence of Maybin, both in games and in the clubhouse, has injected life into this previously lethargic squad.
Other players, Justin Verlander and Ian Kinsler in particular, have praised Maybin for the energy that he brings every day.
Following the win over Chris Archer and the Tampa Bay Rays on May 22, Maybin is 12-for-20. That’s a .600 batting average. He’s scored five and driven in five. Maybin is already tied with Kinsler for the team lead in stolen bases with four. His hits have come in key situations, including his home run off Drew Smyly on Saturday that gave Detroit an early lead.
And he made a catch in centerfield worthy of the highlight reel the next day.
It begs the question: Have we seen the last of Anthony Gose?
Gose is a left-handed hitter, which this team desperately needs. He is a solid centerfielder, despite his questionable metrics, and he has a better arm than Maybin. But the Tigers have been trying to encourage the speedy Gose to get serious about bunting ever since spring training. He never did, and that is one reason why he is down at Toledo. Gose has occasional power, but if he is going to have a future in this game, he needs to get on base more often, even if it means occasionally dragging one down the third base line.
The safe bet is that Gose will eventually be called up at some point this summer.
But Maybin has been making a case for taking over the center field job for good.
A week is a small sample size. And all it takes is one 0-for-5 day at the plate to undo a lot of early positive vibes.
But there’s no denying that the Tigers look like a different team with Maybin in the lineup.
The naysayers point out that Detroit beat up on a bad Twins team. But the Rays, despite their record, looked to be a tough team for the Tigers to get past.
Maybin went 7-for-11 in the three games against Tampa Bay, and the team fed off his energy.
He is quite a sight, with his high black socks, bright white shoes, and batting helmet that looks two sizes too big. And what exactly is that two-handed gesture he does toward the dugout after getting another hit? Is he telling his teammates they should be filming him, or that he wants some instant noodles for dinner?
Realistically, Cameron Maybin is not going to suddenly come out of nowhere and surprise anybody. He’s no longer the “centerfielder of the future” the Tigers once had. He is 29 years old, and a career .254 hitter. We all know who he is as a baseball player.
He’s no longer the prized prospect that the Tigers gave up to land Miguel Cabrera nearly a decade ago.
But it has been fun to watch him this past week. This writer for one is hoping that the magic can continue for just a little while longer.