Bottom of order has Tigers on top

McCann, Romine, Collins powering team through slow start by heart of order

Bottom of order has Tigers on top

DETROIT -- The numbers are ugly. The results are not.

Miguel Cabrera is 3-for-28 so far this season. Victor Martinez is 6-for-26 with all singles. Justin Upton is 3-for-19.

And yet, the Tigers are 6-2 and atop the American League Central by themselves after Tuesday's 5-3 win over the Twins. They're also the first team in the franchise's illustrious history to homer in each of its first eight games. No other Major League team has done that since the 2012 Indians.

None of those home runs has come from Cabrera, Martinez or Upton, who have one extra-base hit between them. Instead, James McCann leads the Tigers with three homers. Nicholas Castellanos and Ian Kinsler have two. Tyler Collins, Jose Iglesias, JaCoby Jones and Andrew Romine have one each.

The Tigers' last two wins have been powered by a McCann two-run home run and, in Tuesday's case, a Romine grand slam.

Romine's grand slam

"It is a little odd to be backwards," Romine said Wednesday. "But, I mean, that's baseball. They're going to hit theirs. They're going to hit their 20, 30 home runs every year, like they always do."

This is a lineup designed to create as many RBI opportunities as possible for the middle of the order, so the lack of production from that part of the lineup should be a sign of trouble. Instead, the production from the bottom third has been one of the early surprises in baseball.

Detroit's third through fifth hitters have combined to hit .163 (13-for-80) with two extra-base hits (both doubles) five RBIs and 28 strikeouts. The bottom third of the order is hitting .213 (16-for-75), but with six doubles, six homers and 15 RBIs. Six of their seven runs against the Twins have come from Romine and McCann, with the other from number six hitter Collins.

McCann's two-run home run

"We're going to get the bulk of our RBIs from the heart of our lineup when it's all said and done," manager Brad Ausmus said. "But you need the contribution of players that aren't 'run producers' to produce runs once in a while."

Nobody expects that trend to carry on. The swings Cabrera has taken the last few days, Ausmus said, give him encouragement that he's close, and Upton's six-week tear down the stretch last year shows how quickly he can turn a corner and carry a team.

But considering how close the Tigers came to a playoff berth last year, only to miss out on the final day of the regular season, they know how valuable games like these are. If the Tigers are in it in September, they'll look back on this early stretch as vital, both for the offensive contributions at the bottom and from the pitching that kept games close enough for those contributions to mean something.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.