The last time Detroit Tigers second baseman Jonathan Schoop launched a grand slam, he was in the middle of a playoff race. Acquired at the trade deadline by the Milwaukee Brewers, he socked a 2-1 pitch from Madison Bumgarner over the left-field wall Sept. 10, 2018, to give his team the lead.
The Brewers went on to win, and by doing so they moved within two games of the National League Central crown — trailing the Chicago Cubs. Milwaukee ended up winning its division by one game later that year, much in part to Schoop’s added boost, and made a run to the National League Championship Series.
“It was pretty big,” Schoop said about his grand slam in 2018. “Pretty big. I remember that.”
[ The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content. ]
Schoop hadn’t launched another grand slam until Tuesday, 715 days later, against the Cubs in a 7-1 victory at Comerica Park. Tigers have won three of their last five after a nine-game losing skid derailed a 9-5 start to the 60-game season. With an expanded postseason, the eighth-year veteran isn’t ready to count his ballclub out.
“Everybody in the clubhouse has the same goal,” Schoop said Tuesday. “Everybody wants to go to the playoffs, and everybody wants to go to the World Series and win the World Series. No matter if you have 10 years in the big leagues (or) one year, the goal is going to be the same.”
The Tigers still have a lot to prove before they can consider themselves contenders. Eight teams (instead of five) will make it from the American League — two each from the three divisions and two additional wild cards.
As of Wednesday morning, the Tampa Bay Rays (20-11) and New York Yankees (16-9) would make the playoffs from the AL East; the Minnesota Twins (20-11) and Cleveland Indians (18-12) from the AL Central; and the Oakland Athletics (21-10) and Houston Astros (17-14) from the AL West — six of the eight teams.
That leaves the Chicago White Sox (18-12) and Toronto Blue Jays (14-14) as the wild card teams. Although the Baltimore Orioles are in the hunt at 14-15 (.483), the Tigers are next in line with a 12-16 mark (.429).
“We went through a rough stretch, but we’re still in it,” Schoop said. “Good things are going to happen. Everybody’s going to go through a bad stretch, but now that’s out of the way, so let’s get a good stretch and make a push for it.”
If Detroit strings together a handful of wins with 32 games left and enters the playoff race, it will need continued production from Schoop, who is slashing .286/.319/.514 with three doubles, seven home runs and 16 RBIs.
But for that to happen, the Tigers need to keep him on the roster as the Aug. 31 trade deadline approaches. Any team currently in the hunt would likely benefit by adding Schoop — a durable second baseman — to their roster.
“It came quick, seems awful quick,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “But, you know, it’s been a crazy year. I try never really to get too involved in that stuff. That’s upstairs. They do all that.”
Jacoby Jones out of lineup
Center fielder JaCoby Jones left Tuesday’s game in the eighth inning with right calf tightness. When Wednesday came around, Jones asked Gardenhire for a day off. Throughout the season, Jones has gained recognition for playing through injuries.
The problem flared up when he ran to first base on a groundout to shortstop in the seventh.
“He’s a little sore,” Gardenhire said Wednesday. “We talked about it. Take a chance, go out there and run around and all of a sudden you really do something to your calf. Then you’ll be done. So he said, ‘I’ll take a day.’ We’ll give him a day. He thinks it was a cramp, not a pull. Just a little strain, so he’ll be fine.”
For subscribers: How a girl named Naomi transformed Detroit Tigers’ JaCoby Jones
In Jones’ absence, Gardenhire will use Victor Reyes in center. He will place Jorge Bonifacio in left field while Cameron Maybin continues in right. The Tigers have shown they’re comfortable putting Christin Stewart in left, as well.
In 27 games this season, Jones is batting .273 with eight doubles, five homers and 14 RBIs.
Daz Cameron, Derek Hill update
If Jones isn’t able to return soon, Gardenhire is confident in his outfielders at the alternate training site in Toledo. He named Daz Cameron (Tigers’ No. 7 prospect), Derek Hill and Travis Demeritte as options. Cameron missed summer camp while on the 10-day injured list with an undisclosed injury.
“Daz is behind because he has been out for so long,” Gardenhire said. “We’ve got choices. Hill, he’s doing fine, doing OK. Demeritte’s doing OK. We got options if we have any kind of long stint where a guy can’t play.”
In 120 games for Triple-A Toledo last season, Cameron hit .214 with 13 homers and 43 RBIs. He was included in the 2017 trade involving Justin Verlander, along with right-hander Franklin Perez and catcher Jake Rogers.
Hill logged a .243 average, 14 homers and 45 RBIs in 120 Double-A games last year.