HOUSTON -- Aside from the erratic and unreliable bullpen and the costly injuries sustained at critical junctures, baserunning might have been one of the most critical foibles for the Detroit Tigers last season.
It was such a conspicuous issue that an emphasis on calculated, intelligent baserunning was a prominent theme during spring training. The Tigers even invited Kirk Gibson to serve as a special guest instructor, hoping to hammer the point home.
"Everyone can talk about being aggressive, but sometimes being aggressive runs you into outs. It's more about being a smart aggressive baserunner than just being aggressive," manager Brad Ausmus said during spring training.
The third-year manager was right to be concerned, considering the Tigers, though one of the dominant offensive teams in 2015, leading the league in average (.270) and hits (1,510), ranked 15th in total runs (689). Last season, they ranked dead last in the majors in BsR (an all-encompassing metric that accounts for baserunning, as well as a team's ability to take extra bases on hits and to avoid outs on the basepaths) according to FanGraphs.com. Heading into Saturday's game, the Tigers ranked 27th.
It didn't end up costing the Tigers in Saturday's 5-3 victory over the Astros, though it's probably fair to say that baserunning will remain an area of emphasis moving forward.
To wit, through the first five innings of the game, the Tigers had five doubles and only two runs to show for it, one of which came on an error by first baseman Tyler White, who fielded a throw to first only to have it break the webbing of his glove.
Third baseman Nick Castellanos, after beginning his day with a double to center, was thrown out at third base in the second inning (one night earlier, Ian Kinsler was thrown out trying to leg it from first to third on a base hit from Miguel Cabrera, though Ausmus defended the play as the right decision following the team's 1-0 loss). Later in Saturday's game, left fielder Justin Upton -- on second base with one out in the fifth -- held up at third on Cabrera's double to right.
"Base-running wasn't good tonight," Ausmus said following the game. "Luckily, it didn't cost us the game, but it was something that was stressed in spring training and right now I'm gonna just consider tonight's base-running an off-night and hopefully, it gets better tomorrow."
The Tigers have seemed more aggressive on the basepaths -- Cabrera scored from first on Victor Martinez's double to center in the ninth for a critical add-on run -- but if the team's BsR rating in the early throes of this season is any indication, there remains room for improvement.
"Tonight, quite frankly, were just bad reads," Ausmus said. "Baserunning is a little bit instinctual and you have to be able to read what's happening in front of you and I think we just made mistakes in reading them."