HOUSTON -- Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus was being lighthearted in his response to a pregame question about the club's series next week against their division rivals in Kansas City, but by inadvertently coining what could become a pretty catchy mantra, he imparted an important message: "Screw yesterday, F tomorrow, win today."
The Tigers didn't manage that last part -- falling short in a 5-4 loss to the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on Sunday -- but it remains a worthy concept: embrace the present, rather than getting sidetracked of what's ahead or bogged down by what has happened in the past.
Employing a short memory will be a necessity as they enter their toughest test of the young season -- facing the reigning World Series champion Kansas City Royals beginning Tuesday. Though there were plenty of positives from their weekend series in Houston -- namely, some gritty pitching performances and well-rounded offensive contributions that helped fuel key comeback efforts -- there were also some forgettable moments.
For example: Sunday's leadoff home run to Jose Altuve, who took starter Anibal Sanchez deep on his second pitch, as well as a rare defensive miscue by defensively-stout first baseman Miguel Cabrera that set up a two-run, two-out single from Altuve in the fourth. Saturday's baserunning foibles would be better off left behind in Texas. So would some of the head-scratching strike calls from the officiating crew, which drew particular ire from outfielder Justin Upton, who was tossed after arguing a called third strike in the seventh inning.
"I think the last two games were sloppy, yeah," Ausmus admitted.
Sanchez continued the trend of Tigers pitchers running into early trouble, beginning the game with a leadoff homer, a base hit and a walk, though he managed to last five innings and record eight strikeouts, the last two of which were pretty impressive.
Though he appeared gassed and was dealing with an escalating pitch count, Sanchez fanned both Luis Valbuena and Marwin Gonzalez. The 32-year-old starter said he felt good but wished he could have lasted longer.
"I wanted to finish the seventh, or eighth, or something like that," said Sanchez, who exited the game after 110 pitches.
Despite being saddled with some early holes, the club can take pride in the resolve shown, their ability to rally and the sort of offensive pressure they were able to exert on opposing pitchers. Perhaps the most encouraging sign in the first 11 games of the season is the depth they have shown throughout their lineup.
While Nick Castellanos, Cabrera, Victor Martinez were productive at the plate Saturday, leadoff hitter Ian Kinsler and 2015 Silver Slugger J.D. Martinez displayed their power Sunday, both hitting home runs off Mike Fiers. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, hitting in the 7-hole, came through with clutch hitting on both days, with homers in back-to-back games that have him now leading the team with 11 RBIs.
"We're playing good baseball. I think that scoring early is something that we'd like to do, and have done in a couple of games earlier in the season," said Kinsler, who made a smart, heads-up play in the fifth inning to get Colby Rasmus to pop into a force out and let (the less-speedy) Tyler White reach first instead. "We played really good baseball so far. [We've] got a day off tomorrow and [we'll] get ready for Kansas City."
The Tigers learned last year not to dwell on the past, as the four straight division titles leading up to 2015 had no bearing on a disappointing nosedive last season. If the team, now 7-4, wants to compete for the top spot in the AL Central this year, it can't afford to look ahead past the Royals, either.
Kansas City remains the team to beat.