Set points: Tigers get outplayed for three games
The Tigers have had their share of postgame quotes lately about dealing with pressure and trying to do too much. Thursday wasn’t one of those days.
“We are in a tough situation,” Ian Kinsler said. “We’re all continuing to work hard and trying to play our game the best we can. This game offers different challenges and right now we are in the middle of one. I hope we get out of it sooner than later.”
More than anything, there was attention turning to the next day. After three games of frustration, the Tigers have had it with Oakland.
“The greatest thing about this game,” Joba Chamberlain said, “is you get an opportunity to play tomorrow. There’s a bunch of guys in this clubhouse that know exactly what it takes and what we need to do. Obviously it’s the beginning of June, there’s no panic. We just gotta continue to try and get better every day.”
Or as manager Brad Ausmus said when asked about getting Victor Martinez and Alex Avila back at some point soon, “Right now, it is about the White Sox. We have to find a way to win.”
The Tigers’ seven-game losing streak is their longest since 2011. They haven’t had a longer one in this era of contention that began in 2006. Detroit’s last eight-game losing streak happened in 2005, the year before Jim Leyland was hired. Among the losing pitchers in that stretch: Vic Darensbourg, Chris Spurling (twice), Matt Ginter, Jeremy Bonderman, Craig Dingman, Nate Robertson and Fernando Rodney.
That was during an 8-23 final stretch that led to changes, a month that began with a nine-game losing streak before an eight-gamer later. Even during the Tigers’ miserable closing stretch in 2008 that led to a last-place finish, they never lost more than seven in a row. Part of the Tigers’ ability to contend, to survive slow starts and close in during the summer, has been the ability to cut off losing streaks before they get too long.
It’s too early to say a long losing streak could doom these guys, especially with Martinez on his way back at some point and Justin Verlander potentially back next week. The Tigers want to see what kind of boost they get from returning players before deciding on any moves. But they have to play better. Thursday’s ninth-inning was an encouraging sign, but they have to build on it.
They’ve been needing better baseball for a while now.
The Tigers had an 11-2 record and a plus-34 run differential on April 20. They’re 17-25 with a 44-run deficit since. It’s the third-lowest run differential in baseball in that span, better than only Boston (minus-55) and Philadelphia (minus-47 entering Thursday). It’s not just offense, because their 197 runs allowed since April 21 is the highest total in the American League. Their 153 runs scored, isn’t the worst.
The White Sox, Detroit’s next opponent, has a minus-35 run differential.
The Tigers have been around .500 this late and later in recent years. They were 25-30 after 55 games in 2012 with a minus-16 run differential and a six-game division deficit, stuck in third place, and didn’t get over .500 for good until July 7. They were three games over .500 with a minus-7 run differential and a five-game gap in 2011. The 2012 team started playing consistent baseball from July on, while the 2011 team turned it on in September with a 12-game winning streak fueled in part from a rotation that turned it on down the stretch following Doug Fister’s arrival.
This year’s rotation has to stabilize, not just for the team’s sake but for the bullpen. Getting Verlander back in even decent form would help, taking up innings, but Detroit needs Shane Greene and Anibal Sanchez to turn it around (Sanchez has shown signs). The Tigers desperately need a healthy Victor Martinez in the middle of the lineup.
In the meantime, they have to survive. It’s not do-or-die yet, but the losing streak has to stop.
What went right: Miguel Cabrera hit, and Al Alburquerque continues to get his pitching in order, albeit in lower-leverage situations. That might be about it.
What went wrong: Sanchez and Greene continued to struggle, albeit in different ways from their last starts. The lineup, aside from Cabrera, continued to struggle until the final inning of the series. Angel Nesbitt appeared to be shaken up by a Ben Zobrist grand slam in the opener, then tried to make the perfect pitch the next night and couldn’t. Ian Kinsler’s series, until his final at-bat, might have been his worst three-game stretch as a Tiger.
Takeaway: The Tigers came home with a bitter taste in their mouths, rested with an off-day, then came out looking flat. That doesn’t mean they were flat, but it wasn’t a good look.
Snapshot moment: What else could it be? The look on the young fan’s face upon catching the grand slam Tuesday night, then realizing it was a go-ahead grand slam for the A’s.