The Detroit Tigers are undoubtedly one of the best teams in the Major Leagues. They are 28-18, which is the best record in the American League by a few percentage points over the Oakland Athletics. Nearly two months into the season, Detroit possesses the highest batting average and second-lowest ERA in the American League. Two weeks ago, the Tigers lost a series in Detroit to the mediocre Minnesota Twins, but rebounded rather nicely last week by sweeping both the Orioles and Red Sox on the road. Unfortunately, the mighty Tigers were demolished by the Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers this past week, resulting in one of the first rough patches of the year for Detroit.
On Monday, the Tigers began a three-game set in Cleveland against their AL Central foe. In the first game of the series, Detroit faced Indians’ ace Corey Kluber, who went seven strong innings and was in line for the win before JD Martinez hit a solo-home run in the ninth inning to tie the game at four. It went 10 innings, but Cleveland prevailed on a Michael Brantley walk-off home run. The Tigers’ pitcher to allow the home run was Al Alburquerque, who owns a solid 3.60 ERA and has proved to be a solid asset out of the pen but failed to maintain the tie on Monday night. Cleveland dominated the Tigers on Tuesday night behind prized-prospect Trevor Bauer, despite solo-home runs by Torii Hunter and Alex Avila. Former MVP Justin Verlander pitched rather poorly, allowing five runs on 11 hits while striking out just two in six innings.
Detroit hoped to salvage one game in Cleveland, and they seemed to have a good chance with 2013 Cy Young winner Max Scherzer on the mound. However, like Verlander the night before, Scherzer did not have his best stuff. After the Tigers put four runs up in the top of the first, the Indians battled back by scoring seven runs in the first three innings. Scherzer had allowed just 12 runs in 59 innings going into the start. Still, Detroit was not discouraged, as Scherzer showed perseverance by hurling four scoreless innings, and he was set to win the game as his team possessed a 9-7 lead going into the ninth inning. Unfortunately, 39-year-old closer Joe Nathan allowed a two-run home run to Indians’ cleanup hitter David Murphy, and the game went to extra innings. Both teams went scoreless until the inning No. 13, when Alex Avila hit a solo-home run, giving the Tigers a one-run lead. With Nathan already exhausted, Phil Coke, the proud-owner of a 6.04 ERA, was brought in for the save. Mike Aviles began the inning with a single, and he advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. Next, Coke hit shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera with a pitch before allowing a game-tying single to Michael Brantley. A soft ground out put runners on second and third with two outs, and manager Brad Ausmus removed Coke in favor of Al Alburquerque, who intentionally walked a batter to set up a force at all bases. With the bases loaded and two outs, there was set to be an epic battle between former Tiger Ryan Raburn and Alburquerque. However, the pressure must have gotten under Alburquerque’s skin, as he started and stopped his motion, resulting in a rare and embarrassing walk-off balk. It was a heartbreaking way for the mighty Tigers to suffer their first sweep of the young 2014 season, but this series was not the end of Detroit’s rough week.
Detroit looked to change its luck with a four-game series at home against the Texas Rangers, who have had the been bitten by the injury bug worse than any other team in baseball. On Thursday, Robbie Ray, the centerpiece of the Doug Fister trade, pitched horribly, allowing seven runs in just 3.1 innings of work. The Tigers’ offense could get to Rangers’ ace Yu Darvish, and Texas prevailed 9-2. On Friday, Detroit won handily by a score of 7-2 behind seven solid innings from Anibal Sanchez and three doubles from Ian Kinsler, who was acquired from Texas in the offseason and made waves by publicly insulting the Rangers’ front office during spring training. Kinsler has been the same great player with the Tigers, as he leads the American League with a .333 batting average going into Sunday. He also has accumulated 2.1 WAR according to Fangraphs, which is the fourth-highest in the AL.
On Saturday, Texas whalloped the the Tigers by a score of 12-2. Rick Porcello started the game for Detroit, who had seven wins going into the game but allowed eight runs in 5.1 innings against the Rangers. On Sunday, Justin Verlander went to the mound in an attempt to split the series. But Verlander was even worse than his first outing of the week, allowing nine runs in 5.1 innings, although three of those runs were unearned. In just two starts, Verlander raised his ERA from 3.15 to 4.04. The Tigers lost Sunday’s game by a score of 12-4, meaning that Texas outscored Detroit 35-15 in the series.
Fortunately for Detroit, the AL Central is full of mediocre teams, and the Tigers still hold a 5.5-game lead after going an abysmal 1-6 this week. The most discouraging aspect of this week was the horrendous performance of the starting rotation, which had been spectacular in the first six weeks of the season. Hopefully, the Tigers can brush these games off as a rough week, but if they intend to remain mighty in the competitive American League, they cannot suffer very many weeks as bad as this one.
Commentary by Jough Brasch