Detroit — When is it time to say “uh-oh?”
Maybe not yet. Maybe not now — after Wednesday night’s 8-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.
Who knows, maybe not ever if the Tigers point the arrow around soon and see their won-lost record head north again.
But here’s something you have to admit you didn’t see coming.
The team that was 27-12 in its first 39 games? It’s 4-12 in its last 16.
And it’s not enough just to say, “That’s baseball.”
Because to say “that’s baseball” corrects nothing when something clearly has to be corrected.
That’s not to say the slump can’t correct itself. The Tigers have the talent to do that — and, despite losing four in a row, the belief in themselves to correct it.
“When we get out of it, watch out,” Nick Castellanos said, “because once we’ve gone through adversity, it’s going to make everyone in this clubhouse stronger.”
But for now, the Tigers are being barraged — manager Brad Ausmus, in particular — about what kind of team they really are.
“I still think it’s a funk,” Ausmus said. “This team is way better than the way it’s played in the last few weeks, for sure. I certainly think the first month-and-a-half is more indicative of the team we are than the last two weeks.
“We’ve kind of run the gamut here in terms of struggles, though. The starting pitching struggled for a while. We’ve struggled to score runs, and we’ve had spots where the bullpen has struggled. It’s been a team effort in that regard. But I don’t think that’s the norm.”
Doesn’t a 4-12 record after being 27-12 blur what the norm might be?
“The issue is that these things have run together,” Ausmus said. “But the important thing is for the players not to start to think this is the type of team they are — because we’re a much better team than in the last two weeks or so.”
Ausmus remains adamant about that.
“Well, a 27-12 record adds up to 39 games,” he said, “and 4-12 is 16. I’ll go with the larger number.”
What happened in Wednesday’s game is that the Blue Jays began to pounce for five runs an inning earlier than they did in the first game of the series.
In the opener, they scored five in the ninth after the game had been scoreless through eight.
In this game, they scored five in the last two innings after leading 3-2 through the seventh.
The common theme, though, is that neither of the Tigers’ starting pitchers, Anibal Sanchez or Rick Porcello, has been treated to lavish run support.
The big producers for the Jays were Adam Lind, who drove in three runs with doubles in consecutive at-bats. Both Jose Bautista and Melky Cabrera drove in two runs with three hits each.
Cabrera also scored three runs, one of them on his ninth home run in the first inning.
Solo home runs accounted for the Tigers’ only runs: Miguel Cabrera hitting his 11th in the first off starter R. A. Dickey; and Ian Kinsler his fifth in the third, also off the knuckleballing Dickey — who lasted long enough to improve his record to 6-4.
Allowing three runs on six hits in seven innings, Porcello dropped to 8-3 for the year.
“I felt I made good pitches on Lind,” he said of the two-run double that gave the Jays the lead for good in the sixth, “but he drove one into the alley. That situation could have been prevented. It’s frustrating when you give up runs after getting the first two guys.
“As it turned out,” Porcello said, “it was one of the turning points of the game.”
Trailing 3-2 in the sixth, the Tigers loaded the bases with no outs against Dickey, but came away empty after reliever Aaron Loup took over.
A strikeout and two pop-ups did the Tigers in.
“That was the turning point for us,” Ausmus said.
The Tigers also had runners at second-and-third in the eighth when trailing 6-2, but the threat ended with Rajai Davis striking out against his former team.
The runner at second during the last threat was rookie Eugenio Suarez, making his major league debut as a defensive replacement at short. Suarez got to second when his ground ball became an unassisted out at third, followed by an errant throw to first.
Despite tough times, the Tigers’ mood still seems to be good, in part because of what the manager can say to them about the possible rewards of persevering.
“I was on a Houston Astros team that started the season 15-30 (in 2005), but went to the World Series,” Ausmus said. “It’s not exactly how we drew it up, and we don’t want to play the way we’ve played, but it’s certainly not a tragedy by any stretch.
“This isn’t Armageddon.”