Tigers' rhythm erratic, and fans sick of same old tune

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Detroit — This is a curious scene and response to the supposedly capable 2014 Tigers.

It's as if fans, like a spouse who has had enough of trying to make a strained marriage work, are fed up with the duel between two alternating emotions, love and disgust.

Monday night's game at Comerica Park had a few of the Tigers faithful booking sessions with a relationship counselor.

The Tigers were where they needed to be six days from the regular season's wrapup. They had the White Sox in town for the first of Detroit's final seven games, all at home. They had a 1½-game lead that, for a few hours, grew to two games, thanks to the Royals losing a suspended game to the Indians in Cleveland.

For late September, the weather was crisp and lovely. Comerica Park had a quorum (attendance: 30,758) and the FSD telecast was on its way to another big night of local-audience numbers.

Everything looked in place for a first-place team bent on making the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year.

Then the Tigers got all of six hits against a guy fresh from the minors, Chris Bassitt, and two White Sox relievers. Detroit's offense turned into egg whites in a 2-0 loss to a team that after winning Monday is 12 games beneath .500. Meanwhile, 100-plus miles across Lake Erie, the Royals were beating the Indians, 2-0, in their second game Monday, a nine-inning affair that followed the wrap-up of their suspended match.

Keeping the door open

The Royals, who could have been buried had the Tigers won Sunday, are back to a one-game differential with Detroit. That's way too close when you never know what you'll get from the 2014 Tigers.

That's why everyone is on edge. I saw it, the anger, on social media Monday night. Anyone who has followed this team, or who has been tapped into those who have a rooting stake in the 2014 Tigers, knows exactly the mood.

It is a kind of peeved, we-know-where-this-is-headed expectation. It's a last-straw vigil. And it has been like this since early in the season.

The Tigers showed again Monday there is nothing complicated or mysterious about this club and its ability to turn adoring fans into tack-spitters. The Tigers, as might be even clearer in five days, aren't all that great.

They have strengths enough to perhaps eke out a title in the gracious American League Central. But the Tigers are just limited enough, in any category on a given night, to cough up a game as they did Monday, on an evening when their own kid pitcher, Kyle Lobstein, alongside some honorable bullpen work, held the White Sox to even fewer hits than the Tigers managed.

Toss in two errors the White Sox donated and Detroit had every reason to have blasted this game into space and into a two-game lead with six to play.

But so often it doesn't happen, the finishing off of a game or an opportunity to put this team from Detroit into an elite national circle of teams any expert would see as a creditable World Series contender.

Monday, it was the hitters who shut down. Sunday at Kansas City, neither the pitchers nor the hitters starred. The Tigers won Saturday (thank you, Royals) and won handily in Friday night's big series opener at Kauffman Stadium.

But as the pattern has been in 2014, immediately after winning two big games — which followed two bad back-to-back defeats at Minnesota — the Tigers have teeter-tottered their way into another two-game losing streak.

This is no way to win a division title that might as well have been on the Tigers' gift registry at Crate and Barrel. All that remained was delivery.

Flaws evident

Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said little after Monday's game because, even from this questioner's seat, there was nothing to say.

"They were ready to go," Ausmus said of his Tigers team, which a few loud fans (ballpark customers were not in the best of moods afterward) suggested offered no fight, no effort, against the White Sox.

That's a common refrain, of course — accusing a team of being listless on a night when the bats were flat. But it misses the mark when players who love October and playoff electricity want desperately to go to Baltimore next week rather than go home.

"There was no letdown at all," Ausmus said, tackling the issues of indifference, or pressure, or whatever people were hinting to him might have been at work Monday with the Tigers.

"Not with this group," he said when tight collars were mentioned. "They've been through it before."

And they have. But, as has been the thought all year, this team has never been challenged by character or maturity. Rather, it has flaws. The bad strains are prevalent just enough to sabotage so many games that otherwise are winnable.

Monday night, Victor Martinez had a double and a single. Miguel Cabrera had a double. Three Tigers batters had singles. And, of course, Lobstein and his cohorts pitched well. Does that get you a victory? Not on a night when the other guys got a home run, from Tyler Flowers, on one of the few mistake pitches Lobstein threw.

There was your ballgame. Good night, drive carefully, and we'll see you back at Comerica Park soon.

Except those return customers might have only a few days remaining to take in the 2014 Tigers, should Detroit somehow miss on what Saturday was a 97 percent chance of making the playoffs in one manner or another.

It is no surprise people are irritable. This team hasn't played with much rhythm in 2014. And whether you're listening to music, or dancing, or playing baseball, rhythm is what makes for either a good experience, or something a good deal less comfortable.