Detroit — When it gets this low and this slow, you expect something to change, maybe a burst of offense or a burst of emotion. But the Tigers are an exercise in numb repetitiveness, and on the first night of the rest of their season, it got worse.
This is who and what they are, unlit coals with little hope for ignition. Losses don’t come much duller or lamer than this, as the Tigers walked a season-high 10 batters and succumbed meekly to the Toronto Blue Jays 7-2 Friday night at Comerica Park.
In the first game after the All-Star break, the Tigers picked up where they left off, unable to make clutch pitches or collect clutch hits. There’s no delusion about a turnaround, and no expectation this team can avoid a major rebuild. But there is an expectation of competitiveness and the blowouts are piling up, as the Tigers plummeted to 39-49.
Brad Ausmus sounded especially annoyed after this one and so did Justin Verlander, who again was determined but nowhere near dominant. Losing teams always look lethargic, and as much as you’d like to see some fiery response, the Tigers need much more than that.
No, I don’t think they can be lit by a livid manager, or a veteran leader yelling in the clubhouse. Those reactions are overrated in the day-to-day grind of baseball. But they could show a few more signs of life, before we consign them to the dredges of the AL, a bad team going nowhere.
No time for speeches
Reaching another new level of frustration, Ausmus wouldn’t say if he lit into his team, or if he will, or if he should. Fans always think it’s necessary to know their team cares as much as they do, and there can be a short-term boost. Unfortunately for the Tigers, their woes go much deeper than their tame demeanor.
“It’s the chicken and the egg, what comes first?” Ausmus said. “In my experience, generally, something happens in the game or on the field that generates that electricity or energy, and then the ball gets rolling. We just haven’t gotten that. … I’ve yelled and screamed before, but the more you do it, the less meaning it has.”
I asked if he’s done much of it this year, and he smiled and declined to answer.
Listen. That’s rarely the answer in baseball, but frankly, we’re running out of questions. Verlander alternates good starts and sluggish starts, and the Tigers seldom get the game-turning, crowd-lifting hit.
Verlander, who threw 114 pitches and only lasted 5 1/3 innings, was more disappointed he couldn’t pitch deeper into the game, and didn’t want to hear about any rah-rah speeches.
“That’s a question from somebody that’s not been in a locker room in a long time, in my opinion,” Verlander said, and I get his frustration, although I don’t totally get his point.
This is a guy who has feasted on the big emotional moments throughout his career, a guy who understands and craves the volatility of competition. Sometimes these days he pitches as if resigned to his fate – fading from the spotlight, or perhaps traded to a new spotlight – and sometimes he captures the old flare. But the numbers are the numbers (5-7, 4.66 ERA), and combined with his prohibitive salary, he may have to ride it out here, with few trade partners likely willing to ante up.
There’s always that backdrop of a tear-down, although it’s still unclear how many coveted trade chips the Tigers actually possess. Justin Wilson, J.D. Martinez and Alex Avila would draw something. Verlander would draw something if he cranked it up his next couple starts and the Tigers agreed to eat a significant portion of his salary. I’m not revisiting the Michael Fulmer situation, as he remains a piece way too valuable for GM Al Avila to deal.
So if the Tigers aren’t interested in clubhouse motivational rhetoric, could we at least see more on-field aggressiveness and concentration? We know the bullpen is bad, but must it be bad and timid? Relievers Shane Greene, Warwick Saupold and Blaine Hardy danced nervously around the strike zone, with Green and Hardy walking in runs.
As a staff, the Tigers threw a staggering 220 pitches, their most in a game since 2004. They threw balls and hittable strikes, and the Blue Jays easily kept pushing the counts.
This is not an anomaly. The Tigers’ pitching staff is 14th in the AL in strikeouts, which either means their repertoire isn’t overly imposing, or they spend too much time nibbling.
“I think it becomes psychological,” Ausmus said. “They fear the walk, and it makes it more difficult to throw a strike. … I’m not real happy about it. We got the break, got a chance to reset; then we don’t do much. We certainly didn’t do much positive.”
It’s repetitive refrain, with the Tigers dropping six of their last nine at the most critical point of the season. No spark here and maybe no spark coming, and not many places left to look for one.