Baseball seasons are as much about appearance as results.
The Tigers not only have lost their grip on first place, they appear this weekend to have lost their status as a big-league team. That’s the degree of deterioration and pitching chaos they have experienced during the past 24 hours at Minnesota.
They lost, 20-8, Friday night at Target Field in a game of such disorder the Tigers were forced to use infielder Andrew Romine as a pitcher. They returned Saturday morning to the smoking wreckage of their pitching staff and pulled from the remnants a minor-league pitcher, Buck Farmer, who like Friday night’s minor-league cohort, Robbie Ray, could not get past the second inning.
The Tigers were down, 9-1, early Saturday and went on to lose, 12-4.
After the game, the Tigers will not return to the confines of their team hotel for convalescence and painful reflection. They will be asked to play another game against the Twins, an 8:10 p.m. contest, with Justin Verlander prepared to start for the Tigers. He has not pitched in 12 days because of shoulder soreness, so the Tigers — from general manager Dave Dombrowski to manager Brad Ausmus and beyond — are likely conducting spiritual exercises aimed at helping Verlander survive Saturday night’s mission.
This indeed has become an epic disintegration of a team that, ironically, got a near-perfect effort Thursday from starter David Price. Of course, the Tigers had a different issue Thursday, a failure to score runs, which led to a 1-0 loss on a day when Price put away 23 consecutive Rays batters.
Then it was on to Minnesota. For a weekend that looks as if it was concocted by Edgar Allan Poe.
For those into statistical atrocities, carpet bombings of the Tigers staff that began Friday night and extended into Saturday’s first game, have left Detroit with some truly remarkable earned-run averages. Farmer owns a 15.73 ERA. His colleague, Ray, has an ERA of 7.09, which is at least an improvement on another of Friday night’s victims, Jim Johnson, who is at 15.43.
Romine’s, incidentally, is 27.00, which likely wouldn’t be bad compared with other infielders who might be asked to throw against big-league batters, as Romine was forced to do Friday.
The Tigers will get better, almost certainly, because stable pitchers will return to a rotation that has been simultaneously socked by injuries (Anibal Sanchez) and a slate of too many games in too many days, as Saturday’s day-night doubleheader illustrated, all too graphically for Detroit’s tastes.
For now, it is a matter of survival, and, yes, an equal attempt to maintain a former first place team’s baseball dignity.
Both assignments are proving this weekend to be messy. Verlander has pitched big games before, clinching playoff series thrillers. On a different level of prestige and necessity, Saturday night’s task against the Twins might be at least as important.