Seattle — Entering play Monday night, every team in the American League was within 4 1/2 games of a playoff spot. Including the Tigers, who were 4 1/2 out in the Central Division and three back in the wild-card race.
And there is still more than three months left in the season.
“Lot of parity,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “It just takes one month of getting hot to make a difference at the end of September. I didn’t know it was (that bunched up). It’s going to make it much more difficult for teams to make decisions.”
That said, if the Tigers don’t get cracking they are going to make general manager Al Avila’s decision a no-brainer.
A critical seven-game West Coast trip started poorly for the Tigers on Monday.
Mike Zunino slammed a 3-2 slider from reliever Alex Wilson into the seats in left field in the sixth inning, breaking a 2-2 tie and sending the Mariners to a 6-2 win.
For good measure, Zunino hit another two-run home run in the eighth, this one off Francisco Rodriguez. Zunino has hit five homers in his last seven games.
“Same story as yesterday,” a subdued Ausmus said. “We couldn’t come up with the big hits and they hit home runs.”
As for the Tigers, it was their eighth loss in 11 games, sinking them to five games under .500 for the first time this season.
“No one wants to win more than us,” Nick Castellanos said. “We want to win. We want to play well. We want to play well for the manager, the owner, the fans — we want to. The ball just ain’t bouncing our way right now. Just keep grinding.”
Last season, the club went 23-13 from June 19 to the trade deadline. There is little evidence that such a burst is in them right now.
They managed just three hits off a 27-year-old rookie making just his seventh career start, and were blanked on two hits by four relievers over the final four innings.
Asked if the frustration was building up, Castellanos said, “It can if we let it, and we’re trying our best not to. Everybody here is swinging the bat better than the scorebook says. The only thing we can do is keep grinding and know it’s only June and we haven’t hit our stride yet.”
The Tigers led 2-0 going into the last of the fifth inning and Anibal Sanchez, who had been toiling in Triple-A since May 23, had limited the Mariners to three singles through four innings.
“He had a good fastball working,” catcher Alex Avila said. “And he always has a good change-up. He was able to mix in a few breaking balls, too. Overall, he pitched really well. He made one mistake with the fastball.”
With one out and a runner on second, Guillermo Heredia slammed a 91-mph fastball — the third one he’d seen in succession — over the wall in left-center field.
“He had good command of it,” Avila said, explaining the pitch selection. “Went in a couple of times and that one, being behind in the count, we were just trying to make a good pitch down and away and it ended up thigh-high middle.
“That one mistake, that’s going to happen. I think overall he pitched great.”
It was the 69th home run off Sanchez since 2015 — sixth-most in the major leagues in that span.
Still, he pitched well enough to earn another start, Ausmus said.
“I feel really good,” Sanchez said. “I don't think the home run was a bad pitch (selection). I think the pitch was down the middle and he swung. Overall, I feel really good for the first outing in a while here.”
While at Toledo, he not only built his arm up to return to the rotation, he worked on being able to throw all his pitches with the same arm speed, which was evident by how well his fastball played, though only at 89-91 mph.
“Sometimes you need to refresh a lot of things,” he said. “That's what I did in my time in the minor leagues. Figure out how I can come back and be successful here. I just thank God that I'm healthy and I can work on some things and that I'm able to be here and show that I'm able to pitch at this level.”
He took a hard smash by Taylor Motter off his right calf in the fifth inning, which is why Ausmus went to the bullpen in the sixth. He was hoping between Wilson and Shane Greene, he could get through the sixth, seventh and eighth.
Didn’t work out. Wilson, who has been tagged with seven runs in 6 2/3 innings in June, got too much of the plate with a slider to red-hot Zunino.
“You just have to keep plugging,” Wilson said. “I'm making good pitches. It's just that baseball can be extremely frustrating sometimes. Sometimes you have to tip your cap, and other times you get really (ticked) off. I'm kind of right in between there, super-frustrated.”
The Tigers, meanwhile, were being subdued by soft-tossing right-hander Sam Gaviglio. He walked four in the first four innings, but the Tigers managed just one run, on a bases-loaded, no-out, double-play grounder by Avila.
A two-out RBI double by Ian Kinsler scored Jose Iglesias from first in the fifth inning, giving the Tigers the short-lived two-run cushion. Iglesias had two singles and was hitting .392 in his last 22 games.
The Tigers loaded the bases again in the sixth inning off reliever Steve Cishek. But Mariners manager Scott Servais brought in James Pazos, who struck out pinch-hitter Mikie Mahtook and Andrew Romine.
That was the last time the Tigers got a runner in scoring position.
“That’s been the theme the last few days — getting guys on, having opportunities and being able to score more than two runs,” Avila said. “Eventually, it’s going to happen. Somebody will make a mistake, or we will get a jam shot or a bloop single with guys on base and we’re going to put runs on the board.
“We just have to continue to battle.”