DETROIT - On Saturday night Tigers fans breathed a collective sigh of relief. After blowing a one-run lead in the ninth inning Detroit battled back in the 10th and won its third straight game, giving the team a 6-4 record in its last 10 contests.
As the Tigers go for the sweep of the Indians Sunday afternoon, it looks like the team is starting to emerge from a month-long slump that included a brief stint in second place.
How did a team that started the season 27-12 come crashing down to earth so quickly? One single group couldn't shoulder all the blame: The offense, defense and pitching all played a roll in the vicious downward spiral that haunted the 2014 Tigers.
A loaded Detroit lineup was frustratingly inconsistent during the stretch, averaging under three runs per game in the 18 losses and scoring fewer than four runs 13 times overall. The Tigers were shut out by three average starting pitchers during the streak: Oakland's Tommy Milone, Seattle's Roenis Elias and Minnesota's Kyle Gibson.
On the mound, an elite starting rotation struggled to keep Detroit competitive in the majority of its contests since May 19. Starters allowed five or more runs 11 times compared to 11 quality starts. As a group, the rotation owned a 5.50 ERA during the 27-game streak, and that number inflated to 6.39 in the 22 games not started by Anibal Sanchez.
In the later stages of the game the bullpen completely collapsed. Veteran closer Joe Nathan owned an 18.00 ERA in his last seven appearances during the stretch, allowing 19 runners to reach base in five innings.
Even the defense, which figured to improve drastically in 2014 after the departures of Prince Fielder and Jhonny Peralta, crippled the Tigers through 66 games. Detroit ranked 11th in the American League with 47 errors.
But is the team that owned the second-worst record in baseball from May 18 to June 18 (behind the Padres) the real Detroit Tigers? Statistics from dominant Tigers teams of the past suggest that it's not time to panic. At least, not yet.
The Tigers' 9-18 stretch erased a comfortable division lead, but the struggles were nothing new for a franchise that has become one of the strongest in baseball.
For example, Detroit's last trip to the World Series came in 2012 when the team won 88 games and earned its second straight AL Central crown. During a 32-game stretch from April 19 to May 24, the Tigers went just 11-21 (.344) and fell from first place to six games behind the Chicago White Sox.
During the first year of the franchise's resurgence in 2006, the Tigers won 95 games, the most since 1987. But from August 8 to September 6, the young Tigers played even worse than the 2014 team has, posting a 9-19 (.321) record and watching a nine-game division lead shrink to just four en route to ultimately surrendering the AL Central to the Minnesota Twins.
Even the 1984 Tigers, statistically the best team in the franchise's history, struggled through stretches similar to that of the current Tigers team. From May 25 to June 6, the team went 4-8, and from June 25 to July 12 it went 5-10. Though the '84 team played well in between the losing streaks, it proved that even the strongest groups hit major slumps throughout the course of a 162-game season.
Through 66 games the Tigers certainly weren't positioned where fans expected this star-studded team to be. But Detroit still sits atop the AL Central and just six games behind Oakland, the top team in the league.
Detroit is far more talented than any of its division rivals, and that talent usually prevails over a 162-game season. Even though the Royals left Comerica Park on Thursday in first place, the Tigers have since regained the position and own the inside track to their fourth straight division title.
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