DETROIT – Take a deep breath, Tigers fans, the Bronx Bombers have left the building.
When the Tigers welcomed the New York Yankees to Comerica Park Monday, they did so as the best team in baseball. The starting rotation was dominant, the bullpen was serviceable and the offense was, at the very least, getting the job done en route to a 10-2 start.
Four days later, the mood has darkened.
While dropping three of four and falling into second place behind the Royals, some of the preseason concerns that stalked the Tigers are beginning to rear their ugly heads.
Detroit entered the Yankees series averaging 5.7 runs per game. Despite a drop off from the unsustainable numbers they were posting through the first two series, the Tiger bats were setting a pace that would blast the Angels' AL-leading 773 runs in 2014. And after scoring nine runs against a solid MLB pitcher in Jose Quintana Sunday, Detroit expected to beat up on a trio of average starters this week.
The Yankees didn't get the memo.
CC Sabathia, who hasn't posted an ERA under 4.78 since 2012, set the tone for the series, using three double plays to shut out Detroit through six innings. The Tigers finally broke through in the bottom of the 7th with three singles and an intentional walk, scraping together two runs and coming away with a victory in the opener.
They weren't as fortunate in Game 2, managing just a pair of gift runs courtesy of a wild pitch and a bases loaded walk. If not for those two Yankee mistakes, the Tigers might have been shut out in a game started by Nathan Eovaldi.
Just wait, it gets worse.
In perhaps the most favorable pitching matchup of the season, Detroit sent out former Cy Young Award winner David Price in Game 3 against former relief pitcher Adam Warren. Warren, who has never thrown a quality start in his short career, stumped the Tigers' offense while the Yankees exploded for eight runs against Price.
Detroit scored four times in the 1st inning without making much solid contact, as four of the first five batters reached via the free pass and eventually scored. After that rally, which included just one hit that left the infield, Detroit went 3-16 against Warren with three singles, two of which were erased on double plays.
At least on Thursday, when the Tigers scored one run on three hits and went down 1-2-3 six times, Detroit was silenced by a strong starting pitcher in Masahiro Tanaka. But that doesn't overshadow the fact that this vaunted Tigers offense scored just seven runs in games started by Sabathia, Eovaldi and Warren.
The offense isn't the only unit at fault for the three-game losing streak. After holding up for the first 12 games of the season, the bullpen finally came apart at the seams against the Yankees.
Kyle Lobstein left Game 2 down 1-0 after allowing just three hits to New York over six innings, and the Yankees were more than happy to see him go. They greeted Ian Krol with a pair of solo home runs to balloon the lead to 3-0, and added a fourth run against Tom Gorzelanny, who got just one out and allowed a walk and a hit.
The wildest showing came from Al Alburquerque, who came out of the pen and couldn't throw the ball in the same area code as the strike zone. Alburquerque spiked the first pitch in the dirt before sailing the second over Alex Avila's head. He walked both batters he faced, throwing just one strike.
The following night, Krol pitched two scoreless innings, but walked two batters and got sent down to Triple-A Toledo. Alburquerque bounced back from his wildness to throw 15 strikes, one of which was pounded into the right field bleachers by Mark Teixeira for a three-run homer.
Yes, it was a tough week for Tigers. But this happens over the course of 162 games.
One positive performance came from Anibal Sanchez, who put his worst career start behind him and pitched 6.1 innings of one-hit baseball in the series finale. Sanchez allowed just one earned run (on a balk with two outs in the 6th) and struck out eight batters, walking four.
J.D. Martinez also came to life, going 6-14 with three doubles in the series. He improved his average from .240 to .281 and ended an 11-game double-less streak.
Starting a season 11-2 doesn't mean the team will go to the World Series, but losing three straight to the Yankees doesn't mean it won't. The only definite takeaway from the Tigers' 11-5 start to the season is that fans have seen both the best and worst the team has to offer.
Detroit hopes to get back to its best soon, as the next 19 games come against AL Central rivals.