DETROIT – Less than a week ago, the Detroit Tigers were four games above .500, in first place in the AL Central Division and multiple games ahead of the other wildcard contenders.
It took just five games to tear that all down.
After two disappointing losses to the Chicago White Sox and another sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Indians, the Tigers have a losing record and sit outside the current playoff picture.
The slide began with Matt Boyd handing back a hard-earned lead against the White Sox on Wednesday. It continued with another terrible start from Ivan Nova on Friday, and culminated with a costly base running gaff from Miguel Cabrera that ultimately doomed the Tigers on Sunday.
As it stands, the Tigers have lost 20 straight games to the Indians -- a stunning streak for a Major League Baseball team. Spencer Turnbull is the only starter who appears to deserve his spot in the rotation. C.J. Cron is done for the year. Buck Farmer is still on the injured list. Niko Goodrum has a back issue.
It hasn’t even been a week, but that 9-5 start seems so long ago.
The problem for anyone expecting a bounce back is the Tigers’ upcoming schedule. Based on how they’ve played against decent competition so far this year, the next few weeks seem just as likely to have fans checking the team’s draft position as the playoff standings.
Another four-game series against the White Sox kicks off Monday, followed by three games against the Indians, three games against the first-place Chicago Cubs and then eight of 10 games against the first-place Minnesota Twins.
It doesn’t take much to make the postseason when more than half the league will qualify, but the Tigers don’t have enough margin for error to be losing five games in a row.
By the time the Tigers return to Comerica Park next Monday, they could be five or six games below .500, and then 2020 would turn into another year of wondering whether Al Avila can flip assets for prospects at the deadline.
Boyd has to get right. Casey Mize has to join the rotation. The Tigers can’t make mental errors on the base paths or in the batter’s box.
By beating up on the Pittsburgh Pirates and staying afloat against the Cincinnati Reds and Kansas City Royals, the Tigers built themselves a bit of a cushion heading into this brutal stretch of schedule. But losing five in a row erased that cushion, and now they’re forced to win against legitimate playoff teams.
Maybe the Tigers will right the ship and win a few games this week. But until they show they can hang with the top three teams in the AL Central, there’s little reason to believe the first 14 games were anything but a fun start.