DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers have spent the second half of the season scratching and clawing to stay as close to .500 as possible, but suddenly, they’ve hit their lowest point since the All-Star break.
After losing four straight in Minnesota to close out the first half of the season, the Tigers went into the break 11 games below .500. They wasted little time turning things around afterward, ripping off seven straight wins to improve to 47-51.
For weeks they flirted with the .500 mark. Twice they even pulled within three games. Now, that goal is out of reach.
The Tigers dropped their second-straight game to the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday and fell 10 games below .500 for the first time since immediately after the All-Star break. For a team that fought so hard to climb out of an 9-24 hole early in the season, the last three weeks have been discouraging.
Since beating the Cleveland Indians to improve to 58-61 on Aug. 14, the Tigers own a 7-14 record. They’ve lost eight of their last 11 games and three of four series.
In reality, the Tigers’ final record doesn’t matter because they aren’t fighting for a playoff spot. But A.J. Hinch and his staff worked hard throughout the season to lay the foundation for a winning culture, and it would be disappointing to watch the team collapse in September and go into the offseason on a sour note.
Aside from a three-game stretch last week when the Tigers exploded for 29 runs, the offense has struggled. In the other 11 games since Aug. 24, the Tigers have never scored more than four runs, averaging 2.6 runs per game. That includes series against bad pitching staffs, such as the Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals.
The backbreaking moment came after scoring just three total runs in the first three games combined against the Los Angeles Angels last month. In the series finale, the Tigers blew a 10-2 lead to get swept in four games at home. That felt like it took some of the wind out of the team’s sails.
Individually, the Tigers have a handful of players slumping. Akil Baddoo has been striking out more and reaching base less often since returning from the injured list. Eric Haase is swinging out of the strike zone and making less frequent hard contact. Jonathan Schoop just hit his first home run since signing an extension Aug. 8.
The pitching has mostly been solid, with a few blowups from the bullpen and Matt Manning. Kyle Funkhouser had a disastrous outing to blow a lead on Labor Day, and Gregory Soto allowed six runs in one of the Angels losses. It happens, but it hurts even more when the team is desperate for wins.
There aren’t one or two individual players pulling the Tigers down. Collectively, they’ve just hit a rough patch, and the timing couldn’t be any worse. After Wednesday’s series finale in Pittsburgh, the Tigers begin a stretch of 12 straight games against first-place teams.
Detroit has been a resilient team all season, so maybe it will bounce back against some of the best teams in the league. If not, it would put a bit of a damper on all the obvious progress the Tigers have made.