A Summer Slump

Wait, what happened? I blinked.

A week ago, fans were comparing Detroit’s team to the World Series winners of 1984. Jump forward one disappointing week, and some are thinking more about the 2003 Tigers.

Since May 19, Detroit has lost seven of their last eight, surrendering an embarrassing 67 runs. Their losses included a road sweep by the Cleveland Indians, losing three of four to the sub-.500 Rangers and getting spanked by the Athletics in their first game at Oakland.

The losses have not been pretty. When a position player is on the mound for your team in the ninth inning, you know you are having problems, and Detroit sent backup shortstop Danny Worth and his 67 mph knuckleball out to the mound twice during the Rangers series.

A combination of poor starting pitching and hitters forgetting they are allowed to use bats has all combined to a “perfect storm” of bad play by Detroit. It has been an ugly week.

In the last week, the team ERA sits at a frustrating 6.57, miles away from the season average of 3.80. Four different times in the last seven games Detroit pitching has given up 10 runs or more. Relief pitching, surprisingly, may not be all to blame.

Honestly, starting pitching could not be immaculate forever. Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello and rookie Robbie Ray finally proved they were human.

Verlander has not been himself in his last three starts. He has surrendered 21 runs over five games in May, highlighted by giving up 15 runs in his last three appearances. His 5 1/3 innings pitched against Texas was the shortest outing since Aug. 27 of last year.

Porcello and Ray also showed flaws in their most recent starts. Ray, the recent call up by Detroit, had a shimmering 0.79 ERA after his first two major league starts. He came crashing down hard against Texas. Seven runs, nine hits, four walks, and 3 1/3 innings later, Ray learned what it was really like to start regularly in the MLB.

Again, it happens. Pitchers cannot be perfect every game in a 162-game season. There are stretches where pitching crashes hard. At that point, you can only hope the bats are there to help pick the team up.

To put it simply, they were not. Detroit has scored two runs or less in three of their last four games. Torii Hunter has just three hits in his last 24 plate appearances, completely unacceptable for a man batting just ahead of RBI machine Miguel Cabrera.

Hunter, Alex Avila, Nick Castellanos and Don Kelly all have averages of .250 or lower during the slump. A team a week ago that seemed it could rally from any deficit, now looks defeated after the first run is tallied for the opposition.

All teams have skids during the regular season. Before Detroit arrived in Oakland, the Athletics were on a four-game losing streak. Detroit’s sweep of the Red Sox earlier in May started a 10-game slump for Boston. Even great teams hit rough patches in a long season. Detroit can hang their hat on the insurance they built for themselves. After all the horrible play over this second half of May, the Tigers still find themselves a comfortable five games ahead of the White Sox for the lead in the wonderfully average AL Central.

If you are looking for an excuse for why Detroit has forgotten what home plate is, scheduling could be your answer. The Tigers have played 22 games in the last 23 days, jumping from Boston to Detroit to Oakland in a little over a week.

Twice Detroit departed from one city after a 7:05 p.m. start only to play a 1:05 p.m. game the next day, on travel rest of about five or six hours before entering the diamond. Cabrera and Joba Chamberlain both exited the series finale against Texas with slight injuries, but neither missed any playing time because of it. The Tigs are tired, but scheduling is not an excuse in this league.

So rest easy, Tigers fans. They will be back. The question should not be when will Detroit start winning again. That will answer itself soon with the talent on their roster. The question will be whether Detroit can avoid another long dry spell. Getting swept by the basement dwelling Indians is certainly not something playoff-caliber teams do.

But there’s something to be learned in the clubhouse after a long losing streak: character. Can Detroit pick themselves up and find ways to win? We certainly hope so.

Richie Cozzolino is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports.