The Tigers’ season still isn’t over, this is certain. There’s still time for them to get hot and turn it around. But with every passing day, the odds of them turning it around seem less and less likely – 3 games back feels more like 30 at this point. And if this game is indeed the straw that breaks the camel’s back, it’s only appropriate that the story of said game – a 6-1 loss at Chicago – was a punchless offense, bad defense, and clutch hitting by someone other than Detroit.
Things didn’t start all that badly, honestly. Austin Jackson led the game off with a single, but a botched hit-and-run saw him caught stealing on a Miguel Cabrera strikeout, and that threat never went anywhere. The second inning saw the Tigers string together four straight hits – but score only once, thanks to Jhonny Peralta being thrown out at second on his RBI double. The third saw the Tigers threaten again, putting the first two on with nobody out for Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, the guys who are supposed to get it done in these spots. Jose Quintana looked so shaky that Dylan Axelrod was warming up in the bullpen.
…and then Cabrera grounded into a double play and Fielder struck out, and Quintana never looked back. He retired 14 of 15 at one point, the Tigers never came particularly close to scoring off him again, and despite the eight hits, only two Tigers – Austin Jackson and Ryan Raburn – reached base more than once. It was the 8th time in the last 9 losses that the Tigers have scored two or fewer runs. Their only other threat came in the 8th, when the Tigers put runners at 2nd and 3rd with 2 out for Prince Fielder, but reliever Donnie Veal came on and got Fielder to ground weakly to the right side to end the threat.
For a while, though, the Tigers were making that one second inning run hold up – thanks largely to Rick Porcello, who was somehow stranding runner after runner in scoring position in the first few innings, and had shut Chicago down through 5.
It was the 6th where things fell apart – but it was not all Porcello’s doing. He’d given up just two hits when Dewayne Wise stepped in with one out and nobody on, and Wise hit the routinest (is that a word?) of grounders to Omar Infante at second. Infante simply booted it. This was the error that changed the face of the whole inning. Instead of two out and nobody on, Paul Konerko stepped in with a runner at first, and, with the infield in double play depth, hit a grounder that found a hole – a hole that might not have existed had the Tigers infield been playing normally. Up to this point, Chicago was an astounding 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position. Alex Rios changed all that by launching a three-run homer on a Porcello hanger that made the game 3-1. A.J. Pierzynski followed immediately with another homer to center, making it 4-1 Chicago. Gordon Beckham would add another two-run shot in the 8th to finish the scoring. Rios’s and Beckham’s homers were the only two hits the Sox had with runners in scoring position – just 2-for-16, but they won.
And in reality, this comes down to the Tigers. They did not hit enough – particularly against a pitcher who has struggled lately and that they had on the ropes early in the ballgame. They did not pitch well enough – it was asking a lot for Porcello to get out of all those jams, but he fell apart the third time through the order, as he is prone to do. They did not play defense well enough – they were lucky that, of their three errors, only the second ended up really costing the team, and it could have been far worse.
Such is the bed the Tigers made themselves. The expectation was that this bloated roster would score enough runs to make up for the deficiencies on defense – they haven’t. There is plenty of blame to go around, but the lion’s share should lie with the players who were expected to perform and simply did not. Chicago deserves credit for finally taking advantage of their chance to seize control of the game – the Tigers had that chance early and they botched it, as their offense often has in losses this year. Chicago took charge when the door was open for them to do so. That’s what good teams do, and it’s what the Tigers have failed to do lately, particularly away from home.
There is still time for the Tigers to take something out of this series with their three best pitchers in Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, and Justin Verlander – but the White Sox are countering with three guys who aren’t slouches either in Jake Peavy, noted Tiger-killer Gavin Floyd, and Chris Sale. The Tigers have not won a road game since August 15, and that is going to have to change very, very quickly if they’re serious about taking the division from Chicago.