The Detroit Tigers' road trip from Hell ended with a whimper, losing 4-2 while being swept by the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Tigers started their nine game road trip owners of a 4 1/2 game lead in the AL Central. A 2-7 record, three extra inning games, two walk off losses and injuries to Joakim Soria, Anibal Sanchez and Justin Verlander later, the Tigers find themselves 1/2 game back of the Kansas City Royals.
Pirates starter Edinson Volquez (W, 10-7) may have been inefficient, throwing 104 pitches, but he held the Tigers' bats in check for six innings, giving up two runs on five hits, striking out five and walking two. Volquez won his fourth straight decision and has gotten the W in eight of his last nine appearances.
Getting to the ninth, the Pirates' bullpen was lights out, Justin Wilson and Tony Watson combining on two innings of shutout ball. Closer Mark Melancon did pitch into a ninth inning jam, but stranded a pair in recording his 22nd save of the season.
The Tigers down two starting pitchers due to injury, rookie lefty Robbie Ray (L, 1-2) was called up from Triple-A Toledo to make his fifth career big league start and first for Detroit since May 22. Ray may have taken the loss, be he was solid in his return, allowing four runs on six hits, striking out five and walking two in five plus innings. Not be forgotten was the rookie received little help from his defense or bullpen. A pair of second inning defensive gaffes led to two (not-so) earned runs and Al Alburquerque allowed his one inherited runner to score.
Alburquerque wasn't charged with a run of his own, giving up two hits in his two innings on the mound. Phil Coke wrapped things up for the Tigers by pitching a scoreless eighth. But it didn't matter, because Detroit's offense was dead in the water, much like the hundreds of cars stranded by the floods in SE MI.
There was hope the Tigers' offense would help pick up Ray early on, taking the lead for the second night in a row thanks to Ian Kinsler's first inning RBI single. But the Tigers rarely threatened from that point, ultimately out-hit 9-7 on the night. Alex Avila's bat was one of the few showing any life with two hits, including his ninth home run of the season in the third (MLB.com video).
The Pirates didn't have a ton of offense, but they had at least three gift hits thanks to the Tigers' defense. Travis Snider did have a big 4-for-8, two RBI series for the winners, including two hits and a run driven in tonight.
The home-and-home series continues tomorrow, as the Pirates travel back to Detroit to take on the Tigers for a two game set. Who can say if home cooking will help the Tigers out of their August swoon, being they own a mediocre 30-27 record at Comerica Park this season.
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Robbie Ray: The rookie had two goals - give the Tigers five to six innings of work and keep them in the game. Ray did both, pitching into the sixth and exiting with the Tigers down just a run at 3-2. If Ray had received better defensive support, he could have left with the lead, or at the very worst, the game tied. Ray also had his first big league base hit.
Miguel Cabrera: Detroit's most feared hitter was the only Tiger reach base three times, but it was because Edinson Volquez refused to pitch to him. Cabrera singled in the first, then wasn't given anything to hit, walking in his next two at-bats.
Alex Avila: Slugged a solo home run in the fourth, singled in the ninth, and threw out Gregory Polanco trying to steal in the seventh.
Nick Castellanos: Gets props for a ninth inning pinch-hit single, which brought the game-winning run to the plate.
Detroit's offense: The slump continues. You can't win if you don't score and for the fifth time on the road trip the Tigers scored just two runs or less.
Detroit's defense: The was the questionable strategy of pulling in the infield during the third inning and Phil Coke's inability to handle a bunt in the eighth. But the far most costly mistakes came in the second inning. The Tigers weren't charged with an error, but an inability to field the ball cost Detroit a pair of runs in a badly played second inning.
Detroit's fan base: Good Lord, the Tigers are just 1/2 game out in mid-August! Yes, there is definite reason for concern. I'm sure as Hell not happy with the past couple of weeks. But the vitriol is running out of control. When I see fans following BYB's Twitter saying the season is over after the Tigers fell behind by a run tonight, then see fans on BYB's Facebook page claiming Justin Verlander isn't really hurt, he just sucks, it tends to make me believe a fan base gets the team we deserve. Right now, this fan base is behaving no better than the Tigers are currently playing.
What a difference one play makes. Ian Kinsler gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead in the first inning:
Guys! Runs!— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) August 12, 2014
Kinsler later heads toward home, but is caught in a rally-killing rundown when Edinson Volquez makes a blind, backhanded stab at Victor Martinez's ground ball and actually catches it:
Never mind. We mustn't be fooled by runs. An early lead is merely foreshadow for a future loss.— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) August 12, 2014
Detroit's defense fell apart in the early innings ... again. The shenanigans started in the second.
Playing third base tonight, Miguel Cabrera made a half-hearted swipe at Gaby Sanchez's grounder down the line, turning it into an RBI double. Travis Snider followed with a fly ball to left center. Ezequiel Carrera had the ball in his sights, then gave up on it, apparently thinking left fielder Rajai Davis would make the catch. Davis was as shocked as everyone else when Carerra peeled off, the ball dropping for a gift RBI double. Brad Ausmus called it "miscommunication." Regardless of the communication issues, a five out inning turned a 1-0 lead to a 2-1 deficit.
In the third inning, Josh Harrison led off with a double and was able to easily steal third base without a throw. Down just a run, for some reason Brad Ausmus pulled his infield in. The result was a Jordy Mercer single on a ground ball that would have been a out with the infield in normal depth.
Tonight's Rod Allen-ism came after Alex Avila homered to right center in the fourth: "That's not the easiest place to leave earth." Alex Avila, astronaut?
STREAKS AND STATS:
Miguel Cabrera, singles hitter? Over his past 22 games, that's all he's been. Cabrera hasn't doubled since July 19 or homered since August 2. He entered tonight's action slugging just .391 over the 22 game stretch. Nothing changed tonight with a single and two walks.
Then again, damn near every Tiger is suffering through a power outage. As a team, the Tigers are slugging a mere .369 since the break.
Robbie Ray's high chopper off the glove of the glove of Edinson Volquez was good for a fourth inning infield single. Ray's first big league base hit came in his second career at-bat. It took Justin Verlander nine seasons and 36 plate appearances to get his first hit.
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