The announced ticket sales Wednesday night when the Tigers hosted the Athletics at Comerica Park surpassed 30,000. The announced actual attendance would undoubtedly have been fewer. The number left for the final out fewer still. It's not hard to notice the fans just aren't into it this season. They weren't in late April for a Saturday showdown with the White Sox. They weren't in May for a one-run game against the first-place Astros. And they aren't in June, with the Tigers returning from the West Coast with their tails between their legs.
You can't blame the fans for being a little quiet. They haven't exactly been given much to cheer about and the recent trajectory of the team has taken it from the World Series to a heartbreaking ALCS to an ALDS sweep. And if current trend holds, there will be a lot of free time to be found in October 2015. Sure it's fun to see a player like Miguel Cabrera or to watch Jose Iglesias ply his trade at shortstop, but beyond that so much of it just feels like going through the motions. The excitement isn't there.
The Tigers opened the season 11-2 and have played .415 ball since, their 17-24 record since that point the worst in the AL Central and only slightly ahead of the pace of the Red Sox and Athletics. Detroit's been bad three times longer than it's been good this year. Right now, the Tigers are riding their longest losing streak since 2011. The Tigers have scored two runs or fewer for 26 of 54 games and they're on pace for their lowest runs per game average since 2003. They've given up five runs or more in 22 games. Manager Brad Ausmus doesn't know how to get the lineup out of the funk, with all attempts to change things continuing to fail.
As for pitching, the Tigers' previously reliable starter, Anibal Sanchez, looks bad, and the unproven Shane Greene looks worse. The bullpen that fooled people in May looks as expected in June. You can talk about Justin Verlander coming back from injury to rescue the team -- he plays every fifth day -- or Victor Martinez returning from repeated knee issues to miraculously jump start a lineup deficient of runs, but they're only two players on a roster ripe with issues.
Maybe the window is closing on the Tigers. Maybe it's been closing for years and we're watching it slam shut before our eyes. In some circles, you're not supposed to think those words, let alone write them for others to see. In some circles, it's a thesis, not a passing wonder. But a look ahead gives reason to worry.
The Tigers have $111 million tied up in six players next season. Martinez is due $18 million, a contract that looked bad at the time and looks worse by the day. Verlander and Cabrera are both due $28 million. Those three contracts run through 2018. Throw in $17 million more through 2017 for Sanchez. Add in the cost of buying out Sanchez's and Ian Kinsler's options, and the Tigers have $92 million committed to just three players in 2018. This is not sustainable. Now look at the Tigers' farm system, or lack thereof, ranked near -- if not -- last among experts and with hardly a top-100 prospect to be found. This is not sustainable. Or so it seems.
These are not new issues to the Tigers. We've heard stories of impending doom for years, from the fire sale that wasn't after 2009 to those waiting for the high-spending, low-depth Tigers to be surpassed by the impending dynasty of the low-spending, prospect-laden Royals. And it hasn't happened. Yet, anyway. The Tigers have won four consecutive division titles. President and general manager Dave Dombrowski has seemingly created above-average players out of thin air through trades of prospects who never pan out.
But the Tigers couldn't keep Max Scherzer. It's hard to believe they can afford to keep David Price. And Yoenis Cespedes isn't going to come cheap, either. They'll need to re-sign or replace Alex Avila, Joakim Soria, Rajai Davis, and Alfredo Simon, too.
Can Dombrowski's magic go on forever, when the superstars are aging and growing costlier, their injuries creeping in more frequently? Logic would dictate "no." And while the breathlessness and knee jerk reactions on social media lead to satire responses such as #PanicInPanicTown, to ignore the fact the Tigers have issues both now and in the future because of the presentation of the argument would be a mistake.
Yet if you think talk of windows closing and a season lost is premature, you're right. It's June 4. You can look through the history books and find tales of teams much worse off than the Tigers rallying back to make a playoff or even World Series run. You don't even have to look outside the organization. On June 4, 2012, Detroit was four games under .500 and six games outside of first place in the division. The Tigers went on to play in the World Series. So keeping it in perspective, the 2015 edition of the team playing better than .500 and being 4.5 games back in the standings really isn't that big a deal.
Anyone who tells you they know how this is going to turn out is lying or fooling themselves. It's all just guesses. It's the Tigers themselves, the players and their manager, who have about six weeks to get this figured out, to show the past six weeks were mere hiccups. A lot can change in that time. We could look back on July 15 and think, "Man, did that ever stink. Glad they're back in first place, though, finally scoring runs and winning games like we expected." Come September we could all be enjoying a fifth straight Central Division title.
But if things don't change significantly for the better, the front office had best be looking at the long term picture. The future is coming whether or not the Tigers prepare for it, and right now that future looks bleak. June and July are shaping up to be key months for the organization and those within it. Don't fool yourself otherwise.