DETROIT -- Last place. It's not a spot in the standings that the Detroit Tigers are used to. So rare of an occurrence has it been that it's happened just twice this late in the season -- or to finish a season -- in the last 10 years. For the players and the fans, it's not fun. The last several years have been so good to the Tigers and fans that it almost feels like uncharted territory. Yet, fifth place is where the Tigers sit on Tuesday night following a close 8-7 loss to the Angels.
Dropping to a tie for fifth place with the Cleveland Indians (both having a 59-66 record) is the low point of the season for Detroit. It's frustrating. When the pitching performs, the offense disappears. When the offense shows up, the pitching implodes and often the bullpen with it. Then again, the bullpen has its own demons more often than not. Every combination of what can go wrong, is going wrong for the Tigers in 2015. Mind boggling. Irritating. Tough to deal with at times.
"Very tough, man," Miguel Cabrera said after the loss. "You don't want to be in this position, especially when you fight for something. This is not over. We know what we can do. We know what we can do. We trust each other, and hopefully, we can come through together, like a team, and pull everyone together on the field to try to win games."
The team is loaded with a potentially potent offense. The starting pitching has been through its own kind of hell but it's battled. The bullpen, a point of ire among fans this year, has still produced some solid relievers in all the muck. It's just hard to see through all the mud in the water.
Unfortunately, what a team can do and what the Tigers are doing are two completely different beasts. Both are pulling in the opposite directions and that force in the game of baseball has dragged the team into last place. Between the injuries of star players, lack of performance from those whom the team relied heavily on, and an offense that seems to evaporate at will, finding consistency has been like finding new life on another planet. For now ... nonexistent.
The 2008 season was the last time the Tigers finished in last place. They did so by a game. That previous offseason the team had acquired Cabrera and much was expected of the team as a result. It was the last time the Tigers had a top-10 pick in the draft. This year the organization is on the road to doing the same thing again. They currently hold the spot for the 10th pick in the 2016 draft with Tuesday night's loss.
Cabrera is in the middle of a career-best season. Victor Martinez, the No. 4 hitter meant to bat cleanup and protect Cabrera -- as if that's possible -- isn't doing that at all. In the current five-game losing streak, Martinez is 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position. In August he's batting just .219/.234/.397 and has only three two-hit games and he's without a hit in eight of those 19 games started.
The Tigers and Martinez have said that he's not injured. He's just struggling mightily. it's come to the point where Tigers manager Brad Ausmus has considered hitting him in the No. 5 spot -- though moving him even further would be better but that has not been discussed "at all." Worst part about it is there aren't any signs of bad habits or hitting mechanics at the plate according to Ausmus.
"No, other than he's struggling to get hits," Ausmus said. "He doesn't look -- at times, he looks like he just misses balls, he goes through stretches where he hits the ball hard, and they get caught. He's just having trouble finding grass in the outfield right now."
Finding that spark that flips the switch for the team has been next to impossible all this year. It doesn't appear that this season is going to turn in the Tigers' favor, and even if it did, at this point there's no way for the team to rally enough to take the division. Sneaking into the Wild Card would be a major miracle. That doesn't mean the team has given up and the season is far from over, but the chances of late October baseball is more of a pipe dream than a tangible possibility.