Offense struggles in loss to Mariners
Tigers fall into first-place tie with White Sox in AL Central
DETROIT -- The Tigers' Christmas in July celebration Thursday afternoon did nothing to give their stingy offense a spark. So far, nothing has, and the results are looking painfully familiar.
"0-for-3? No chance I'm going to wear those shoes tomorrow," Miguel Cabrera said, putting down his shoes after Thursday's 2-1 loss to the Mariners. "New ones. New pants, too. New everything."
Just about anything within reason, and sometimes beyond it, to change the results. The Tigers have lost five of six out of the All-Star break, and four of those losses have been by the same 2-1 margin. With back-to-back 2-1 defeats to Seattle, the more recent behind seven scoreless innings from Jarrod Washburn, Detroit's lead in the American League Central has gone from two games entering play Wednesday to one game Thursday morning, and now essentially none. The Tigers are on top by merely a percentage point thanks to two fewer losses.
Once Mark Buehrle finished off his perfect game for the White Sox over the Rays Thursday afternoon, Detroit was in a first-place tie with Chicago, the first time the Tigers haven't had the division lead to themselves since May 15.
The Tigers have a chance to change that this weekend with four games in three days against the White Sox at Comerica Park, starting with Friday's day-night doubleheader. Without a change at the plate, though, it's going to be tough.
"If you're scoring one run, you aren't going to win [much]," manager Jim Leyland said. "I don't care how good your pitching is. You can have three [Sandy] Koufaxes and three [Don] Drysdales."
Leyland said he hears fan criticism that he doesn't do enough to try to get the offense going, whether it's lineup changes, hit-and-run plays, bunts, whatever. He counters by pointing to Wednesday, when he put Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco in motion in the first few innings. In the end, he said, they don't have a running offense.
"To try to make us look like the 'Go-Go' [White] Sox [of 1959] would be stupid," Leyland said.
Given their contact at the plate Thursday, they didn't have much of a chance to go at all. Starting with Granderson's leadoff popout behind third base, every Tigers out in the first three innings came on fly balls.
"It's hard to figure out," Leyland said. "I never saw so many fly balls, one right after another, in all my life. I couldn't believe it. It looked like [Washburn] was cutting the ball in. We were trying to fight it and pull our hands in. We just kept popping it up, one right after another. "
In turn, Washburn kept racking up the outs. After Polanco's single and Cabrera's walk, Washburn (8-6) went on a run of 11 batters retired in a 12-batter span. Marcus Thames flew out to center and Magglio Ordonez hit a hard liner right at right fielder Ichiro Suzuki to strand the only runner Detroit would get into scoring position off Washburn.
The Tigers loaded their lineup with right-handed hitters against the left-hander, who allowed batting averages of .299 and .288 in his previous two seasons against right-handed bats. This was a different approach from Washburn, whose average allowed to righties is down to .252 this year, compared to .175 against lefties. Mariners pitching coach and former Tigers coach Rick Adair challenged him to throw breaking balls, and he answered.
"It's an aggressive hitting team and a good fastball-hitting team," Washburn said, "but I had my fastball working tonight. I mixed in a sinker, a change, some curves."
The Tigers struggled to adjust, especially Cabrera. Not only did his 17-game hitting streak end, the longest streak by a Tiger since Ordonez's 20-game streak in 2005, but Cabrera was left flailing at some pitches in the dirt.
"He pitched different, like [Felix] Hernandez last night," Cabrera said. "They pitched different. Usually they never throw me changeups. They always throw me sinkers, fastballs inside, sliders away, breaking balls away. This time, they threw me a lot of changeups. They made adjustments.
"I'm a grown man. I'll take it. I have to make adjustments."
He'll have to, but he won't be the only one. Washburn, who had his share of low-scoring defeats over a seven-game losing streak to the Tigers since 2005, held them to a pair of singles and two walks Thursday. They didn't have an extra-base hit until Granderson's eighth-inning triple off reliever Mark Lowe plated Brandon Inge, halving Detroit's deficit.
Though Tigers starter Luke French (1-1) turned in another strong outing, retiring seven straight Mariners through the early innings, Mike Sweeney's first-inning double to score Ichiro left the young left-hander pitching from behind all afternoon. Sweeney's sixth-inning single set up Seattle's other run, advancing Jose Lopez to third to score on Wladimir Balentien's fielder's choice groundout.
Ryan Perry, pitching for the first time in a week after being recalled from Triple-A Toledo, retired all eight batters he faced, striking out three.
"All our pitching has done well recently, since the break," Leyland said. "I think everybody's done a real good job holding the other team down. That's the part that frustrates you more than anything. To hold teams down like we have since the break and only have one win to show for it, that's not good."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.