Struggles against lefties continue in loss
Leyland calling for less scoreboard watching, sounder play
DETROIT -- The out-of-town scoreboard at Comerica Park is in such a spot where it's difficult to miss, even if it attracts nothing more than passing interest early in the season. For a team in a playoff race, it's unavoidable as it looms at field level, inside the wall in right-center field.
The way the Tigers have been falling behind lately, watching that scoreboard can be maddening, especially for the manager.
Around the time the Tigers were giving up the insurance runs that would eventually loom as the difference in Friday night's 6-4 loss to the Blue Jays, the Twins were falling behind by double digits to the A's. As a result, the Tigers' four-game losing streak has cost them only a game off their lead in the American League Central, and nothing off their 5 1/2-game lead Friday.
However, it's costing manager Jim Leyland some patience.
"Well, maybe they ought to quit looking at that," Leyland said. "Maybe we're looking at that instead of what we should be looking at. We need to take care of our own stuff.
"We need to play better. We need to hit better. We need to pitch better. We need to shut some things down. It's that simple."
First and foremost on Leyland's list of things to shut down would be the struggles against left-handed pitchers.
A day after Royals southpaw Lenny DiNardo held the Tigers to two runs over five innings, Toronto's Brian Tallet seemed set to top that by retiring Detroit's first seven batters and scattering three hits through his first five innings. He struck out the side in the fifth on his way to seven for the night, tying a season high.
The Tigers eventually chased Tallet (7-9) with two hits and an RBI in the seventh, then rallied against right-hander Jeremy Accardo with three straight singles to put the potential tying run on base. Just as a breeze blowing in from left field kept a couple of early shots from the Blue Jays off Nate Robertson in the park instead of over the fence, Marcus Thames fell just short of a would-be go-ahead homer, flying out to the track in right-center.
"We gave ourselves a chance," catcher Gerald Laird said. "That's all you can ask."
Fittingly, the ball fell into right fielder Jose Bautista's glove just in front of the out-of-town scoreboard, where the Twins' fate negated it.
Tallet recorded his first quality start in six outings since July 3. With that, a Tigers team that once feasted on left-handed pitching fell to 23-19 this year versus lefty starters, compared with 52-46 against right-handers.
It isn't simply about Curtis Granderson, who went 0-for-4 against Tallet and Kelly Downs to fall to .177 this season off left-handers. They've struggled against lefties with and without him.
"We have to start doing more against left-handed pitching," Leyland said, "or they'll be taking them off the Ferris wheel to pitch against us."
Detroit's own lefty starter, Robertson, had nearly opposite fortunes, leaving in the fourth inning with a left groin strain that will likely cost him at least one start. Though Robertson (1-2) allowed six hits and five walks over 3 2/3 innings, he held Toronto scoreless until a two-run fourth thanks in part to four warning-track fly balls and an Armando Galarraga strikeout of Kevin Millar to strand two in the fourth.
Those key outs didn't last. After a hit-by-pitch to Adam Lind set up a Vernon Wells sacrifice fly in the sixth, Rod Barajas homered off Galarraga leading off the seventh. Randy Ruiz greeted Ryan Perry with a two-run shot two batters later.
"The add-on runs have killed us lately," Leyland said. "We had a shot, but you can't put yourself in that position like we have the last few games."
The bigger overall frustration for Leyland right now, though, seems to be the position in the playoff race. They've done enough to maintain command of the AL Central, which is to say that they've played pretty much even with their competitors lately while the schedule dwindles down. Detroit's magic number for eliminating the Twins dropped to 17.
Yet a day after Leyland argued that the playoff race has just started, he'd rather have them pay attention to their own end of it, without watching the size of the lead. He doesn't want guys obsessing over it, but as players said they didn't worry about the playoff race right now, Leyland seemed to worry.
"Some of these guys are a little too casual around here," Leyland said. "They need to step it up."
Right now, at least, they're in step with the rest of the division as the steps wind down. But they know that they could do better.
"We control our own destiny," Laird said. "We're driving the bus right now. Teams are coming after us. Teams are wanting to beat us. We've earned that right here in September, being in first place. We just have to play better baseball and score more runs."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.