May 28, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson (20) rounds first base after hitting a game winning three run home run against the Detroit Tigers during the ninth inning at O.co Coliseum. The Oakland Athletics defeated the Detroit Tigers 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports
Well, that was some stretch. And who knows if it’s over. What appears to be over, however, is the spate of games where the Tigers looked like the expansion Mets. That rag-tag bunch, which recorded 120 losses, lost 37 games by five runs or more and seven by double digits. But they never lost two of three games by double figures sandwiched between an eight-run loss—like the 2014 Tigers just did.
The Tigers have certainly had stretches when they’ve lost eight of ten. Almost every year there is a run like this, even in championship seasons, although neither of the last two Motor City World Series champs lost that many games in a ten game stretch.
No, what was most alarming about this run of putrid baseball is just how putrid it was. Being outscored by 37 runs over ten games, it turns out, is about as rare as an Ultimate Grand Slam. Never in the Jim Leyland era did the Tigers suffer a lopsided beating over a 10-game period like what just happened. Alan Trammell’s last two teams, which lost 90 and 91 games respectively, also avoided such ignominy. To find the best comp, you have to travel more than 10 years back. Yes, that brings us to the 2003 Tigers, a club that lost 119 games and inspired a bag full of 1962 Mets retrospectives. At the start of that fateful season, the Tigers lost nine straight games then won game ten. The opposition outscored them by 39 runs over that stretch. Welcome 2014 Tigers to the 20o3 Tigers. You can now exchange notes.
Of course that’s where the similarities end. The 2003 Tigers had many stretches of horrific baseball because they were a horrific team, ranking last in almost every offensive category and last or next to last in all of the significant pitching ones. Before the 2014 Tigers decided to re-imagine themselves as the ’03 Tigers, they ranked second in the AL in runs allowed and near the top in runs scored. When the hurricane winds finally disappeared, the Tigers had fallen to seventh in runs allowed, a staggering drop in the rankings in just ten games this deep into the season. The good news, the offense only dipped a little.
So we can shake off this stretch as an aberration, and it’s probably wise to do so. But it did expose raw all of the team’s weaknesses while calling into question some of its perceived strengths. And when you put together a run of futility that evokes one of the worst teams ever, well, that just proves it was as bad as it seemed. And that fantasies of winning 100-plus games and salting away the division before Labor Day were just that.