DETROIT — There was good news for Tigers fans on Thursday.
Justin Verlander is incredible in games after a Detroit loss — he has won 19 such games since the start of last season — and he’ll get a chance to make it 20 when he pitches against Pittsburgh on Friday.
Other than that tiny bright spot, the Tigers’ 4-3 loss to Minnesota on Thursday was just another frustrating day for the Tigers and their fans.
In a year in which they were expected to make a second straight run deep into October, the Tigers are now 18-20 after a two-game sweep by the hapless Twins.
The Tigers haven’t managed a single two-game winning streak in the past month, and even manager Jim Leyland is starting to wonder what in the world has happened to his team.
“The only thing that has been consistent about us is our inconsistency,” he said. “Frankly, it boggles my mind that we haven’t been able to get the kind of combinations that we need to win a few games.”
Since a 9-3 start that had fans expecting another easy Central Division title, the Tigers have gone 9-17 as Leyland searches for those elusive “combinations” of hitting and pitching. On Thursday, they didn’t get quite enough of either one.
Doug Fister struggled early, allowing back-to-back homers to Justin Morneau (with a runner on base) and Trevor Plouffe in the third inning. Fister settled down but still wasn’t happy with his outing.
“I made some adjustments, but I just wasn’t executing pitches,” he said after allowing four runs in six innings. “The only thing I can control is the way I pitch. That’s my job, and I didn’t execute today.”
Offensively, the Tigers got homers from Andy Dirks, Brennan Boesch and Prince Fielder, but they were all solo shots, and they only managed one more hit off four Minnesota pitchers. That meant the Twins were able to hang on to improve their record to 12-26.
“People look at that record and think that’s a bad team,” Leyland said. “There’s no such thing as a bad major league team.
“They went out there the last two days and they got more hits than we did, they got more timely hits than we did, and they beat us. That’s how baseball works.”
The Tigers were sloppy in the field for the second straight day, as both Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder made errors. Fielder missed a simple-looking catch on a toss from Fister for Detroit’s sixth infield error in the two-game series. It led directly to Minnesota’s fourth run, as Josh Willingham raced all the way to third before scoring on a Morneau groundout.
As he usually does, Leyland didn’t blame his players for errors, but he acknowledged they aren’t helping get his team straightened out.
“Errors are just a part of the game,” he said. “The only time I get upset about them is when guys aren’t playing hard, and this team is giving everything it has.
“But, yes, we made some mistakes today, and when you aren’t going well, those mistakes always come back to bite you. When a team is going good, you overcome them and go on to win, but right now, everything is coming back on us.”
Leyland doesn’t expect perfect play from his team — he said that is just as impossible for major leaguers as it is for Little Leaguers — but he understands why his team was getting booed by 37,840 fans on a sunny spring afternoon.
Worst, he can’t even promise them that things are about to change.
“Right now, we aren’t making the plays that we need to win games,” he said. “And I can’t sit here and promise that we will turn it around.
“I believe we will, and I expect we will. But in this game, you can’t ever get caught just waiting for it to happen. We have to step up and actually do it.”