DETROIT — The Tigers are supposed to have too much hitting and too much pitching to ever fall into a major slump.
Even after losing both ends of a doubleheader to Kansas City on Friday, giving them five losses in seven games, the Tigers still aren’t worried. If the Royals win Saturday and Sunday, though? Things might start getting a little tense.
Detroit was held to one run on six hits by the Royals, who won 2-1 and 3-0 for their first doubleheader sweep in Detroit in 29 years.
“It isn’t a concern,” Jim Leyland said, talking about an offense that has only scored 20 runs in the last seven games. “It is just what we are getting. It’s pretty simple if you look at these two games. They got great pitching and we got great pitching, but we didn’t muster enough offense to win either game.”
Most of the day’s offense belonged to Eric Hosmer of the Royals. He hit a solo homer off Justin Verlander in the first game, then crushed a 424-foot two-run shot off Jose Alvarez in the nightcap.
“That kid has a chance to be a great player, and he hit two out against us today,” Leyland said. “He’s swinging the bat better than anyone else they’ve got right now, which is why I walked him the last time he came up. Billy Butler is a very good hitter who has hurt us a lot, but I would rather have him at the plate than Hosmer right now.”
Hosmer was enough on a day when Danny Duffy and James Shields held the Tigers to a combined four hits in 13 shutout innings. The sweep moves the Royals within 6 1/2 games of the Tigers in the AL Central with two games left in the rare five-game series.
“If you look at that team, the whole reason they are in this race is because of their starting pitching,” said Brayan Pena, who played for the Royals from 2009-2012. “This was a very tough day, but that’s going to happen when you go against that pitching staff.”
Part of Detroit’s problem was that they faced two completely different pitchers in the doubleheader, and never got comfortable against either one. In the first game, they were facing Danny Duffy, a top prospect who had his career derailed by Tommy John surgery. Making just his second start in 14 months, the lefty gave the Tigers fits with hard fastballs, a changeup and a curve.
In the second game, the Royals gave the ball to James Shields, a 31-year-old veteran righthander who doesn’t throw as hard as Duffy, but who has a six-pitch repertoire that kept the Tigers off-balance for his seven innings.
“In the first game, they had a lefty that we haven’t seen much — some of our guys had never seen him — and he just chewed us up,” Leyland said. “Then they bring in a veteran righty who teases you with stuff on the edges, and gets you to go outside the zone for pitches you think you can hit. He’s never going to throw anything down the middle, so you chase him.”
Pena caught Duffy when he was with the Royals, but Kansas City traded for Shields and Ervin Santana before this season. The price for Shields was high — they gave up Wil Myers, who is already making a major impact as a rookie with Tampa Bay — but Pena says he understands why they made the decision.
“They went out and got two great pitchers in Santana and Shields, and now they’ve got one of the best rotations in the American League,” he said. “They gave up one of the best prospects in the game to get Shields, and today you see why.”
Still, the fact remains that the Tigers are not getting things done at the plate. Miguel Cabrera continued his amazing streak with a hit in each game — he’s batting .355 since the injury that has made it nearly impossible to run — but his second-game double and Ramon Santiago’s first-game pinch-hit homer were Detroit’s only extra-base hits of the night.
“We just didn’t hit the ball today,” said Santiago, who hadn’t homered in over a year. “We’ve had a few tough games lately, but we aren’t worried about that. We have two more games against Kansas City, and we need to try to win the one tomorrow. After that, we will try to win the one on Sunday.”
Detroit’s offense was designed to go nine deep, exhausting pitchers by never giving them any breathing room. That’s never happened, thanks to season-long slumps by Alex Avila and Andy Dirks, but they still had enough bats to lead the American League in scoring at over five runs per game. Right now, though, there are major holes in the lineup, and it isn’t clear when they will be filled.
Austin Jackson is hitting .228 since June 1, and while Torii Hunter and Cabrera have been perfectly fine in the next two spots, Prince Fielder has struggled badly since mid-June. Victor Martinez has overcome a early slump to hit .365 in his last 42 games, but Detroit lost a significant chunk of offense behind him with Jhonny Peralta’s suspension. Omar Infante has returned from six weeks off with an ankle injury, but still isn’t 100 percent, and Jose Iglesias has been a wonder with the glove, but questionable with the bat.
That leaves the Tigers with an offense that struggles to go five deep on many nights, especially with Jackson and Fielder slumping.
“We’re a good hitting team, and we’re going to hit,” he said again Friday night. “We didn’t do that today, but we will. It’s not a problem.”
It never seems that simple for Tigers fans, who often seem ready for the sky to fall at a moment’s notice. But for those who worry after days like Friday, there is a glittering omen that you can take from the two games of muck. The last time the Tigers lost a doubleheader at home to Kansas City? If you didn’t do the math earlier, that 29-year gap takes us back to August 5, 1984.
Every Tigers fan knows how that season turned out.