You knew it would be bad. You knew it would be real bad, and if you’re a logical baseball fan, you were willing to accept it and stomach it.
Well, under one condition. For this to be acceptable or stomach-able, there has to be some glimmer of hope, some peek at the prize, some spark of energy. The Tigers are offering none of that right now, and if there’s a low point in their rebuild — before the next low point — they hit it Sunday.
Lethargic. Mopey. Unwatchable.
A pitcher like Trevor Bauer can do that to a team, and the Indians’ right-hander spent Father’s Day toying with the Tigers in a complete-game shutout, 8-0. But this is not about one lame game. The Tigers (25-43) are 2-17 at Comerica Park since May 9. A year ago on this date, they were 35-37. Since then, they’re 54-104.
That’s what a wholesale rebuild looks like, and nobody misled anybody about how ugly this would be. GM Al Avila isn’t pressing panic buttons, but the front office has to be concerned about the absence of positive breakthroughs. Yes, the roster is decimated by injuries and filled with journeymen, and they’ve used 23 starting combinations at the four infield positions. With Miguel Cabrera given a day off, the 4-5-6 hitters against Bauer were Brandon Dixon, Harold Castro and Gordon Beckham.
But in getting swept by the Indians by a cumulative score of 25-6, the Tigers caved to frustration with slapstick baseball, running errors, fielding errors, mental errors. The night before, Ron Gardenhire was ejected in a 4-2 loss, and afterward bench coach Steve Liddle called the Tigers’ effort “unacceptable” and “Little League stuff.” Those weren’t merely Liddle league comments, they were truths.
Gardenhire prefers to take his ire directly to the players, and he did so Sunday with a postgame lecture in the clubhouse. Anytime the word “unacceptable” is used after consecutive games, it’s an issue.
“A frustrating day,” Gardenhire said. “It’s about not running balls out, all the little things to me that are unacceptable around here. That’s the stuff I apologize for, that’s not the way we play the game. Whether it’s getting beat down too many times in a row, I don’t know. But we gotta fix that. So we had a conversation and I think we’ll be OK.”
They won’t be OK from a talent standpoint for a while, as the organization’s touted pitching prospects develop in the minors. Fans may be starved to see Casey Mize or Matt Manning, or anyone, but there aren’t many audible signs of impatience. The only mild boos Sunday came when it was announced, due to the soggy weather, the kids-running-the-bases tradition was canceled. Logically, big-league kids running the bases with regularity is pretty much postponed until 2021 or later.