The Detroit Tigers hosted the Chicago White Sox just 11 days ago, staring at a three-game deficit in the AL Central. Three Tigers wins later and the division was tied. Since that sweep, the Tigers dropped five of their next six, and while Chicago didn’t set the world afire, the Sox did push the lead back to two games ahead of a four-game series between the rivals at US Cellualr Field beginning Monday.
Realistically, with just 23 games remaining on the schedule and zero head-to-head meetings left after this series, the Tigers couldn’t afford anything less than a series win. Even a 2-2 split of the four games would leave Detroit staring up at a two-game spread with just three weeks to go.
The day after Tigers manager Jim Leyland urged his club to “play like it’s your last game,” his Tigers looked every bit as flat as they did during a three-games sweep at the hands of the Angels last weekend. The Tigers managed a single run against ChiSox starter Jose Quintana, a man who had allowed 15 earned runs in his previous 10.2 innings coming over a three start span. Before the game, White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper conceded that fatigue may be a factor in Quintana’s struggles of late, noting that the young lefty had never logged this many innings before.
On Monday, however, the Tigers made him look like a Cy Young candidate, just as they have with so many opposing pitchers this season, especially lately. After being held to five runs over the weekend, Detroit once again gave Rick Porcello next to nothing to work with. Next to nothing was actually an improvement for Porcello, however, as the Tigers offense had scored a total of zero runs while he was in the game over his last three starts. At least on Monday, they gave him one.
For a while it looked like Porcello might make it stand up, too. But the Tigers defense would open the door for a Chicago uprising in the sixth. A routine ball hit to second baseman Omar Infante, the only Tigers infielder with a reputation as a good defender, became an error and light-hitting Dewayne Wise was aboard. It was the second time he had reached via error in the game. This time, the Tigers would pay as Alex Rios connected on a three-run homer to get the ChiSox on the board. The next batter, A.J. Pierzynski, followed with a solo shot of his own to make it 4-1 and end the night for Porcello. Gordon Beckham added a two-run homer off Octavio Dotel in the eighth to cap the scoring. In all honesty though, the Tigers were beaten before Beckham added insurance runs, before even Rios’ blast to take the lead for Chicago.
Detroit was beaten in the third inning.
Ahead by a run, the Tigers put the first two batters of the third on base. Quintana was laboring and Chicago manager Robin Ventura had Dylan Axelrod warming in the bullpen. Quintana would have to face Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, a pair who have combined for 211 RBI this season. It was also a pair that combined for zero at bats with runniners in scoring position over the weekend and they surely were looking to break out versus the struggling rookie southpaw. This is the kind of situation that hitters like Cabrera and Fielder thrive in. This is why they are among the highest-paid in baseball. They feast on these situations.
Instead, Cabrera grounded into a double-play and Fielder took a called third strike. It was the last sign of trouble for Quintana all night. And the last best chance for Detroit to stay in the race.
The Tigers will offer up their three best starters over the next three games in Chicago, so certainly winning all three is within the realm of possibilities. But this was as bad as a disappointing Tigers team has looked all year. It’s tough to see them snapping out of it in time to make one last stand.