Detroit — AJ Hinch, without seeking absolution, asked that everybody keep this horrific stretch of losing baseball in perspective.
An ask that’s getting tougher with each passing day.
“Without giving us a pass for underperforming, we have to stay positive,” he said. “It’s not going to get any better by coming to work in a bad mind frame or pouting or conceding. The only way to make it better is to beat the Royals today.”
Well, that didn’t happen. The losing streak hit five, as the Royals left Detroit with a 3-2 win and a four-game sweep Monday. The Tigers, off to their worst start (7-16) since 2003, have now lost 10 of 11. They’ve scored 20 runs in that stretch.
“It’s frustrating, every single one of us is frustrated,” said Robbie Grossman, who flew out to the warning track in right-center in the ninth. “But the best part is, we get to get out of here and go to Chicago…
“I thought I got every bit of that ball at the end. Maybe in a different stadium we’re still playing. But we’re in Comerica. It’ll be good to get to a new park, play a new team and get a fresh start.”
In a game of missed opportunities, the most frustrating came in the eighth off 35-year-old reliever Greg Holland. Rookie Akil Baddoo led off with a triple that missed by inches clearing the fence in left-center.
Those last 90 feet never came. Holland struck out Niko Goodrum, got pinch-hitter Wilson Ramos on a checked-swing tap at the plate and struck out Victor Reyes.
“Baseball is cruel,” Hinch said. “When you are in these situations and in a rut, it feels like all these weird things happen. Akil missed a home run by two inches.”
The Tigers left 11 runners on base and were 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position.
“In a close game you need to take advantage of any opportunity you have,” Hinch said. “We had a lot more opportunities today and that was encouraging. But it’s tough not to score a guy from third with less than two outs.”
The Tigers came into the game ranked last in the American League in runs scored, in wRC-plus (weighted runs created) and offensive WAR, as well as leading in strikeouts and fewest walks.
“We don’t accept it, not while I’m here or this group is here,” Hinch said before the game. “We have to come and play winning baseball every day. We have to have a winning mindset. If anybody starts accepting it, then I’d like to change the mix.”
If ever the Tigers were going to snap out of their offensive funk, it was going to be Monday against struggling right-handed starter Brad Keller. His 16 earned runs were the most allowed in the American League coming in.
The Tigers had him on the ropes a couple of times, but, alas, they didn’t have a knockout punch in them. They stranded four runners in scoring position through five innings, missing their best chance to put a crooked number on the board in the third.
Down 2-0, Grossman led off with a double. He went to third on a groundout by Harold Castro and scored on a single by Miguel Cabrera. Jeimer Candelario followed with a single, sending Cabrera to third. But that’s when things died.
Willi Castro squibbed a ground ball to short. Cabrera hesitated then tried to score from third. The throw home bounced to catcher Salvador Perez, but Cabrera didn’t slide and was tagged out. (Perez seemed to jam his right thumb on the tag and he came out of the game in the sixth.)
“First and third there, Miggy is going to go on contact on the ground to avoid the double-play,” Hinch said. “Their guy (shortstop Nicky Lopez) made a pretty athletic play. I didn’t see what kind of jump Miggy got there but he needed to go.”
Baddoo struck out to end the inning.
After the Tigers tied the game in the fourth inning — triple by Goodrum and single by Grayson Greiner — they had two on and two outs in the fifth. Keller threw three straight balls to Baddoo.
Hinch gave him the green light to swing on 3-0 and flew out to center.
“Definitely the green light there and you saw exactly what he can do on the next at-bat when he hit it just a tick better and almost hit it out of the ballpark,” Hinch said. “I’m happy that he swung. He got a good pitch to hit and put a good swing on it.”
The Royals only got five hits off Tigers’ starter Spencer Turnbull in six innings, but they were loud ones. Carlos Santana hit a two-run homer in the third and in the fifth, 36-year-old Jarrod Dyson doubled and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by Whit Merrifield.
“Losing sucks,” Turnbull said. “It always sucks. I hate it. I feel like I could’ve done a few things better and kept at least one of those runs off the board …I try to give up two runs or less every time. If I do that, I feel I put our team in a good position to win.
“If I don’t, it might be tough for us to win.”
This was the first time the Tigers have been swept in a four-game series by the Royals at Comerica Park, according to Elias Sports. It was also the Royals’ first four-game sweep on the road since 1999.
“The beautiful part of this situation is, there is a beginning and there is an end,” Hinch said. “We haven’t reached the end yet and that’s why we’re have to continue to answer these questions. But the only people who can end it are us in the clubhouse.”
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