Here’s why there’s a silver lining in Detroit Tigers’ four-game losing streak

Detroit Free Press

It was a wreck of a weekend for the Detroit Tigers.

Injuries piled up, mistakes mounted and so did the losses.

“We just got our ass kicked by the Indians for the third time in a row,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said on Sunday after a 5-2 loss, which completed a 3-game sweep in Cleveland.

If nothing else, Hinch summed up things perfectly. The Tigers have lost four straight and six of their last seven, a stretch where we have seen a little bit of everything: Bad, ugly, a few slivers of good. And some maddening mistakes.

Nomar Mazara was the face of ugly baseball Sunday, with two ridiculous throwing errors that turned a close game into one an inevitable defeat.

As far as the injuries, Miguel Cabrera was placed on the 10-day injury list with a strained left biceps Sunday morning, and right-hander Julio Teheran went to the 60-day injured list with a right shoulder sprain.

But in the midst of all of that ugly, there was an encouraging sign for the rebuild. Alex Lange — called up after Teheran’s injury — had a fantastic debut on Saturday night. And in this organization, every youngster is incredibly important.

But we’ll get to that in a bit.

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Because the losing overshadows everything.

“It has not been a great week for us,” Hinch said before the game.

And then it got worse. “Obviously, we didn’t give ourselves the best chance to win today on a couple of different fronts,” Hinch said.

That’s a nice way of saying they played bad defense and did little offensively. This is a team that can barely reach first base, much less make it all the way around to score a run.

“We have to continue to challenge ourselves to hold ourselves accountable to a high level, to playing a winning style of baseball,” Hinch said.

You can feel Hinch seething after a loss. Losing bothers him, especially when it stems from bad baseball. You don’t hear him saying, “Let’s tip our cap to them.”

That’s one of the most encouraging signs to emerge during this skid. While this is not a championship roster, Hinch doesn’t accept losing. He’s trying to instill a winning attitude. And I love it — not so much for now, but for the future.

So after a miserable weekend, here are five bad things, four good things and a silver lining, even if Hinch hates them.

MORE FROM SEIDEL: How surprise finding sent Akil Baddoo rushing to airport during his unforgettable week

First, the bad…

1. Oh no, Nomar!

Yes, let’s start with Mazara. He missed the cutoff man in the eighth, which gave Cleveland runners on second and third with no outs, a crucial mistake in a close game.

On the next play, he threw overthrew … well, everybody. After that, the wheels came off.

It goes against everything Hinch has been preaching. It goes against everything the Tigers have practiced under coach George Lombard. It just doesn’t make sense.

2. This offense is painful to watch

Just getting somebody on base seems like an accomplishment — the Tigers finished Sunday with a .268 on-base percentage, just ahead of the last-place Chicago Cubs at .265.

Sunday’s loss dropped them to 3.2 runs scored per game, also among the MLB’s worst.

So is Hinch’s concern growing?

“I don’t really look at the game that way,” Hinch said. “I look at the game on an individual basis. So I think for us, the lesson coming away from today is: the big critical bats for them ended in contact and runs. And we had a lot of critical at bats that ended up in swinging and miss.”

3. Yes, it is a small sample size

But only one player who started for the Tigers on Sunday ended the game with a batting average above .238. (That would be Wilson Ramos, at .273.)

You figure some will break out of this. Willi Castro hit .349 last year and he’s struggling through a .216 start. Then again, we don’t know if Castro’s average last season was a hot streak for a rookie during a short season, or a true reflection of what he’ll do in the big leagues.

Jonathan Schoop hit .278 last year, but is at .185 this year. He has seemed off since arriving late for spring training. He’ll warm up if he stops pressing.

And Jeimer Candelario hit .297 with seven homers last year; he’s at .235 tthis year, though he homered late Saturday and singled Sunday.

4. Seriously, one-run deficits seem insurmountable

The Tigers scored just six runs in their three-game series in Cleveland and have scored more than three runs just three times in nine games (and one of those was a blowout loss to the Twins).

5. Houston, we have a problem

Look at the horizon. Did we mention the Tigers are heading to Houston? Where they’ll face Zack Greinke, a former Cy Young Award winner with a career 2.69 ERA against the Tigers, on Monday? (Oh, and ex-Twins starter Jake Odorizzi — who has 75 strikeouts of Tigers hitters in 67 career innings — makes his season debut Tuesday.)

…Then, the good

1. Ramos has been fantastic

The catcher’s glove won’t win any awards. But his bat has been fantastic. Sunday brought his fourth home run of the season.

“We need some more energy out there,” Ramos said.

He is that energy. So expect to see more of him. He’ll be the designated hitter Monday in Houston.

2. Ful Steam Ahead

Michael Fulmer looked fantastic in his last outing, entering in relief the day that Teheran got hurt. Fulmer went four innings, giving up one run on two hits and no walks, with five strikeouts. He will move into the starting rotation.

3. Alex the great

Lange had a fantastic debut on Saturday, shutting down the heart of Cleveland’s batting order for an inning.

“The emotions were there,” Lange said. “But I just utilized those emotions. I relaxed. I didn’t fight the emotions, just embraced them and that really helped.”

Lange is just 25 years old and it doesn’t take much imagination to think of him taking a huge role in this bullpen in the years to come.

[ Lange’s road to Tigers paved by bloodlines, incredible adoptive mother ]

4. Definitely not Gross, man

There is a lot to like about Robbie Grossman.

He always seems to be on base, with 10 walks and five hits in 32 plate appearances this year. And he’s a stand-up guy.

“I just think we got to learn how to play the game at this level,” he said. “Every day is a new day.”

That’s Hinch’s message. And to me, as I said earlier, his message is the most important thing right now. It’s the silver lining in this skid.

“We start every day fresh, I don’t really believe in things piling up,” Hinch said.

Hinch is holding the Tigers accountable but not throwing anybody under the bus to the media. He is trying to install winning expectations, with no excuses allowed.

Those are important messages for this team — with several young developing players — that will lose more than it’s going to win.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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