Detroit Tigers played ugly brand of Zombie baseball vs. Oakland A’s. Blame starts with MLB

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Tigers played an ugly brand of Zombie baseball Thursday night against the Oakland A’s.

The Tigers were so sluggish, so inconsistent, so unable to simply throw strikes, that they looked like a group of guys who tried to play a baseball game after pulling an all-nighter.

Which also happens to be true.

After finishing a series sweep against the Houston Astros on Wednesday night, the Tigers had to travel to Oakland, California, and arrived around 4 a.m. and didn’t get to their hotel until about a half hour later.

Which was around 7:30 a.m. Michigan time on Thursday.

And who knows if their body clocks were on Detroit time, or Houston time, or somewhere in between.

“Third time zone in seven days, whatever it is,” manager AJ Hinch said before the game, “and you do have to remind yourself what room you’re in in the hotel and what city you’re in, what time zone you’re in.”

Then, they tried to play a night game in California with body clocks that were simply jacked up, as the A’s walked their way to an easy 8-4 win.

It’s like the lyrics to that Elton John song: “Turn around and say good morning to the night.”

Now, I’m not making excuses for them and Hinch would never blame the schedule.

But the schedule certainly played a role.

“We played a little sluggish,” Hinch said. “Didn’t challenge the strike zone. We mishandled some balls.”

In Houston, the Tigers were crisp and sharp.

In Oakland, they dived for balls but couldn’t catch them. They swung their bats but did little damage.

Tigers may have another rookie to watch as surprising start continues ]

Detroit Tigers center fielder JaCoby Jones cannot catch a base hit by Oakland Athletics' Mark Canha during the seventh inning in Oakland on Thursday, April 15, 2021.

But this result was predictable. It’s simply crazy that the Tigers had to play back-to-back night games two time zones apart. And the blame starts with the MLB. There should be a rule against it. If they had to play in Houston on Wednesday, it should have been a mandatory day game before traveling two time zones away. Instead, they got back to back night games, which doesn’t make sense.

Anyhow, every positive that happened in the sweep over Houston disappeared against the A’s.

Remember that solid defense in Houston? The Tigers played three games and committed just one error against the Astros.

But, um, that disappeared in Oakland.

Niko Goodrum, who was a Gold Glove finalist, muffed a routine ground ball. And Jeimer Candelario had a fine defensive play, snagging a ball at third, and then airmailed first base.

Remember that explosive offense in Houston? The Tigers scored 20 runs and had 31 hits in three games against the Astros.

Well, that was gone in Oakland.

Shoot, even Akil Baddoo cooled off, unable to get a hit in four at bats.

Remember that great starting pitching in Houston? Tigers starters averaged 6⅔ innings, striking out 11 with four walks.

But Tarik Skubal struggled with his command for the second straight game. He wasn’t sharp and his fastball velocity was off. He lasted four innings and walked four, giving up two runs.

“Looked like he was battling himself,” Hinch said. “He had a lot of long at-bats. He was pretty frustrated at the end. It’s a lot of pitches in a short amount of time and I was happy he kept us where he where he did. He was kind of walking on the edge there at the end.”

ANALYSIS: What we learned from Tigers’ dominant sweep over Astros

RESURGENCE: How Michael Fulmer ‘went into attack mode’ for first win since 2018

Compared to last year, Skubal’s strikeouts are down 27.6% to 17.1% and walks are up from 8.2% to 12.2%, according to Fangraphs. Last season, his fastball averaged 94.5 mph and now it’s sitting at 93.7 mph, according to Fangraphs.

“I’m not too concerned about that,” Skubal said. “I don’t know what the numbers are.”

Remember how Tigers pitchers were so clean and efficient against Houston? They walked just 13 batters in three games.

Well, Tigers pitchers walked a dozen A’s in this one game alone.

Remember how Alex Lange looked fantastic against Houston? He struggled against the As.

Remember Joe Jimenez? He returned to the big leagues and pitched a third of an inning and walked three and gave up three runs.

Just ugly.

If there was a positive, they kept fighting.

When their body clocks finally said Friday morning — at least, back in Michigan — they woke up a little and scored a couple of runs in the ninth inning.

It was like the Red Bull finally kicked in.

Right when it was time to go to bed again.

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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