Detroit — The frustration is palpable. Nobody is trying to excuse it or sugar-coat it. It’s a brutal stretch, pure and simple, the worst stretch of offense in decades. They just are running out of ways to explain it.
The Tigers were shutout for the 10th time this season, losing to the Texas Rangers 7-0 at Comerica Park. It’s one more shutout than they endured all of last year. They’ve scored one run in the last 35 innings and haven’t driven in a run with a base hit in a week.
“I try not to put it in any kind of box, like, ‘Have I seen anything like this before,'” manager AJ Hinch said. “It doesn’t matter if I’ve ever seen it before. It’s our reality. I try to stay present with what we’re dealing with and try to stay as positive as I can.
“But it sucks.”
The Tigers had five hits, two by Willi Castro. Rangers starter Jon Gray allowed two runners in scoring position and struck out six in his seven innings. He got the Tigers to beat the ball into the ground consistently, eight ground ball outs.
“It’s frustrating, especially personally speaking,” said Robbie Grossman who went 0-for-3 and is 3 for 21 this month. “I can’t do anything to help the team offensively. Best thing I can do is show up tomorrow.”
The Tigers, losers of six in a row, have been outscored 54-11 on this homestand with two games left.
“There is no way for me to answer the same questions every night and give credit to the same pitchers every night,” Hinch said. “We’re all tired of it. But we’re going to wake up tomorrow with the same challenges. I don’t have better answers, usually I do but I don’t.
“We can’t be this bad this long. That is obvious.”
Tarik Skubal came into the game with the fifth best strikeout-to-walk percentage in baseball (23%). So when he walked the leadoff hitter on five pitches to start the game, well, it wasn’t a positive omen.
It got worse when Skubal gave up three runs in the first inning. That’s been a mostly fatal deficit for the Tigers, who entered the game averaging a league-low 2.6 runs per game and were 4-37 when their opponent scores at least three runs.
Make that 4-38.
“Just pitch execution hasn’t been great lately,” Skubal said. “It’s something I need to get back to doing.”
It was his second straight wonky start, yielding five runs and eight hits in just five innings. He was missing spots and falling behind hitters more than has been his custom. The Rangers put 18 balls in play with an average exit velocity of 92.7 mph – 3 mph harder than his season average.
He only struck out four with a pair of walks and he gave up a solo home run to Jonah Heim. Heim doubled in two runs in the first inning.
They did most of their damage against Skubal’s two best pitches, his four-seam fastball and slider, which was a clue to what his problem has been — locating pitches to his glove side, in on right-handed hitters and away to lefties.
“I haven’t been able to drive the four-seamer and slider to the glove side as well as I’d like to,” he said. “It’s something I have to take a look at and watch video to see it there is anything mechanically that I’ve changed. Because mentally I feel like I’m doing the same thing I’ve always been doing.
“I need to look into that and see what I can find.”
Skubal was better after the first but he was still falling behind hitters, giving up a solo homer to Jonah Heim after falling behind 3-1. Heim doubled in two runs in the first inning.
“Location is key,” Hinch siad. “He couldn’t finish off hitters. That hurt him, as well. He gave up some two-strike hits and that’s an indication of missing location and maybe they were seeing him a little too good.”
Skubal was asked if felt any extra pressure knowing the offense was struggling to score runs lately.
“No, not at all,” he said. “I don’t try to put anything like that on myself. My job is to put our team in position to win a ballgame and I didn’t do that tonight.”
You could hear a pin drop in the clubhouse afterward. There was no music playing and very little conversation.
“It’s baseball at this level — it’s a game of failure,” Grossman said. “It’s something you have to overcome. You continue to show up and put your best foot forward. Things will turn.”