The blueprint to why the Detroit Tigers might not make the American League postseason was on display Tuesday night at Comerica Park.
Their offense remained anemic. It could not hit a mediocre starting pitcher.
Their young starting pitcher was shelled. He could not record enough outs.
The Tigers are competing for a playoff spot; the Minnesota Twins are in last place. Yet on this night, the team in contention looked uninspired, not interested in a win they need. The team eliminated from the race was taking extra bases. They took advantage of a sleep-walking team. The Twins beat the Tigers, 8-1.
“When you score eight runs, as opposed to one run, you’re going to look like you have more energy,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “I can assure you it wasn’t that way when the game started.”
The Twins got to left-hander Matt Boyd early, scoring two runs in the first inning, set up by a seeing-eye single and a bloop double. Robbie Grossman then singled home two runs to give right-hander Kyle Gibson all the offense he would need.
It was an early indicator of a season-worst start from Boyd.
“Not every start is going to be a great start,” Ausmus said. “The timing isn’t great because we’re in September, but there’s going to be days where our starters don’t have great outings, even in the next three weeks, so we hope that when that happens next time, we overcome it with offense.”
This time, the offense was of no help.
Gibson entered the game with a 5.34 ERA. The Tigers mustered one run on five hits over eight innings against him.
They responded to the Twins’ two-run first inning with a run of their own in the bottom of the first when Cameron Maybin doubled and Miguel Cabrera singled him home. They threatened one more time, down 7-1, in the fourth inning. Jarrod Saltalmacchia struck out with the bases loaded.
Boyd, who has been successful this season by keeping the ball on the ground, was unable to do that on this night. In the third inning, Jorge Polanco hit a two-run home run to leftfield to make it 4-1. Kurt Suzuki added a sacrifice fly.
The play that most summed up the contest came before Polanco’s home run, when Brian Dozier delivered a hit to shallow centerfield. Dozier, hustling hard around first base, slowed down, drawing a soft throw into the infield from Maybin.
As Maybin released the ball, Dozier sped up and took second base.
Boyd almost danced out of trouble the next inning with two men on but Polanco singled on a ball middle-in to right-centerfield. Boyd's day was done, his line looking like this: 3 2/3 innings, seven runs on eight hits, one walk, two strikeouts.
“I was just out of sync,” Boyd said. “I wasn’t right physically. It wasn’t clicking on my delivery. It was just kind of falling apart out there on mound. I wasn’t able to repeat, and you can’t command when you do that.
“It’s just a recipe for disaster in that sense.”
His fastball velocity was down from those in previous starts and he seemed tired, perhaps a bad omen for a Tigers team counting on three young pitchers in their starting rotation down the stretch.
“I’ve got to be better with what’s gotten me success mechanically,” Boyd said. “The adjustments I made in July going forward, I just kind of went away from those, for whatever reason.”
Tigers starting pitching hasn’t recorded a win since Aug. 26.
Righty Buck Farmer relieved Boyd and threw 4 1/3 scoreless innings. He allowed three hits, walked three and struck out five.
Joe Mantiply allowed a solo home run in the top of the ninth.
With Farmer throwing four-plus innings, he gave the bullpen a breather.
“He was outstanding,” Ausmus said.
Everything else on this night was not. The offense once again was non-existent, forcing Ausmus to tip his cap to an unaccomplished starting pitcher, something he has done far too often this season for the firepower in the Tigers’ lineup.
“We’re struggling offensively,” he said. “It’s just the way it is. You go through ups and downs and we’re going through a down spell offensively. I think the upside is with an offense like this, at some point, it’s going to come back around and hopefully we get hot here soon for the remainder of the season.”
With the loss, the Tigers fall two games behind the Baltimore Orioles for the second American League wild-card spot. They trail the Cleveland Indians by six games in the AL Central.
“Sometimes, you can’t control everything,” Ausmus said. “You can’t control when you’re struggling offensively. Guys go into slumps, they get out of whack mechanically and sometimes, it takes some time to get back where they’re swinging the bat well.”
The Tigers don’t have that kind of time.