DETROIT -- Players are frustrated. Fans are restless. And the losing continues as the Detroit Tigers dropped their third straight Friday night, falling 8-1 to the Cleveland Indians in their first game back at Comerica Park since an abysmal six-game road trip in which the team got manhandled.
It’s been a torturous stretch for everyone involved, and that includes general manager Al Avila.
What has it been like to watch his team flounder in recent weeks?
“Horrible,” Avila told ESPN.com. “It has not been fun to watch at all.”
Avila has had to witness a once-promising pitching staff -- boasting the likes of ace Justin Verlander, work horse David Price and veteran Anibal Sanchez -- whittle away into a group decimated by injuries, lacking in experience and prone to buckling.
With the team struggling as the trade deadline approached, the Tigers had to be realistic, dealing Price to the Toronto Blue Jays. But even the prospect that deal yielded -- promising left-hander Daniel Norris -- is on the disabled list, along with Sanchez, with both pitchers not guaranteed to pitch again this season.
The Tigers have surrendered 69 runs in the past seven games; they have been outscored by 48 runs during that span. And for the third consecutive night, the team’s starter could not get through the fifth inning.
It’s a glaring problem that Avila did not shy away from acknowledging. In fact, he was emphatic about the need for improvements -- not just this offseason, but now. He wants fans to know there’s no complacency, no temptation to just ride the rest of the season out.
“Right now, [starting pitching is] a weak spot for us, and even last year, it was a weak spot for us,” Avila said. “We have to try to get better before the season’s over.”
And after that? Well, the newly promoted general manager, who ascended to the position after the dismissal of Dave Dombrowski, can expect to have a busy offseason as he pursues help for both the starting rotation and the bullpen, which has also proven unreliable.
“It’s obviously an area of serious importance for us,” Avila said, adding that revamping the pitching staff is probably the top priority heading into 2016.
Until then, it is manager Brad Ausmus -- whose future is a source of rampant speculation -- who is often left answering the same questions night in and night out. And almost all of them come back to pitching. What can he even say at this point?
“Well, Price gets traded and he’s a horse that generally goes deep into games [and] saves your bullpen. [Sanchez] goes down, and he was one of the guys we were counting on. Basically, we’re replacing these guys with rookies,” Ausmus said. “And then Norris, the No. 1 guy in the deal for Price, goes down; we no longer have that horse going deep into games, the bullpen’s being used more often -- luckily now in September we call guys up. It’s just kind of snowballed.”
The snowballing continued Friday night when recently recalled Kyle Lobstein faltered in the third inning, surrendering a two-run homer to Jerry Sands, and ran into more trouble in the fifth, when he loaded the bases before being replaced by reliever Drew VerHagen. It was 6-0 by the time the inning was over.
The 26-year-old lefty, who made his first start since returning from the disabled list with a sore shoulder, struggled with his command and couldn’t get ahead of batters in the count.
“Not very good,” Lobstein said of his performance. “I just fell behind too many hitters and gave them too many pitches to hit behind the count. It makes it a lot easier for hitters that way.”
Lobstein is not alone in battling through a tough start. Just one night prior, Matt Boyd’s night ended after only one inning of work. The night before that, veteran Randy Wolf gave up eight runs in 3⅔ innings.
The Tigers have lost 12 of their past 14 games. Verlander pitched the other two.
Detroit is ranked 28th in the majors and last in the American League with a 4.77 ERA.
Asked if he ever would have imagined, back in March, that the Tigers would be where they are now, a stone-faced Lobstein replied: “Not at all.”
No one would have predicted this.
“We’re not where we expected to be and we’re not where we want to be, and so nobody’s happy about that,” catcher Bryan Holaday said. “It’s definitely tough mentally, for everyone.”