ANAHEIM -- The way Justin Verlander pitched Monday usually leads to the sort of triumphant exit from the mound that has fans -- at least the home crowd -- on their feet. It would have been hard to imagine, especially after the Detroit Tigers ace retired the first 12 batters he faced, that Verlander would be forced to watch the end of the eighth inning from the dugout, looking equal parts frustrated, baffled and defeated.
But that’s exactly what happened. The eighth inning crumbled, and the runs piled up, and that left the 33-year-old with the sort of pitching line that was far from representative of his performance: 7 1/3 innings pitched, four hits, four runs -- all earned, remarkably -- and seven strikeouts with 116 pitches.
The Angels' Jhoulys Chacin was a worthy adversary on the mound for Verlander in the Tigers’ 5-1 loss to the Los Angeles Angels. The 28-year-old right-hander, not exactly a world-beater this season, with a 1-3 record and 5.11 ERA heading into the game, looked like one against Detroit. He retired the first 17 batters he faced, gave up only four hits and recorded his first complete game in almost five years.
Even so, what began as a pitching duel deteriorated into an eyesore in the eighth inning, when the Tigers allowed the Angels to tally five runs and their own erratic offense came up conspicuously short.
“When you have a pitcher that goes out and pitches like he did, it’s frustrating when, as an offense, you can’t muster anything,” catcher James McCann said.
It was the Tigers' third straight loss and another exercise in futility at Angel Stadium, where the Angels have beaten Detroit in eight straight and 14 of the past 15. For Verlander, it was another terrific start in a stellar stretch that was for naught.
“I don’t know, man,” Verlander said. “Obviously, you want to do all you can to help your team win. So I’m just doing everything I possibly can. If we don’t win, yeah, I’m frustrated.”
The Angels opened a 1-0 lead on a rapid-fire sequence of events in the eighth that began with Andrew Romine's superb diving dig of Gregorio Petit's ball to short, featured McCann’s first career error and ended with a pair of insurance runs and Verlander heading toward the dugout. By the time reliever Buck Farmer recorded the final two outs of the inning, it was 5-0.
“Obviously, hindsight’s 20-20. I didn’t make a good throw, but if I did make a good throw, that’s an out, and then we get out of the inning, and all the sudden it’s a two-, three-run deficit instead of a five-run deficit,” McCann said.
If the eighth inning was the colorful culprit of Monday night’s game, the sluggish offense was the more understated scourge -- and the more troubling element -- of the latest defeat. When the Tigers are rolling, their lineup seems powerful, potent and flush with confidence. When things are going awry, as they have done the past two games, the same lineup looks listless and unthreatening.
“When we don’t do anything offensively, it seems like a lineup epidemic. And when we do hit, it seems like everyone pitches in,” Ausmus said. “Tonight was one of those epidemic nights.”
On Sunday, against Oakland’s Rich Hill, the top of the order failed to produce a single hit in a loss that saw Mike Pelfrey’s solid start go to waste. On Monday, it was the middle of the lineup that faltered.
The offensive struggles of Justin Upton, Jose Iglesias and McCann have been particularly pronounced as of late, though the likes of J.D. Martinez and Miguel Cabrera went through tough stretches earlier in the season.
Balanced production feels fleeting for the Tigers and is a big part of why a team ripe with talent and veteran experience sits two games under .500 at 24-26.
Call it streaky or inconsistent -- or, as Verlander pointed out, “just a couple well-pitched games” -- but it’s an aggravating theme that the Tigers can’t quite seem to explain.
“I can’t really give you a reason,” Ausmus said. “It’s just the way things are happening.”