'Strange' September feeling as Tigers shut out again

DETROIT -- Veteran catcher Alex Avila admitted Wednesday’s game -- an 8-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays -- had a different feel. And not just because of another inexplicable shutout defeat for the second-ranked offensive team in the major leagues.

The Detroit Tigers are used to perennially playing meaningful baseball in September.

They aren't this season.

“Yeah, it’s completely strange,” Avila said. “Obviously, not used to that at all. I kind of mentioned it to Brad on the mound as [Jose] Valdez was coming in. You know games like this, normally I wouldn’t be back there catching four straight rookies at this time of year.”

Wednesday night’s blanking left Detroit 11 games under .500 (64-75), 10 games back from the second wild card spot in the American League standings and with just four more wins than the AL bottom-dwelling Oakland Athletics.

Other teams have had more precipitous falls. Whereas the offseason darling NL Washington Nationals are imploding in spectacular fashion, one gut-wrenching meltdown after another, the Tigers’ decline has been much more subdued and civil.

Sure the lack of offense at key times -- the culprit Wednesday night -- has been downright mind-boggling but, by and large, it’s pretty easy to see the club’s litany of injuries and pitching woes and simply shrug in understanding.

It’s not the sort of glaring, conspicuous mistakes that draw a livid fan base's ire that has done the team in -- Matt Williams can tell you enough about that -- or a lack of effort. But the Tigers are poised for one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory, regardless.

The team’s underwhelming first-half performance prompted trade deadline moves that sent starting pitcher David Price, reliever Joakim Soria and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes elsewhere, with the latter performing so well for the scorching New York Mets that he has garnered some National League MVP chatter.

But there’s little point to even play the "what if?" game now.

“No, I haven’t even thought about that. That’s something that’s completely out of our control, so there is no sense in even wasting time over it,” Avila said.

Instead, there are the issues of here and now, notably that the Tigers suffered from another inconsistent pitching performance and are poised to hit the road with a bullpen heavily taxed over the past two days.

Kyle Lobstein, looking for a rebound outing, allowed five runs on seven hits in 5⅔ innings of work, Buck Farmer left the game in the seventh inning with right forearm tightness after giving up a home run to J.P. Arencibia. The Tigers went to Jeff Ferrell and Valdez before the night was over and, in doing so, managed to use all active relievers within a span of the past two games.

The pitching staff getting roughed up didn’t do the Tigers’ bats any favors. The team was shutout for the second time in four days, pretty noteworthy considering the offensive firepower the club possesses.

“It’s tough to explain,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “I think tonight a lot of it had to do with the fact that our defense -- who are obviously also our lineup -- were standing out there for 20 minutes at a time, as we’re trying to get through innings, so that doesn’t really help.”

The remainder of the season is now fertile ground for young players to make an impression and for anyone struggling or injured to try to get back on track before heading into the offseason.

Daniel Norris (oblique) and Anibal Sanchez (rotator cuff) are slated to pitch a simulated game on Saturday in Cleveland, with both players hoping to pitch again this season. Lobstein, who was strong in his first time through the Rays’ order but ran into trouble in the fourth inning, wants to try to build on some positives from Wednesday night and fine-tune other aspects of his game that need work.

The team’s top-rated prospect, Steven Moya, will continue to adjust to the big-league level. On Wednesday, the young outfielder misplayed what should have been a routine flyball that instead resulted in a double.

This is September baseball now for the Tigers, unlike what it has been in years past.

“It’s just a different feeling,” Avila said. “Obviously, this was the situation that we put ourselves in.”