DETROIT -- Justin Verlander could have whined about the lack of run support in the team's 4-0 loss to the Cleveland Indians on Sunday. After all, it has been a troubling trend for the Detroit Tigers ace in all but two of his past 10 starts.
He was in no mood, however, to place blame on his teammates after they surrendered their 13th loss in the past 16 games.
But that doesn't mean there is not some palpable disappointment about the team's state of affairs, considering the Tigers are poised to miss the postseason for the first time since 2010 after winning the American League Central four straight years.
Between injuries and trades, it seems to be harder and harder for the team to avoid wondering what might have been if things had worked out differently.
Verlander began the season on the disabled list with a triceps injury. Slugger Miguel Cabrera was sidelined for five weeks with a calf injury in July. Victor Martinez had a DL stint with knee inflammation in May. And after an underwhelming first half, the Tigers traded away starting pitcher David Price, reliever Joakim Soria and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes at the deadline.
"We had a lot of our key pieces that were missing, and quite honestly, we've missed them all year, whether it's been injuries early on or trades after the second half," said Verlander, who was saddled with the loss Sunday despite making his sixth straight quality start. "It's kind of disappointing that we never had a chance to play as the team that was constructed, but that's the game of baseball. It happens sometimes."
That said, Verlander, who allowed three runs in seven innings Sunday, said he is confident the team will be aggressive in improving the roster heading into 2016.
"I've always had faith in Mr. I," Verlander said of team owner Mike Ilitch. "I don't think he's ever let this city down since I've been here. I don't know much about before, but he's put a championship-caliber team on the field each year since I've been here, and it's just a matter of us to do it."
With four weeks remaining in the regular season and the team 12 games under .500 (62-74) and 10 games back from the second AL wild-card spot, the Tigers' leadership is doing its best not to succumb to frustration or, worse, resignation.
That is not the example the leaders want to set, especially for the young players in the clubhouse.
"If we're moaning and bitching and complaining -- 'woe is me' -- these guys would pick up on that, but these guys, it's not going to happen that way," Verlander said. "We don't act that way in this clubhouse."
And if anyone started to act that way? Verlander said there would be no shortage of players to step up.
"That's the beauty of this clubhouse," Verlander said. "Old guys, young guys, doesn't matter. We pick each other up."
Before the game, manager Brad Ausmus was asked if he felt the team's chemistry was intact and if there was any leadership void to address. Ausmus said he believes there is still ample leadership -- guys like Ian Kinsler, Alex Avila, Cabrera -- though he admitted that the absence of Torii Hunter, who rejoined the Minnesota Twins in the offseason, was noteworthy.
"It's hard to quantify it. I think Torii was huge last year in the clubhouse. I think we do miss it somewhat," Ausmus said.
It would be a large leap to chalk up the team's losing record to the loss of one guy, especially with how weak the Tigers' pitching has been, but leadership is vital to any manager. Ausmus could end up needing that now more than ever.
Already this has been a season of upheaval, with Dave Dombrowski dismissed as general manager after the trade deadline. Many will wonder if Ausmus could be the next casualty of a season that has fallen drastically short of expectations.
Verlander was asked how he felt about that possibility.
"That's not in our realm of control," he said. "No offense to you guys, but whatever you write and say is outside noise. This clubhouse, we focus on ourselves and what's going on. You can't let that stuff get to you."