The Detroit Tigers had enough trouble this week with one of the worst pitching staffs in the majors. Now they must face one of the best, opening a four-game series on Friday against the Oakland Athletics.
Detroit (63-51) is second in the majors with 642 runs scored, but has averaged just 3.6 runs over its last nine games and has lost seven of them. Since climbing a season-best 21 games over .500 on July 19, the Tigers have gone 6-15 to fall behind Cleveland for the AL Central lead.
They are coming off a four-game split against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who have baseball’s worst record and whose pitching staff has a major league-worst 5.84 ERA.
After seemingly getting back on track by totaling 15 runs in two wins to open that series, Detroit dropped the final two contests against the Devil Rays and scored only one run in each.
“The little extra spark we had last year is not here,” manager Jim Leyland said after Thursday’s 8-1 defeat. “We better find it. … We’re playing like it doesn’t mean enough to us.”
Among the slumping Tigers are Ivan Rodriguez, who is 7-for-40 (.175) in his last 10 games, and Gary Sheffield, who has failed to homer in 13 straight games and is batting .185 (12-for-65) since July 15.
Leyland’s club now faces an Oakland pitching staff which is third in the majors with a 3.86 ERA. Detroit was held to 10 runs and no homers in its three-game series at Oakland from July 30-Aug. 1, and the Athletics (55-60) won two of those games.
The one game the Tigers did win, however, came in the series opener against Joe Blanton (9-8, 3.71 ERA), who starts for Oakland on Friday. Blanton gave up five runs and nine hits in 6 2-3 innings of that 5-2 defeat, falling to 2-2 with a 7.83 ERA in four career starts versus Detroit.
Blanton won his most recent outing after a five-start stretch during which he went 0-4 with a 6.75 ERA. The right-hander allowed one run and eight hits in seven innings on Saturday in a 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels.
“Blanton pitched unbelievably and it was nice for him to win,” teammate Travis Buck said. “He looks like his normal self again.”
As was the case in his last start against the Tigers, Blanton will be opposed by Jordan Tata (1-1, 3.75).
Tata made his first major league start against the Athletics in that July 30 start and got the win, allowing two runs and six hits in seven innings. The 25-year-old right-hander followed that outing by giving up three runs, five hits and four walks in five innings on Sunday in a 3-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox.
Oakland has won six of nine, including two of three against the Texas Rangers this week. The Athletics closed the series Wednesday with a 6-3 win.
Catcher Rob Bowen homered from both sides of the plate for his first career multihomer game in just his fifth start for Oakland, his third team this season.
“It feels good to get out there,” Bowen said. “It’s been tough moving around. I’ve gotten into a routine and I’m beginning to feel comfortable.”
This is Oakland’s first visit to Detroit since losing Game 4 of last year’s AL division series as the Tigers completed a sweep.