This was the last race that the Tigers expected to be in when the season began. But as the season closes, the Tigers find themselves in a race to avoid last place. With Monday's 6-2 loss to the Royals, the gap is down to a game in the American League Central. Both Kansas City and Detroit have 71 wins, but the Royals have two extra losses.
Fourth place isn't exactly a consolation for the Tigers, who are trying to evaluate players as they begin to look ahead towards retooling for 2009. That said, they aren't going to adhere to the catch phrase made famous by Will Ferrell: "If you're not first, you're last."
Barely a week after the Tigers were eliminated from contention for first place in the division, last place is becoming a little too close for comfort.
"It's frustrating," Miner said, "but it's one of those things where if anybody knew why or how to fix it, we wouldn't have let it happen in the first place. Obviously, it has reasons. Guys have not played up to their expectations at times, and you can probably name 10 different things why we're in the position we are. But it does us no good to complain about it or second-guess it. You have to try to finish the season up strong, put your best foot forward and hope that next year, whatever the problem was, we correct it."
While the Royals have won nine of their last 11 games, Monday provided a glimpse to some of what has gone awry lately for the Tigers en route to 10 losses in their last 11 games. Much of the trouble took place after Miner, though he left with a deficit against a team he had dominated all summer.
Miner had pretty much no problems against the Royals since joining the rotation two months ago. Not only had he beaten Kansas City three times in as many meetings, he had allowed a lone run over 19 innings in the process. He saw a more aggressive approach from the Royals on Monday, including a more characteristic outing from longtime Tiger killer David DeJesus.
DeJesus entered the night with a .338 career average at Comerica Park and .312 against the Tigers in general, but he was just .186 (8-for-43) off Detroit pitching this year. His leadoff triple and score not only put the Royals in front for good two batters into the game, it set the tone for a 4-for-4, two-run performance that fell a home run shy of the cycle.
Two of those hits came off of Miner (8-5), who suffered his first loss since Aug. 1. The two that came after he left proved particularly painful for the Tigers bullpen, which has struggled for much of the last couple weeks as manager Jim Leyland looks for combinations.
"We couldn't milk a couple big outs out of the bullpen," Leyland said. "We just couldn't get it."
Royals starter Gil Meche (13-11) allowed just one hit over his first five innings on his way to improving to 5-1 lifetime at Comerica Park, but a two-run rally in the sixth -- including a two-out RBI single for rookie Jeff Larish -- put the potential tying run on third before Meche struck out Matt Joyce to end the threat. With the deficit down to a run, Miner walked Royals ninth hitter Alberto Callaspo to lead off the seventh and put a runner on for DeJesus.
Lefty Clay Rapada entered to face the left-handed hitter, but DeJesus poked a line drive inside the left-field foul line for a double that put runners on second and third with nobody out. Gary Glover got a called third strike on Mike Aviles for the first out, then the Tigers intentionally walked the dangerous Jose Guillen in favor of Ryan Shealy.
Glover had Shealy in a 2-2 count, but couldn't find a corner on back-to-back pitches, walking in Callaspo. Brandon Inge's lunging grab of Mark Teahen's line drive started an inning-ending double play, but consecutive hits off Bobby Seay led off a two-run eighth -- one run on a wild pitch, the other on a two-out, broken-bat bloop single by DeJesus.
With that, the Tigers' ERA over the last 30 days grew to 6.16, highest in the Majors. Detroit's bullpen hasn't had a scoreless game as a unit since Sept. 10.
"You try to get situations for guys to see how they respond to them," Leyland said. "I don't really quite understand it. I don't know if they're too tense or what it is. It's hard to figure out. And it seems even sometimes when they don't hit one good, it's a hit. But you can see equipment that you need to use for certain type of hitters, whether you're right- or left-handed, and some of our guys aren't showing that."
The Tigers, meanwhile, have somehow found a tight situation in the standings.
"I try to win ballgames each day I come here, so I don't really get into that as much as everybody else does," Leyland said, "[But] I don't believe that third's not better than fourth. I don't believe that second's not better than third. I can tell you that."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.