The Tampa Bay Rays stole game three of a four-game series on Saturday night with a 3-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers. The game was scoreless heading into the fifth inning until Daniel Robertson hit an RBI single giving the Rays a one run advantage.
The Tigers crawled back in the bottom of the fifth with an RBI double from Ian Kinsler followed by a Miguel Cabrera solo home run in the sixth inning. But this lead was short-lived following another Robertson RBI on an infield single in the seventh, who then came around to score with a Mallex Smith single to right.
Down 3-2, the Tigers had a chance to come back in the bottom of the ninth tailing a Mikie Mahtook infield single and Jose Iglesias sacrifice bunt, where he was called out at first upon further review. But the game was already over.
Of course, the game wasn’t officially over. The Tigers still had a man on second with one out. But the game was essentially over because of how poorly the Tigers handle these situations. While some teams are at their best in clutch moments, the Tigers are at their worst.
The Tigers are an all-or-nothing team. They rarely get soft contact hits, they almost never employ sacrifices and they certainly do not steal many bases. They hit, and they do it in grand fashion. The ball either soars over the infield’s heads, or dives into the catcher’s glove. There is no in-between.
Perhaps this is one reason why the Tigers have the ninth most men left on base in the MLB. Perhaps it is also the reason why the Tigers failed to mount the ninth inning comeback against the Rays.
With Mahtook on second, Kinsler entered the batter’s box with Alex Avila on deck. This was one of the best one-two punches the Tigers could have asked for; Kinsler is batting .293 in the month of June while Avila has been one of Detroit’s hottest hitters all year.
Yet they both completely and utterly flopped. Kinsler swung at the very first pitch and aimed for the seats. But he missed. The ball just sailed lazily to shallow left field for out No. 2.
Avila ran the count to 3-2 with Mahtook on third following a wild pitch. A base hit would have tied the game. But on the full count, the ball skipped right at shortstop Tim Beckham for a groundout. Avila hit the ball hard, but directly into the shift.
It is unreasonable to expect the Tigers to always make late-game comebacks. A Cabrera walk-off, which occurred in the first game of the series, will not happen everyday.
However, the Tigers cannot afford give away at bats in critical situations. The Tigers had a runner in scoring position with one out. Kinsler, who already had an RBI on the day, could have had a successful at bat by simply advancing the runner. But instead he went for it all and popped out trying.
Avila could have hit a soft tapper down the wide-open third baseline. Instead, he hit the ball in the exact spot the Rays were expecting. In spite of a horrible defensive performance by Tampa Bay who constantly handed Detroit chances, two runs were all the Tigers could muster.
Saturday’s game was no anomaly either. All year, the Tigers have struggled taking advantages of opportunities. Getting base runners has never been an issue. But it seems that once men are on, the Tigers go for it all, only to strike out or hit into a double play.
The problem is not Kinsler, nor is it Avila. The problem is that the Tigers are experts at blowing opportunities. They jump in the batter’s box, get behind early and do nothing but favors for the pitcher.
Tigers’ pitching will rarely win games. Even if it did, it would hardly matter since the Tigers’ hitting often acts inversely with their pitching. The only way the Tigers can compete for a playoff spot is by out-slugging opponents.
Sometimes the Tigers are able to do this. They will go through occasional stretches where their hitting is off the charts, making them unbeatable.
But these stretches will never last forever. Staying competitive means taking advantage of opportunities, not giving them away. If the Tigers cannot learn to do this, their playoff hopes will go down the drain along with their veteran roster very soon.