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Senior Baseball Columnist

Tigers' offense needs to snap out of funk before it's too late

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After Monday's loss, the Tigers now have scored just 17 runs over their past seven games. (US Presswire)  
After Monday's loss, the Tigers now have scored just 17 runs over their past seven games. (US Presswire)  

CHICAGO --Trouble has been chasing the Tigers for days now. It threatened them with Cleveland in town last week. Chased them all the way to the West Coast in a lost series against the Angels over the weekend.

But it wasn't until Monday night in the opener of a showdown series with the White Sox that it finally cornered them.

In what has all the appearances of their last stand, the slumbering Tigers offense never woke up.

In what has all the earmarks of a busted snooze button, Tigers’ hitters aren't hearing the alarm.

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Including Monday's 6-1 loss, the Tigers now have scored only 17 runs during their past seven games. The numbers are adding up, the trouble now threatening to suffocate them.

Jim Leyland's crew now trails the White Sox by three games with 22 to play. It is not what they want, but with three more games here this week, they can still do something about it. Winter, however, is fast approaching.

"We would have liked to have gotten this one on the board," Leyland said. "So we've got to come out and win the game tomorrow.

"There are no secrets to it."

Neither the Tigers nor the White Sox have been playing particularly well. Detroit had lost five of six and eight of 12 coming into this series, Chicago had dropped two of three and nine of 13.

Which is why the final meeting of the season between the Tigers and Sox comes with such urgency. At this point, only one of these teams will play in October. And it ain't the team that finishes second. The wild card, that was August's dream. September reality is boxing out the AL Central.

The Tigers had clocked the Sox in seven consecutive games, finally catching Chicago in the last game in Detroit on Sept. 2, moving into a tie for first.

They've lost six of seven since, including four straight to start this 10-game, three-city trip.

Rookie White Sox manager Robin Ventura talked afterward about how Monday's win eased some of the pressure on his club, and he's right, and funny how that works, isn't it? Seven losses in a row to Detroit, and now, with just one win, things are looking pretty darn good on the South Side.

"After the way things have gone against these guys, to win this first game is huge," catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "Not that there was a doubt on our team, but to show people we can win against these guys."

Pierzynski called Alex Rios' three-run jack in the sixth inning against Rick Porcello "gigantic", and man, was it ever.

The Sox to that point were 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position and trailing 1-0.

And, it was no secret what Porcello and his mates had to do. Leyland spoke extensively before the game about keeping the ball in the park against a White Sox club that thrives on the home run, especially at U.S. Cellular Field.

"It's pretty simple, but it's hard to execute," Leyland said. "You've gotta keep them in the ballpark. They hit it out of the park. It's what they do."

No other team in baseball has five players with 20 or more home runs. When Porcello left a slider up to Rios, it quickly turned into the rebounding right fielder's 23rd of the season. When Pierzynski followed by crushing another homer against Porcello, it was his career-high 26th. Adam Dunn, who is out with an oblique strain, has 38, Paul Konerko 22 and Dayan Viciedo 20.

The Sox are 66-34 this season when they homer.

As Leyland said, it's pretty simple. The White Sox feast on meatballs.

Which is how everyone expected a Tigers team with thumpers Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder to play.

These Tigers were built for brawn, not finesse. When they don't hit, as they haven't lately, they can look awfully bad. They were especially sloppy in committing three errors in the series opener here. But the problem wasn't the three errors. It was the one run.

Five Tigers reached base in the first two innings, and Dylan Axelrod was warming in the bullpen by the second. Sox starter Jose Quintana had won only one of his past nine starts and had been hammered for a 12.66 ERA during his past three starts.

Yet the Tigers still couldn't touch him. Axelrod sat down. Quintana left to a roaring standing ovation with two out in the eighth.

"The lack of runs has been going on for awhile, going back to Kansas City," Leyland said, referring to a series at the end of August. "It's not criticism at all, but it's a fact. We're scoring one run, two runs a game. That's not being mad at anybody, it just means you're not hitting too good.

"That's the only way you can sum it up. It's puzzling. I don't really know if guys are trying too hard in their at-bats, trying to do too much. The fact is, our run production has not been too good. It's gone on throughout the year.

"I believe we will hit. I've believed it all year. I believe we still will."

The pitching matchups favor the Tigers in at least two of the three remaining games this week -- Max Scherzer against Gavin Floyd on Wednesday, and Justin Verlander against Chris Sale on Thursday -- and Tuesday night's Doug Fister-Jake Peavy hookup could go Detroit's way, too.

But none of that holds true if the Tigers don't score.

They still have time to save their season. But they've got to start making up ground now, or this race is finished.

As Rios, Chicago's home run hero, said, "Every win from now on, it's very important."

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