"Today I just thought we were flat," manager Brad Ausmus said after the 4-0 loss to the Mariners. "It was just one of those days where we made quick, easy outs and didn't really put up much of a fight."
He hasn't said that this year, and he meant it more as an observation. It was something he mentioned more than once Sunday. The theories abounded on why it happened.
Between their week-long West Coast trip, their three-city trip before that, and the brief four-game homestand in between, Sunday completed the Tigers' sixth different series in a different city, from Baltimore to Boston, Cleveland to Detroit, then Oakland to here, with one off-day over the three-week stretch.
After an off-day Monday, they'll play 13 of 17 games at home over the next 2 1/2 weeks. By the time Mariners left-hander Roenis Elias worked through the middle of the Tigers lineup in the ninth inning Sunday for his first shutout, they looked like they were ready to board the plane.
"At one point in Cleveland, and the last series at home, it was a little fatigue," Miguel Cabrera said. "We played close games in Oakland. We tried to finish strong here but it was tough. We know we're going to come through. It's tough times right now and we're trying to battle."
Said Ausmus: "You know what, teams are going to be flat, whether it's road weariness or fatigue or the dog days of the season. You're going to have flat days. Sometimes you get through the flat days until something happens in the game that sparks a rally. Today, really, we never got that spark. Yesterday we almost did, but today we didn't."
Whether Saturday's loss had a carryover effect was another question. There was an air of frustration in the Tigers' clubhouse Saturday night over a game they could have taken, and very nearly did. Sometimes that frustration translates into a bounceback the next day. In this case, it might well have lingered.
"We had a tough loss last night. It was very emotional," said left fielder Rajai Davis. "A lot of energy was spent trying to win that game. We weren't able to transfer that over today. It's baseball."
Whatever the reason, it was a day that cost them a chance to take a winning record on their week-long West Coast trip. They battled through most of those games, from a series split in Oakland to two close games in Seattle. Five of the seven games on the trip were decided by two runs or less.
The Tigers still lead the AL Central by 4 1/2 games, a half-game less than three weeks ago. However, Ausmus saw a chance at better.
"It was disappointing," Ausmus said. "You come into here after a split in Oakland and you hope to take the series, maybe win two out of three. We end up losing two out of three and it's a losing trip as opposed to a winning trip. So I'm not real excited about that."
This was a game that felt further than the score, even though it was a better pitching performance from Max Scherzer than he had in the past couple weeks.
Scherzer (6-2) trailed three hitters into his outing thanks to doubles from Endy Chavez and Michael Saunders, and he never had a chance to get back to even. Willie Bloomquist's RBI double in the fifth, followed by James Jones' RBI single, made it a 3-0 game.
"They did a good job of grinding me. They did a good job of hitting some pitches that were up. They capitalized on some offspeed mistakes, pitches that were up in the zone," Scherzer said.
They did not, however, take advantage of walks. Scherzer didn't want to call it a step in the right direction, but like his loss in Cleveland two starts earlier, he wanted to take a positive.
"I tip my cap to them," Scherzer said, "but as frustrating at this start is, you also have to appreciate that I didn't walk anybody. If I don't walk anybody and keep pitching like that, eventually I'm going to get results."
Not until Brad Miller's seventh-inning solo shot, as Scherzer tried to spare Detroit's bullpen another inning of work, did the Mariners escape what would be save-situation territory. Elias never got to the point where he needed a save.
"He came out and pitched well," Davis said. "We didn't get any hits early. He got into a groove."
The Tigers had three singles and no extra-base hits Sunday against the Mariners' rookie southpaw. Nick Castellanos' two-out, second-inning single produced the Tigers' only runner in scoring position, moving Victor Martinez to second base following his leadoff walk.
Martinez was the lone walk of the afternoon for Elias (4-4), whose nine strikeouts fell one off his season high.
"He had a good curveball, a curveball with a down angle," Ausmus said. "It was tough to square up and hit. You're either way out in front or you top it to the left side of the infield as a right-handed hitter. I don't take anything away from him. He pitched well."
Three of the Tigers' four losses on this week-long trip came in games against lefty starters. The Tigers scored one run total in those three games, a Torii Hunter solo homer Wednesday night against A's southpaw Scott Kazmir.
It's an odd twist for a righty-heavy lineup that proved more potent against right-handed starters for the trip. It's not a trend that's likely to carry. Ausmus doesn't expect the flatness to do so, either.
It won't be the last time for it, but it was the biggest.
"Today was the flattest we've been all year for sure," Ausmus said.