"A week ago, we couldn't buy a run," manager Brad Ausmus said after Friday's 8-7 loss thwarted their attempt at their first three-game winning streak since early June. "Now we seem to get runs and we can't seem to hold [leads]."
Yoenis Cespedes was originally in Ausmus' starting lineup, but it was pure optimism on his part. He knew team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski was all but certain to trade the slugger, and that they'd have to retool the middle of the lineup with one less run producer.
"I was prepared for it," Ausmus said, "but obviously still, when it happens, it stings a little bit."
It not only changed the firepower of the Tigers' offense, it changed the nature of it. Gone was Cespedes' power, and in went Rajai Davis' speed, leading off and playing left field. Ian Kinsler, who has batted first or second most games, moved to third in the batting order -- Cespedes' old spot -- in front of Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez. Jose Iglesias, who moved to the second spot a couple of days ago and has produced since, is set to stay there.
Davis, like Cespedes, is a free agent at season's end and was on the trading block. Instead of getting traded, however, he's getting playing time. He's expected to split playing time in left and center field as Ausmus tries to play matchups with four outfielders -- Davis, Anthony Gose, J.D. Martinez and just recalled Tyler Collins -- for three spots. Which three are playing will have a major effect on the batting order.
"J.D.'s going to play all the time," Ausmus said of his right fielder, who hit his 28th homer of the season Friday. "The other three will probably be mixed and matched with the other two outfield spots."
The Tigers have a power bat available in top slugging prospect Steven Moya, but Dombrowski said they want him to continue to get regular at-bats at Triple-A Toledo.
With Gose and Davis starting, Victor Martinez scuffling at the plate and Cespedes' power bat gone, the speed game came into play Friday. Davis doubled and scored his first time up as part of three consecutive base hits off O's lefty Wei-Yin Chen. Davis' single in the fourth knocked Chen out of the game, but a pickoff throw gave Mike Wright an inning-ending out to kill a rally with the heart of the Tigers' order looming.
Iglesias had a pair of singles for his second straight multi-hit game, but became a critical out at home plate trying to score on Kinsler's leadoff double in the seventh. Ausmus tried to argue that catcher Matt Wieters blocked the plate on him in violation of the collision rule, but the umpiring crew disagreed.
The top third of the order is building leads in this series, going 17-for-30 with five RBIs over the first two games. The Tigers, in turn, have scored 17 runs.
They've taken the message going around the clubhouse to keep pushing to stay in the race, with Kinsler among the most ardent messengers.
"I think the veterans can be very important on a team like this," Ausmus said, "because not only do you need them to buy into the idea that you still have a chance to win, but you need them to spread that to the younger players who have never been in this situation before. We suddenly have more younger players than we've ever had."
With the non-waiver Trade Deadline passed, the Tigers know what they have. Now they have to make the most of it. Asked if his team is playing angry, Ausmus deadpanned.
"If they are, good," he said. "Make them focus more."