DETROIT — The Tigers have one of the best lineups in the American League, and a starting rotation that would rival the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s.
If the playoffs started Saturday, though, Detroit would be home watching on television.
After a 7-2 loss Friday night to the surging Mariners, the Tigers have not only lost what once looked like a comfortable lead in the AL Central, they now trail Seattle for the second wild-card spot.
“Obviously, we’d rather be in first place by 15 games, but we’re not,” rookie manager Brad Ausmus said. “There’s nothing we can do about what we’ve done up until now. You just go out tomorrow and try to start winning games again.”
The Tigers are 1 1/2 games behind first-place Kansas City in a race they led by seven games on July 24.
“No one in this clubhouse is going to panic,” reliever Ian Krol said. “We’ve got eight or nine games left with Kansas City, so we just have to take care of our business.”
In the other clubhouse, manager Lloyd McClendon wasn’t going to gloat about passing Detroit and its new skipper. McClendon had hoped to get that job when Jim Leyland retired after winning three straight AL Central titles, but Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski picked Ausmus.
McClendon ended up managing the Mariners instead, but downplayed his return to Comerica Park on Friday night.
“This was the first win of the series,” he said. “Other than that, no, it was no more significant than another game.”
James Paxton (3-0) was the star for Seattle, pitching six innings and allowing one run on five hits. Robinson Cano homered, and he and Logan Morrison each scored twice as Seattle won its fifth straight and ninth in 11 games.
“That kid has a really nice downward angle on his fastball, and you end up hitting a lot of grounders and choppers off him,” Ausmus said. “We actually hit some balls hard, but it seemed like they all went to the shortstop (Chris Taylor), and he just kept making play after play.”
Rick Porcello (13-8) struggled badly in his first appearance since pitching the final three innings of Detroit’s 19-inning loss in Toronto on Sunday.
After a five-start stretch in which he had a 1.75 ERA, the 25-year-old righty gave up six runs — five earned — and 10 hits in six innings. He didn’t walk a batter, but struck out only three.
“The game in Toronto had nothing to do with what happened tonight,” Porcello said. “I had plenty of time to get ready for this start, and I prepared just like I always do. I just didn’t pitch well.”
Seattle jumped out to a quick three-run lead in the second.
Following a leadoff single and a hit batter, Morrison and Endy Chavez each hit an RBI single. Taylor bunted for a single, loading the bases with none out, but ex-Tiger Austin Jackson grounded into a double play, helping Porcello to escape only down 3-0.
An inning earlier, Jackson received a long standing ovation when he led off his first game at Comerica Park since the trade-deadline deal that sent him to Seattle and brought ace pitcher David Price to the Tigers.
“That was a special moment for me,” said Jackson, a fan favorite in Detroit for his defense in center field. “Once the game started, it was business as usual, but that was fun.”
Cano made it 4-0 with a long homer on the first pitch of the third. After the Tigers got on the board in the bottom half, Taylor restored the four-run lead with an RBI single in the fourth, and Detroit never threatened again.
“The run in the fourth was the one that really frustrated me, because we were still within 4-1, and with this offense, that’s manageable,” Porcello said. “Our guys were battling out there, and I couldn’t keep them in the game.”
The Tigers gave away Miguel Cabrera bobbleheads that depict him holding his two MVP trophies. The only problem? The trophies say “Most Valuable Player, National League", which would be news to Buster Posey and Andrew McCutchen, who won the 2012 and 2013 NL MVP awards, respectively, while Cabrera was winning in the AL.
The Tigers and Mariners square off again Saturday night with a marquee pitching matchup. Price (11-8) will make his third start for Detroit, and Seattle counters with Felix Hernandez (12-3).
Hernandez, who made his major league debut at Comerica Park, is 9-0 in his last 11 starts against the Tigers, but will be facing Price for the first time.
Mariners: With the big lead, Cano left in the eighth inning, partially as a precaution after fouling a pitch off his foot early in the game. He isn’t expected to miss any time. ... OF Michael Saunders (oblique) resumed his rehab stint with Triple-A Tacoma after missing time for the birth of his child. In five games with Tacoma, he was hitting .353 with a .542 on-base percentage.
Tigers: RHP Justin Verlander (shoulder) isn’t scheduled to pick up a baseball until Tuesday, when he will try some short tossing. Ausmus said Verlander’s schedule will be based entirely on how he feels then, but the hope is still that he will start next Friday in Minnesota.
Tigers reliever Melvin Mercedes made his major league debut with two perfect innings, needing just 23 pitches. He became the 11th player to make his debut with the Tigers this season.