The slump began with poor starting pitching over two weeks ago in Cleveland. The bullpen and the bats have also gone cold at times over the stretch.
Thursday, it was a dropped routine fly ball that helped do the Tigers in. Even the fundamentals aren't coming easy right now.
Toronto's first big inning, a three-run fourth, began inauspiciously for Detroit when center fielder Austin Jackson and right fielder Torii Hunter miscommunicated on a fly ball to right-center. Hunter looked up at Jackson, thinking he had it, only to see Jackson returning his stare.
"That's my bad. If I catch that ball, [starter Justin Verlander] wouldn't have those extra pitches, and they probably wouldn't score those three runs there," Hunter said. "I take full responsibility."
The ball hit Hunter's glove and fell to the ground, giving the Blue Jays' Jose Bautista two free bases.
"It changes the inning, because you have the leadoff hitter on second instead of one out and nobody on," Ausmus said. "It changes the complexion of the inning."
Verlander loaded the bases by allowing a single to Adam Lind and a walk to Brett Lawrie. Consecutive singles by Dioner Navarro and Erik Kratz scored three, and the 2-0 lead the Tigers built the previous inning vanished.
Toronto's knockout blow, however, came on a first-pitch changeup from Verlander that Juan Francisco crushed into the right-field seats. Lawrie immediately followed with a solo shot to left.
Verlander pitched efficiently early and seemed to be building on momentum from his most recent start in Seattle. After the rocky fourth inning, he even responded with a 10-pitch fifth.
"I wouldn't get too focused on the runs today," Ausmus said. "His stuff was outstanding, really."
Pitching for the second time since making a mechanical adjustment with pitching coach Jeff Jones, Verlander continued to amplify his fastball velocity. His heater topped out at 97 mph Thursday, and it touched 98 in Seattle.
After the game, Verlander hinted that he believes he has turned a corner, "though the results don't speak to that today at all."
Verlander lasted seven innings, allowing five earned runs and four walks, which tied a season high. He hadn't allowed more than one home run in a start since Aug. 11, 2013, and he had allowed only four this season entering Thursday's game.
Verlander did hang a couple of offspeed pitches, such as the changeup Francisco crushed over the right-field wall, but he noted the mechanical adjustment has had positive effects.
"If you look back at my stuff my last two starts, I'm obviously pleased with what I've been working on. I just need to hone it in," Verlander said.
But asking the Tigers' offense, which has struggled of late, to come back a second time proved to be too much. Detroit grounded into four double plays Thursday.
In the third inning, Ian Kinsler blooped one to the left-field foul line that he stretched into a triple, scoring Nick Castellanos. It marked the first RBI base hit, excluding home runs, for Detroit in a week.
Ausmus said after the game he felt Kinsler's extra-base hit could've been the spark that snapped the Tigers out of their recent woes. Hunter followed it with a sacrifice fly to center.
The Tigers tied the game in the fifth inning off Toronto starter J.A. Happ, leading off the frame with back-to-back singles by Alex Avila and Castellanos. Kinsler notched his second RBI of the day on a groundout to third that scored Avila.
But the Blue Jays, who lead baseball in home runs, broke the game open in the sixth with the back-to-back shots.
"They've been hot as of late. But they also caught us cold," Ausmus said. "If we're hot and they're hot, I'll take us."
Detroit's skid is now at a season-high five games. Its lead in the American League Central, once at seven, has dwindled to 2 1/2 games over the White Sox. The Tigers' 31-25 record mirrors the one they posted through 56 games last season, but not once in 2013 did Detroit drop five straight.
"Big picture, it's still a good baseball team," Ausmus said. "It's just not playing good baseball right now.
"We need to snap out of it."