May 9, 2016
Tigers’ Ausmus knows he has a target
on his back, and it’s time to take aim
By KEITH GAVE
So Tigers manager Brad Ausmus concedes he’s probably in the “cross hairs” of the front office and the ownership family after another weekend of being swept at home by a mediocre opponent.
If that’s the case, and we can only hope it is, I can’t help but ask: What has taken them so long?
Frankly, why did the Tigers hire an inexperienced manager in the first place for a veteran team that had been on the cusp of winning a World Series? His on-the-job training has been a disaster, taking this team from first to worst in the Central Division, and 30 games into the season they’re already closer to last-place Minnesota than they are to first-place Chicago.
In more than 35 years writing about professional and major college sports, I’ve never written a “fire the coach” column. Until now.
While that’s a staple, go-to essay in the limited arsenal of too many sports columnists, I’ve always had a tendency to blame the players for the kinds of pathetic failures we’re seeing from this Detroit ball club. And the players deserve it now, too.
After all, Brad Ausmus didn’t go nine at-bats over two games without putting the ball in play like Justin Upton did over the weekend. And let’s face it, folks, this guy has been a complete and utter bust a month into his six-year, $132.75 million contract.
Brad Ausmus didn’t strike out 33 times in 81 at-bats like Anthony Gose did.
Brad Ausmus didn’t give up a two-out grand-slam home run to a weak-hitting journeyman catcher the Tigers discarded last week, Mark Lowe did.
You get the point. Ausmus didn’t give up five home runs in a 10-5 loss Saturday, his woefully inconsistent pitching staff did.
As Ausmus pointed out after the demoralizing Mother’s Day loss Sunday, it always seems to be something with this team. One day it might be the hitting; this so-called devastating batting order has already been shut out three times this season. Other days it’s been the starting pitching, the Achilles heel of the season so far.
Lately, it’s been the bullpen. Pretty consistent since Opening Day with a 2.56 ERA heading into the weekend, relievers couldn’t hold a 2-0 lead Sunday after seven dominant innings from Justin Verlander.
Nevertheless, it’s the manager’s job – with the help of his many assistants – to put all the pieces together and win. And this team has some seriously good pieces. Nick Castellanos leads the majors in hitting with a .375 average. Jordan Zimmerman was the American League’s Pitcher of the Month after going 5-0 in April. Miguel Cabrera and Verlander are former MVPs. Former All-Stars Ian Kinsler and Victor Martinez are both hitting above .300.
And yet fans came to Comerica Park a few weeks ago and watched a very bad Minnesota team sweep their team. Over the weekend, it was the Texas Rangers, barely above .500 when they came to town, who swept the Tigers.
It’s hard to watch, especially – as some astute fans have pointed out – when a guy like Cabrera looks listless and disinterested much of the time. That alone should worry the upper management of the organization.
So what’s wrong? Some insiders point to a decided lack of leadership in the clubhouse since Tori Hunter left town a few years ago. Victor Martinez, typically a quieter guy, has tried. He stood up for the second time in as many weeks saying the players need to shoulder blame and play better. To be precise, “We were horse (bleep),” he said.
In the absence of strong leaders on the field, players tend to look to their manager for inspiration. Jim Leyland provided it in spades. He commanded the respect of his players. He demanded accountability of all of them, including his stars. Cabrera, especially, seems to need that from his boss, and Ausmus hasn’t shown any inclination to provide it.
An accomplished catcher whose reputation was calling a good game and working with pitchers, Ausmus in his time with the Tigers has proven he may be better suited as a pitching coach than a field manager.
So it’s time to get serious about making a change and bringing in someone like Kirk Gibson, if he’s healthy enough to take the job, or Ron Gardenhire. A strong personality in the manager’s office who can instill a little esprit décor and honor into a team that, at least on paper, should be a lot better than its record indicates.
The smart money says Ausmus could be down to his last week as manager. If he doesn’t get this thing turned around fast – and it’ll be a challenge on the road with four games at Washington starting tonight (7:05 p.m.,) followed by three more at Baltimore – the Tigers could be introducing a new manager before the start of their next home game against Minnesota next Monday.
All that said, Detroit isn’t the only disappointing team in the American League. Only one team is in a position to return to the playoffs from those that advance last season, and that’s Texas. And that’s only after the Rangers’ sweep in Detroit over the weekend.
World Series champion Kansas City, Toronto, Houston and the New York Yankees are all at or below .500. And the Yanks and Astros are in last place in their division.
So if it’s true that misery loves company, Tigers fans have plenty of it.
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