Opinion: Tigers Disappointing Start Not Solely on Ausmus

It’s mid-May, and anyone not living under a rock can see the Detroit Tigers are in a trouble. For a team with the fourth-highest payroll in the league, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. A stretch of eleven losses in twelve games, multiple sweeps against the middling Cleveland Indians, and disappointing play from two of the three marquee signings this season have been the major talking points.

The question at this point is simple: Should Brad Ausmus keep his job?

First-year general manager Al Avila has a potential crisis on his hands, and anyone in baseball will tell you the first thing to do when things are going wrong is to blame the manager. Sure, Ausmus has made a couple of odd decisions late in games that have confused fans and have led to lost games. But is it completely the fault of the third-year Tiger manager?

 

Pitching Problems

Jordan Zimmermann has been worth every penny of the $186 million that was given to him in December, with a stellar 2.45 ERA, good for fifth in the American League, and 1.16 WHIP. The 6-2 record has been clouded by recent performances, as his 5-0 start to the season saw some of the pitching that has Zimmermann among the best in the AL.

No. 1 starter Justin Verlander has also been an improvement on his recent couple of down years. JV is currently eighth in the AL in strikeouts, with 50 over his eight starts. While his fastball will never edge towards 100 mph as it did in his prime, his arsenal of pitches can still provide an elite performance every now and again. The contract is a massive weight on the organization, as Verlander is signed through 2019 and is making $28 million a year for three of the four years remaining on his deal, a problem for the Tigers in trying to swing a trade.

The real issues have been at the back end of the rotation. Mike Pelfrey was a questionable decision at best when he was signed in the winter,. The former Met and Twin starter has had a season ERA under four just once, back in 2008. So far, he’s been a disaster for $8 million a year until 2017, failing to win a game until Tuesday night.

Anibal Sanchez has a higher ERA than Pelfrey, currently sitting at 5.91. Definitely not ideal for a third starter, and it doesn’t get much better once the fifth spot is brought up. Michael Fulmer had looked alright in his first start in late April. Since then, there have been three disappointing starts, giving up ten hits and five runs at Cleveland and scraping wins at Washington and Baltimore.

A bullpen that had finally been “fixed” had let down the Tigers in the recent losing streak. The first sign of real trouble for this team came on Mother’s Day when a Verlander gem was ruined in the late stages by Mark Lowe and Justin Wilson. A seven-run eighth inning pushed the Rangers towards the Tigers’ second successive sweep.

Francisco Rodriguez has ten saves, which has been a positive sign, but the main problem is that Detroit rarely has a chance to use their closer due to an inconsistent offense.

 

Struggling Stars

The biggest disappointment for many has been the lackluster play of outfielder Justin Upton. Upton was signed for big money in the offseason, and apparently $22 million per year buys the Tigers the most strikeouts in the AL, with 62. The next highest amount is 54, a disappointing reality for the 28-year-old outfielder. The only reason Upton has stayed in the lineup, has been the woeful play of center fielder Anthony Gose. With free agent signing Cameron Maybin earning more playing time, Upton will have to start hitting soon if he’s going to keep a place in the everyday lineup.

Miguel Cabrera has also failed to match his usual stellar statistics. His six home runs in 38 games has left many wondering if he has enough left in the tank to put an MVP-level season together at the age of 33. What’s worse, Cabrera is signed until 2023, when he’ll be 40. If Miggy doesn’t start producing, and the Tigers stay in their slide, there’s another contract Avila will have a tough time moving off the books.

 

Should He Stay or Should He Go?

Many believe that Ausmus has lost the clubhouse due to the players’ lack of fight in recent weeks. For many, it looked like a sweep in Baltimore would put Ausmus under pressure. Sunday’s big come-from-behind win against the first-place Orioles came via back-to-back home runs from J.D. Martinez and Cabrera.

If the fans wanted fight from their team, they found it on Monday night. An 8-0 lead after the first inning was cut down to 8-8 before homers from Nick Castellanos, in the middle of an excellent start to the season, and J.D. Martinez sealed another win.

What was more notable about Monday’s win was the outburst and ejection of Ausmus, who was arguing on behalf of Castellanos after a fourth inning strikeout. One wonders if this ejection could serve as the turning point in this Tigers season, with Ausmus’s blue sweatshirt draped over home plate serving as the crazy symbol of a change in fortune for this Tigers season.

After a solid offensive performance in Tuesday night’s romp over the Twins, things are looking up, Twin-related caveats applied. Nevertheless, for the first time in a long time, this team has strung together consecutive wins, and they’re only three games under .500 and seven games back of first place Chicago. With an easy schedule coming up, it could very well be “wait and see” with Ausmus until this team starts playing the ball they’re capable of. If another slide is in the cards, it may be time to make a change and fix a talented team heading in the wrong direction.