August 18, 2014 at 11:54 pm

Kurt Mensching

Tigers' final 40 games to put Brad Ausmus to the test

Manager Brad Ausmus and the Tigers have 40 games to try to make the postseason. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

What are you going to do now, Brad Ausmus?

Six months ago, under the blue skies of central Florida, describing the situation the Tigers have put themselves in today would have earned laughter and eye rolling.

With 40 games remaining on the schedule, the Tigers are on the outside of the playoffs looking in. (Ha!)

Their former ace pitcher, Justin Verlander, has a losing record. (Ha! Ha!)

Their defending two-time AL MVP is on pace for his worst regular season at the plate since his first full year in the majorsin 2004. (Ha! Ha! Ha!)

Their bullpen is awful. (OK, we saw that one coming.)

The Tigers find themselves slumping. Theyíve played sub-.500 ball since the All-Star break. When they hit they cannot pitch. When they pitch they cannot hit. Sometimes they can do neither. And they keep embarrassing themselves in the field.

Well, Brad Ausmus, what do you say to that?

A rough road, so far

It was hard to make sense of Ausmus in February and March. He was different. He talked a good game but hadnít proven a thing. That much we could say. He was about as far from his predecessor, Jim Leyland, as you could ask for ó or so we thought.

That, some would suggest, was a good thing.

But itís easy to smile when youíve never known hard times. Ausmus, for all his experience as a player, had yet to suffer the indignation of difficult times as a manager.

He has now.

First shortstop Jose Iglesias and left fielder Andy Dirks fell to injuries in spring training. Cabrera and Verlander apparently tried to play through pain after both underwent offseason surgeries to repair core muscles.

The rotation struggled, and now Anibal Sanchez ended up on the disabled list.

Meanwhile the bullpen seldom had more than a single hot hand and has been hurt by injuries. Now suddenly the other former all-stars in the lineup are faltering, too.

Plenty of blame to go around

Itís hard to pin the blame for any of this on Ausmus. Maybe he could have kept his stars from pushing their bodies too much, too soon. Maybe he could have mixed and matched a little better in the bullpen.

Maybe he could do more to fix on the Tigersí alarming lack of fundamentals.

Maybe none of these problems are Ausmusí creations at all. Heís not the one who suddenly canít keep the ball down or canít stop grounding into double plays. Players win and players lose. Managers just enable them.

But the Tigersí problems are his problems, too. He has to find a way to deal with them, because the cavalry is not waiting just offscreen to save the day. Ausmus has to create his own solution.

Expectations were high for this team ó a little too high, possibly, for a team that underwent such big changes in the offseason. But with a stacked rotation and enough all-stars, there was no reason to believe the Tigers would falter before they reached the cool October nights, and all the reason to believe they had the personnel to advance through the playoffs when they got there.

If something doesnít change, there will be no playoffs and only an offseason to debate where to put the blame.

Ausmus and the man who built the roster, Dave Dombrowski, will both receive an ample load of criticism, but Dombrowski might receive the benefit of the doubt. A rookie manager will not.

Itís hard to say where Ausmus falls on the spectrum of good managers to bad, not 122 games into his first season.

But weíre about to find out.

Finding a solution to what ails the Tigers would go a long way toward providing an answer.

Failure is an answer of its own.

First impressions go a long way, and itís hard to shake a bad one.

So, Brad Ausmus, what are you going to do now? Your legacy starts here.

Kurt Mensching is editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at bybtigers@gmail.com.