Fair or foul: A Tigers season on the brink

Tom Gage and Lynn Henning
Fair or Foul

And down the stretch we come.

The stretch of the regular season, that is.

What’s to become of the Tigers? As much as they have tried to put some distance between themselves and the City Royals, it’s been difficult.

But will there be another postseason appearance for the Tigers at the end of the rainbow? For that matter, will there even be a rainbow for them or will there be a stormy finish?

You’re up, Tom Gage and Lynn Henning. You’ve been following this team all year, trying to figure it out. What do you say?

Gage: I say what I’ve said all season, and about which I see no reason to change now. The Tigers have deeper talent in more areas than the Royals and will win the division.

They are far from being a perfect team. No one ever called them a perfect team. But they are a better imperfect team than any other within the division.

Henning: Just when you think this team has made itself playoff-grade, the Tigers donate a pair of games, as they did in those last two cough-ups at Target Field. That’s been their disturbing habit all season long. And it happens for a reason: This is a fringe playoff club.

Gage: The next question, Mr. Henning, is that if the Tigers reach the postseason, how far will they go? And I don’t mean in terms of miles to face the Angels in Anaheim, Calif., although that might be the case.

I mean how far as in how deep into the playoffs.

Unless the Angels get eliminated, I don’t see the Tigers eventually being favored in the American League Championship Series, do you, assuming the Tigers even get that far?

Henning: They’ve won four consecutive division series. I find that stunning, as well as a tribute to their pitching. But if they make this year’s division series, that’s as far as this team can go, I truly believe. Just too many flaws.

Starting pitching will not be as invincible as it has been and the other soft spots, it seems, make for a one-series exit — if they even qualify for that first series.

Gage: It’s only natural, of course, to think of this Kansas City series as being a pivotal one, and it will probably be one, but I think we’ll agree on this: Under the Tigers on the high wire is a safety net, and that safety net is their home schedule next week.

They play the White Sox and Twins, which on paper is as favorable a final-week schedule as a team can get.

Or do you think the Twins will be as scrappy on the road as they were at Target Field this week?

Henning: The Twins are a reminder for the Tigers that life is loaded with pests. How they can be a last-place team when they play Detroit as if this was the old Minnesota of Metrodome and Michael Cuddyer days, is amazing.

But the Twins were placed on earth to torment the Tigers. And they so often succeed at their singular task.

Gage: One last thing, is Brad Ausmus in trouble as manager if the Tigers don’t get to the playoffs? I don’t think he would be, but does your vote make it 2-0 or 1-1?

Henning: No, not in 2014. Not for a moment. You can’t pin on Ausmus troubles that were brewing in March.

I doubt any manager would have a significantly different record. Realities that have everything to do with players are behind an uneven year: bullpen, defense, starters who haven’t always pitched up to code, etc. I think we make way too much of a manager’s influence.

And with that, I’ll ask a question: What’s keeping the Tigers from making Joakim Soria their closer? I see no way around it. And for the move to not have been made by now leaves me confused. Thoughts?

Gage: The Tigers at a crossroads on this, Lynn. They have to be. They can’t afford to be wrong about who closes in the last 10 games.

So at some point, and this includes Friday night’s game which we’re discussing before it is played, I believe you will see Soria in a save situation that would have been Nathan’s.

A save for Soria will make the transition smoother for all involved.