At this point, it sure seems pointless.
That goes for the Tigers’ season, no matter what the standings say. And for the manager’s fate, too, no matter when the final decision gets made.
Brad Ausmus isn’t technically a lame-duck manager yet, not with 45 games remaining in his second year on the job in Detroit. But considering the way the Tigers managed to throw this season away, it’s hard to imagine the rationale for bringing him back for another.
And harder still to find good reasons to pick up the fourth-year club option on the contract Ausmus signed in November 2013, something he’d need to have any sort of standing next year in what remains a clubhouse full of high-priced, headstrong talent.
So why not get it over with now? New general manager Al Avila effectively ruled that out two weeks ago when he was promoted to replace Dave Dombrowski, saying then of Ausmus: “He is our manager for the rest of this season, for sure.” His team has gone 5-7 since then and there’s little to be gained by going back on his word now, really.
But it’s a question that’s raised again by Sunday’s 6-5 loss in Houston, ending with signals crossed and a manager rightly cross-examined.
The decision to pitch to Jose Altuve with first base open and a runner on third with two outs in the ninth didn’t make much sense. Starting the inning with lefty Tom Gorzelanny facing three right-handed hitters — a move that backfired when Jake Marisnick drilled a two-out triple — made even less sense.
Then came the explanation that righty Alex Wilson, who relieved Gorzelanny, was supposed to pitch “carefully” to Altuve, the reigning AL batting champ, and that all of this was done to avoid pinch hitter Preston Tucker, “a guy that has killed us,” Ausmus noted.
Indeed, three of Tucker’s 12 homers this season, including game-tying, ninth-inning shots off Joakim Soria in May and Bruce Rondon on Saturday, have come against the Tigers. But the rookie also was 4-for-32 in August before the previous night’s bomb that had Ausmus so spooked.
Whatever the reasoning, it failed — miserably — because as Wilson told reporters after the game, he was trying to “attack” and “get ahead” of Altuve, which is sort of the opposite of pitching “carefully.” And just one more example of the kind of muddled mess this team has become, with good intentions undone by poor execution and bad ideas ruining good efforts.
Sunday’s ninth inning was a little of both, perhaps, but in the end it was about as bad as it gets.
That’s saying something for these Tigers, now five games under .500 (56-61) having won just one of their last 10 series. That’s also why a manager whose tactical decisions continue to confound finds himself without much of a defense.
Failings go on the record
Asked about his job security last week, Ausmus said he’s “not worried about it” because it’s out of his control, which is true, to an extent.
You can point to this team’s obvious flaws — a bad bullpen, injured stars and a starting rotation that painfully underachieved — as reasons why the Tigers faded from contention in the AL Central and ownership waved the white flag at the trade deadline.
But it’s impossible to ignore the manager’s failings, as well. Whether it’s the kind of circular logic that got the fans all wound up in that ugly 11-9 loss to Seattle before the trade deadline, or Ausmus fiddling while Joba Chamberlain got torched in early May, or this latest late-inning debacle, they all go on his permanent record.
So do last year’s miscues, the way he handled the bullpen (Joe Nathan, Joakim Soria, et al) and the bench (James McCann, Ezequiel Carrera) and the injuries (Miguel Cabrera, Anibal Sanchez.) The rationalization for some of that — a rookie manager’s growing pains — never really squared with the reality of a team built to win a World Series.
It just needs to stop is all. Maybe not now, but soon.