Henning: Tigers bound to misfire without main cast
Oakland, Calif. — He might have been 2,500 miles away, but the Tigers manager knew what people were thinking back home following Monday's debacle at O.co Coliseum, a 4-0 loss to the Oakland A's.
"I know this is a winning team," Brad Ausmus said in a Tigers clubhouse so quiet it would have made a ghost town seem festive. "But when you're not winning, it's frustrating."
That would be one word for it. Ausmus might have gone further, because his audience certainly has.
Despondent? Indignant? Disgusted?
Emotions, raw and sometimes reckless, seem to have crept into Tigers Nation's atmosphere, which includes social media, where Motown's baseball team often spills its highest-acid vitriol.
Not that the critics need correcting. The Tigers a week ago were on a three-game losing streak. They then won three straight. And now they've reverted to another three-game dip, which Monday featured a bad lineup, some shaky defense at shortstop, and of course three double plays, which it seems is about the daily quota.
They are 26-20, or 15-18 since they began the season 11-2. Folks back home already were in a bad mood — check your social media transcripts — when they saw that Miguel Cabrera was sitting out Monday's game ("cranky ankle," Ausmus explained) and was being replaced by the fan base's current Public Enemy No. 1, Hernan Perez.
Jose Iglesias was also about to miss a second straight game. His fill-in, rookie Dixon Machado, had a clunker of a day at bat and in the field.
And that didn't please the customers any more than it probably soothed Tigers starter Shane Greene, whose postgame words — very few and very repetitive — scarcely concealed that he, too, was disgusted with Monday's events.
Explaining the Tigers' maddening ways is never easy and will be of no solace to fans who aren't happy with the roster, or with Ausmus (see: Jim Leyland from about 2008-13).
But here goes:
Cabrera had to have a day off, and fans need to deal with realities there. The manager can't be indicted every time a player is necessarily rested.
Perez replaced Cabrera, and while that's bound to incense customers who don't want Perez (batting average: .074) playing at any time in any circumstance, the Tigers, as we know, are temporarily caught with a player who has no minor league options remaining and whom the Tigers aren't interested in donating to the waiver wire — not just yet — when they don't have a lot of replacement choices.
Cabrera will be back today and Perez (probably) will be back on the pine. But this situation and the Tigers' current malaise is deeper than Perez and the bench.
Ian Kinsler is 0-for-21. That's a lot of offense being forfeited when your No. 2 hitter is suddenly in a funk.
Victor Martinez, of course, is on the shelf with a bad knee. Iglesias, perhaps the team's most valuable player in 2015, has missed back-to-back games and may miss one or two more.
Alex Avila, a left-handed hitter who would have been helpful Monday against A's right-hander Jesse Hahn, is also gone for indefinite weeks or months.
And, of course, Justin Verlander is nowhere in sight and hasn't pitched a single inning in 2015.
You've still got to play over these issues. That is, if you care to win a division, or at least make the playoffs as a wild-card contestant.
The Tigers haven't been doing it. Not with regularity. And that's why it isn't only Cabrera's ankle that's been, to use Ausmus' description, "cranky."
Fans want these guys to win. Which might happen a bit more frequently, if and when they can retrieve some healthy, everyday players who always were at the core of this team's playoff thoughts.
Until then, there likely will be more of this back-and-forth, triumph-and-tease play that drives the Tigers faithful nuts and turns Twitter into a maelstrom.
But the riot gear ought to be tucked away until Cabrera, Iglesias, Martinez, Verlander, etc., find their way home and into the lineup.
Until then, it's a compromised team that isn't about to resemble a championship crew. And no one should expect a great deal more.