Monday Morning Manager: Nathan struggles, Ausmus second-guessed and the nagging cold persists

Otto Greule Jr

Happy June! Start the month off with a healthy dose of Monday Morning Manager!

Monday Morning Manager is a series that Greg Eno has been writing since 2009 on his personal blogs. It's a look back at the previous Tigers week and a look ahead at the current week. This season, he brings the series, featuring his alter ego "MMM." to Bless You Boys, every Monday morning.

Last Week: 3-4

This week: TOR (6/3-5); BOS (6/6-8)

So, What Happened?

A slump in baseball is like the common cold. Everyone is going to catch it, there's no real cure and just when you think you're over it, the symptoms return. It can hang on for weeks.

As we enter Week 3 of the Tigers' cold, MMM did see some hopeful signs last week that the patient's condition was improving---only to see some symptoms return on Saturday and Sunday.

After a split of a four-game series in Oakland that was agonizingly difficult, the Tigers rode Justin Verlander to victory on Friday in Seattle for the team's first winning streak since beating the Red Sox on May 18 for their sixth straight victory. MMM thought that perhaps the patient was returning to normal.

But the Mariners recovered and won the next two games, including Sunday's complete-game whitewash at the hands of rookie Cuban right-hander Roenis Elias.

The symptom that reared its head over the weekend after JV's win was a case of bat silence. The Tigers scored two runs on Saturday and Sunday combined after beating the M's 6-3 on Friday.

It was a week of "Say It Ain't So, Joe" Nathan's lack of stability, some hand-wringing over Max Scherzer and the first real, angry second-guessing of manager Brad Ausmus by fans and media.

It added up to a 3-4 week, which sure beats the 1-6 week that preceded it. Still, it means the Tigers are 4-10 since their 27-12 zenith a couple weeks ago.

Yet the Tigers still have a choke hold on first place in the AL Central--4½ games ahead of the Chicago White Sox with a seven-game lead in the loss column. Despite the Tigers' 4-10 swoon, their lead in the division hasn't really been affected.

Hero of the Week

How about some love for Joba Chamberlain?

With regular closer Nathan reeling a bit after a heartbreakingly blown save on Wednesday and a shaky save on Thursday, Chamberlain, who had two holds earlier in the week, closed Friday's win in Seattle.

Granted, Chamberlain had a three-run lead with which to work, but as we have seen, that sometimes doesn't mean jack with the Tigers' zany bullpen.

Quietly, Chamberlain has lowered his season ERA to 2.70 and has a decent 1.24 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) after a very suspect start to the campaign.

In fact, the last time Joba gave up a run was May 11. Since then, he's made nine appearances which span 8⅔ IP, and in that time frame Chamberlain has surrendered seven hits while walking three and striking out seven. That stretch lowered his ERA from 4.30 to 2.70. In those nine appearances, the Tigers are 6-3.

In a week where wins seemed awfully hard to come by, MMM is giving the Hero's nod to Chamberlain for picking the team up in a quiet manner. It's also a way to acknowledge what the transplanted Yankee has done in recent weeks.

Honorable mentions: Miguel (yawn) Cabrera (9-for-26, 3 HR, 7 RBI); Victor (another yawn) Martinez (8-for-25, HR, 5 RBI, zero K); Verlander (7⅔ IP, 3 ER in a nice bounce-back start on Friday; Anibal Sanchez (8⅓ IP, 3 H, 1 ER on Wednesday).

Goat of the Week

MMM is going with Nathan here, and it's not just because of his struggles on the mound, which included squandering Sanchez's gem in Oakland on Wednesday and nearly blowing Thursday's win.

MMM was less than pleased with Nathan's comments following Wednesday's walk-off loss to the A's, in which Nathan gave up a three-run homer to Josh Donaldson in the ninth inning.

The game-winning homer followed a sloppy play at third base by Nick Castellanos, who misjudged a soft liner and allowed the baseball to deflect off his glove into left field.

Coco Crisp was at second base at the time and while the Tigers were unlikely to have doubled off Crisp, the rookie's gaffe no doubt changed the complexion of the inning. At worst, there would have been two outs and a man on second. Instead, it remained one out with two runners on base.

Donaldson then crushed a three-run bomb to win the game.

Afterward, Nathan barely spoke of the home run pitch. Instead, he had a lot of breath saved to discuss Castellanos' misplay. Even manager Brad Ausmus, who should know better, took a jab at his rookie third baseman.

Wrong, wrong, wrong!

Last MMM checked, Nathan gets paid a lot of green to close games, no matter what happens behind him. Your third baseman botches a ball? Then man up, dig down deep, and make pitches to pick him up.

The next day, after the shaky save (a three-run lead turned into a one-run margin after some very well-hit balls into the outfield), Nathan declined to speak, telling reporters that they could write whatever they wanted.

MMM disagrees with those who say that Nathan's comments were much ado about nothing. Pointing out a rookie's defensive mistake while simultaneously refusing to discuss your own foible is bush league.

And shame on Ausmus, too. The manager left himself wide open to criticism about his decision to lift Sanchez in favor of Nathan, but Ausmus was another guilty party who was more in the mood to talk about Castellanos rather than looking in the mirror.

Under the Microscope

Three starts ago, the feeling was almost unanimous that Max Scherzer had made the right move in rejecting the Tigers' very generous contract extension offer during spring training. The reasoning was that with Max cruising along with an ERA under 2.00, even bigger bucks awaited him after the season, when he is eligible for free agency.

If you felt that way then, do you still feel that way now?

For the record, since last season ended, MMM has openly wondered whether Scherzer could even come close to duplicating 2013's magical season. Years like the one Max authored in '13 come along very infrequently, to say the least.

So when Max rejected the contract extension offer, MMM looked at him cross-eyed.

MMM isn't crowing, but Scherzer's last three starts place him UtM.

Last week MMM asked what was up with Justin Verlander, and JV responded with a fine start in Seattle.

Let's hope the same thing happens with a struggling Scherzer. Max was better on Sunday in Seattle, but he still wasn't vintage.

Upcoming: Blue Jays and Red Sox

The AL Least (sorry) invades Comerica Park this week, and both teams are on the hot side.

First up is Toronto, and here's your only chance to see Edwin "Babe Ruth" Encarnacion in person in Detroit this year.

Encarnacion had 16 home runs in May, and he started June on Sunday with a bomb, giving him 19 round-trippers on the year.

There are two forces on a collision course as the Tigers-Jays series starts.

One the Toronto side is the Blue Jays' propensity to hit home runs. Toronto has slugged 82 homers this year, which averages to 1.4 a game. Meanwhile, Sanchez has yet to surrender a dinger in 43 innings. Something has got to give.

The Tigers will miss Mark Buehrle, and that's a good thing. The lefty is an early Cy Young candidate with 10 wins, but he pitched on Sunday.

The Jays have won 16 of 20 and they can mash the baseball. With the Tigers' pitching staff struggling during this 4-10 funk, maybe the Jays aren't the best team to be visiting Detroit this week.

Tigers probables vs. Jays: Sanchez, Rick Porcello, Verlander.

Will the real Boston Red Sox please stand up?

Are the Red Sox the team that recently lost 10 in a row, including a sweep at home at the hands of the Tigers, or are they the team that followed that losing streak with a (current) seven-game winning string?

We'll see.

MMM never thought the Red Sox were going to repeat as world champions, but nor was a 10-game losing streak expected. Just as unexpected was the seven-game winning streak that immediately followed.

So, basically, MMM doesn't know what to think of the Red Sox.

What is certain, is that the Beantowners have been embroiled in a lot of tense moments on the field as of late, particularly with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Regardless of which Red Sox team shows up in Detroit over the weekend, another thing is certain: the Tigers need some wins, no matter what happens against the Jays earlier in the week.

Tigers probables vs. Red Sox: Drew Smyly, Scherzer, Sanchez.

That's all for this week's MMM. See you next week!

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