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Under Brad Ausmus, the frustrating Tigers remain at a crossroads

A year later we still can't say whether the Tigers are a .500 team or if they're better. That's becoming a bigger problem by the day.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

DETROIT -- I don't get it. Nothing about the Detroit Tigers makes sense. From the decisions that come from the dugout to the lack of success on the scoreboard. It's not that this is a bad baseball team -- it's not. The potential is there for this to be a good baseball team. But right now, it's neither bad nor good. It's simply inexplicable. And that's frustrating for everyone, because it's been that way for far too long. This can't continue.

Sunday's game was a perfect example. Then again, so was Saturday's. The Tigers lost both, and they managed to lose them in remarkably different ways. In the most recent one, Anibal Sanchez, two years removed from the best ERA in the American League, spotted the Astros three runs before buckling down to strike out 11 batters. That bought time for an often-missing Tigers offense to build a four-run lead. Which Sanchez handed completely back in the sixth inning by giving up a pair of home runs. This is a pitcher who's almost never had trouble keeping it in the park -- before this year. Houston just kept scoring after that, winning 10-8. It was the 18th time the Tigers gave up five-or-more runs.

Saturday was a little more familiar. The Tigers scored two runs and lost 3-2. A one-run game should be exciting, edge-of-your-seat entertainment. This game did not even begin to qualify as edge-of-your-seat, and the sleepy crowd at Comerica Park was given little reason to make noise. It was the 12th game the Tigers scored two runs out of 44 games played at the time. It was the 20th game the Tigers scored two-runs-or-fewer.

But oh, by the way, the Tigers have the second-best offense in the game.

They've scored the sixth-most runs in baseball. They have the second-best average. They have the best on-base percentage. They have the third-best slugging average. They've scored two-runs-or-fewer in nearly half of their games. That needed repeating.

This team might be interesting if it wasn't simply bewildering. It could be fun but it's simply frustrating. A lot of people would claim this is a .500 team. They're not entirely wrong.

The Tigers' record during the ...

Last 5 games: 3-2
Last 10 games: 5-5
Last 15 games: 7-8
Last 20 games: 10-10
Last 26 games: 13-13
Last 36 games: 18-18

If this team didn't start the season 11-2 they'd be sub-.500. But you can't take away the 11-2 start any more than you can discount the 15-17 record since then. What, exactly, is this team? I don't know. It's not good. But it's not bad either. Why? Who knows?

Brad Ausmus was frustrated after Sunday's loss. And he should be. The team went 3-4 on a home stand. They won the first two games against the best story in the American League, the Houston Astros, only to go listless over the weekend. He played a role in the loss.

When Sanchez was at 111 pitches, having already given up a home run and then allowed a couple of more baserunners, Ausmus sent pitching coach Jeff Jones out to the mound to talk to Sanchez. Everyone in the stadium -- at least the ones paying attention -- and everyone on the Internet, and surely everyone watching or listening knew that you simply had to pull Sanchez. Except Ausmus. The amount of surprise in the state when the game-tying home run was allowed wouldn't have filled a thimble, and 90 percent of the surprise belonged to Ausmus himself. The rest of us were just incredulous.

It may be too early to say whether Ausmus is a good manager or a bad one. Or maybe like the club he's simply there, neither good nor bad. It's easy for fans of the team to pin everything that doesn't turn out right on the manager, but the truth is deeper. Sometimes the right decision results in a poor outcome. Yet other times, you can correctly point to Ausmus' silliness of letting small sample size statistics guide his decisions or his inability to make any sense of the bullpen. You can point out he has no idea when to pull a starting pitcher. Going back a year, you can pin his reliance on Joba Chamberlain -- or pinch hitting Hernan Perez! -- to the Tigers' ALDS demise. Learning nothing since then he's given Chamberlain the eighth inning back again this year, even when the bullpen is filled with better options. And it leaves you wondering if the Tigers didn't make a mistake in hiring a young ex-player with no management experience to guide a club with World Series or Bust expectations.

The Tigers seem like they're a good baseball team -- though not a great one. They have the makeup of a good baseball team. They have the traditional statistics and advanced statistics to make you think there's a good baseball team hiding in there -- somewhere. But where? Right now, the Tigers are not good baseball team. For a large chunk of last season, they weren't a good baseball team either. Whether that's by leadership or players or fluke or something else entirely, it's difficult to say. That's the frustrating part right now. Which if left unchecked turns to annoyance, which can become either anger or indifference not long after. Is this a good team or a bad team? They'd better figure it out, soon. The current pace is not acceptable.