The last time we did a formal reflection on Brad Ausmus there wasn’t much to complain about. The Tigers were 8-1, with their only loss coming via a one-run deficit in a National League park. They were scoring six runs per game and allowing just over two runs, matching the pace of a red-hot Kansas City Royals team that was sure to cool down. Ausmus came in at an impressive 92 percent approval rating, a massive jump from the 65 percent he showed prior to the start of the season.
Since then a lot has changed, while some things have remained the same. The offense that looked so potent early has lost its bite. The six runs per game has been replaced by less than four, a figure buoyed by a 23-run explosion in two consecutive games in mid-May. The starting pitching has also gone from dominant to merely sufficient, notably dragged down by Anibal Sanchez who has seen his ERA balloon to 6.12. On top of all that, one thing that hasn’t changed is the Royals’ winning ways -- their 28-16 record not only leads the Central Division, but the entire American League.
On the positive side, however, we can place the Tigers’ bullpen on the list of things that have changed. While Ausmus recently voiced his confidence in a very shaky setup man, the bullpen as a whole has quietly been very good. As a unit they’ve posted a 2.76 ERA on the season, good enough for a third-place ranking in the AL. Among the items that have remained constant? The Tigers’ defense, which has improved over last season by a margin which almost seems impossible. According to Fangraphs’ defensive rating, the Tigers rank second in baseball, trailing only -- of course -- the Royals.
But for a bit of clarification, these polls aren’t intended to grade the last month of performance by the Tigers’ skipper. They ‘re more meant to be a snapshot of the fans’ general feelings towards the manager at this point in time. While recent events will certainly weigh more heavily in any fan’s opinion, it’s important to also take a step back and look at the long-term. The Tigers currently sit in third place, trailing the Royals by three games and the Minnesota Twins (it’s true, I double-checked) by one. While third place may sound bad, their 26-20 record would be good enough for second place in every other division (and first place in the AL East). Ausmus led the team to 90 wins and their fourth consecutive AL Central crown last season -- by one game, mind you -- and is in a good position to make a run at the fifth. Is that enough to earn your approval?