Kurt: Lynn Henning wrote today at the News that Brad Ausmus gets too much criticism as manager of the Tigers, that everything that goes wrong isn't necessarily his fault. Such as Thursday's extra-innings loss. You've got to put blame on the players for just not executing, he says. I don't disagree. Managers get blame for every loss and players get credit for wins. Managers truly don't have more than a handful of games influence either way, probably 2-3. This is Dave Dombrowski's roster, he deserves some blame. Injuries deserve some blame. Players deserve blame
Catherine: I don't disagree with Lynn, either, and I think he makes a good point about where the blame lies for this team's current record. I'm not sure if you can assign an inordinate amount of blame to Dombrowski -- he acquired a lot of good pieces and it's up to the players to do the job -- but there is some blame, for sure. The injuries this season haven't helped, and yet, considering how the starting rotation has done in Justin Verlander's absence, it could be considered a minor miracle that the team hasn't done worse.
Kurt: We knew going into the season the rotation was a question mark and the bullpen would be an issue.
Catherine: Then you have the ineptitude by Ian Kinsler on defense, and offensively at times -- the popouts are rearing their ugly heads -- Nick Castellanos' regression, those are on the players. As for the pitching, yeah that's on Dombrowski. Some of this stuff was evidenced before Dombrowski acquired said pitchers, though, in reference to the bullpen and starting staff.
Kurt: And it turns out that was correct analysis up through this point.
Catherine: I'm surprised the bullpen has done this well, honestly, with the exception of Joakim Soria. Even him, his latest shaky outings aren't encouraging, but that has more to do with his lack of use -- buildup of rust and all that -- than anything else.
Kurt: It had a great month of May. Even then we saw warning signs, though, and some of them are haunting the team now.
Catherine: I was expecting more blown up leads and such. Joba Chamberlain, I expected him to be somewhat shaky. I still think he can pull it together but he has to be used right, and that is on Ausmus. He still can't manage a bullpen properly. He's doing better, but there's still a significant gap as was evidenced by Thursday's game.
Kurt: Yeah I don't have any clue about Joba. I don't think it would hurt the team if he was gone but I don't put the blame on him necessarily either. Joba shouldn't pitch high impact innings. But he also has a consistency problem. Just as you're ready to give up on him he throws some beautiful pitches for strikeouts. And when you're ready to believe ... yesterday happens (10th inning three-run triple).
Catherine: Honestly, I think it would hurt if he was gone. If Ausmus used him properly -- not in a tie game in extra innings against the middle of an opposing lineup, for example -- it could go a long way in getting him back to being stable. And what he brings in the clubhouse is important -- leadership, maintaining a positive energy in the clubhouse.
Kurt: I think winning is good for the clubhouse.
Catherine: Of course winning is good for the clubhouse. I'm not worried about what the team can and can't handle mentally during a rough stretch, though. For the most part they're pretty consistent regardless of whether they're winning or losing. Granted, when they're losing the clubhouse tends to get quieter, more solemn. But no one panics, and that can be difficult to maintain.
Kurt: It's difficult to figure out how much intangibles matter. Like Victor (Martinez). Good clubhouse influence. But if the team is winning is it because he's a good clubhouse influence ... or the .800-.900 OPS. Small sample and all that, but they actually have a losing record since he returned. Of course, he's not a bullpen arm.
Catherine: Also look at the stretch during his absence. And the bullpen has been less than optimal since his return. Most of the losses during his absence were due to an offense that was MIA. Now, it's been the pitching. The Tigers' record during that month was 11-16 with that awful eight-game losing streak.
Kurt: They couldn't score runs during those 27 games either ... and their DH actually H'd a bit. Offense was MIA when he was there and injured too. Here's Jim Leyland on chemistry, by the way:
"Take all that clubhouse [stuff] and all that, throw it out the window. Every writer in the country has been writing about that [nonsense] for years. Chemistry don't mean [anything]. He's up here because he's good. That don't mean [a hill of beans]. They got good chemistry because their team is improved, they got a real good team, they got guys knocking in runs, they got a catcher hitting .336, they got a phenom pitcher they just brought up. That's why they're happy."
Catherine: The difference between Leyland and Ausmus is stark at times. Leyland was very old school. Ausmus can be old school at times, but he leans more neutral, and I think fans have a problem with how even-keeled Ausmus is, as opposed to Leyland's fire. As for Victor being present before going on the DL and the offense still struggling, he was hitting to half his ability, if that. That doesn't make for a No. 4 hitter. Like I referenced in last night's stat, V-Mart has done nearly as much in the six games since coming back from the DL, as he did in the 1.5 months before going on it.
Kurt: Right. That's kinda what I meant about chemistry or being good in the clubhouse. The playing ability matters. But I don't throw out intangibles either. It matters. I just don't really know how much it matters.
Catherine: I agree. And I think you can look at Cabrera as an example. Regardless of how the team is doing, he doesn't change, and neither does his approach.
Kurt: J.D. (Martinez) didn't change when he struggled either. It's good that he was around Miggy and Victor. Going back to Joba for a moment: I think there are people you option/release before you get to him. He's not atop the list. He may be a public whipping boy because Ausmus puts him in bad spots, but I think you get rid of others first. I just think they could do better.
Catherine: There are other pitchers more deserving of being released or optioned before him. One that comes to mind is Tom Gorzelanny. They continue to expect him to do well, simply because he's a left-handed pitcher. But at this point, I'd rather have Phil Coke if you want the truth. They're equally unstable and at least Coke has more of a fire to him, and fans liked him.
Also, I don't get why Tyler Collins was sent back to Toledo. If anything, one of the struggling bullpen members or Castellanos should have been sent down. Now the team has Josh Wilson on the bench -- I won't group Andrew Romine in this as he's done well for pretty much the whole season -- in key situations, instead of a power bat. And that's more of a problem than having a third baseman who can't hit, run the bases, and is only marginal defensively.
Kurt: PHIL COKE! /shudder. (But yes, I would, too) So, Tigers needs at the trade deadline: Yes. Yes what? Yes anything! OK, mainly pitching and third base. I think they'll actually be buyers too even if they're still .500 and seven games out
Catherine: Definitely. Whether the team wants to admit it, the current situation at third base is not going to cut it. And for as many arms as they picked up during the offseason -- and we thought having more than a dozen was more than enough at the time. Hah. -- it's still not enough. Which is troublesome, and somewhat disturbing.
It'll be interesting to see what DD pulls out of his bag of tricks this time. And I don't think Alex Avila is going anywhere. No way. James McCann's splits batting left-handed and righty are too drastic, and Bryan Holaday can't catch or hit. He's a stop gap, and unfortunately a poor one until Avila gets back.
Kurt: Avila had better not be going anywhere. I don't think we can make an honest and accurate assessment of this team, truly, until Avila is back and he and McCann split time properly. Avila will help the pitching and the platoon will help the hitting. He's not a magic bullet but he helps. I'd miss him if he was gone, too
Catherine: Yeah and that's not going to happen until after the All-Star break. On another note, I don't think Dombrowski is the kind of GM who will just fire Ausmus simply because the team can't produce (Ilitch is another story). I think he'll continue to adjust as needed, fiddle with the formula of actual players until it's right. And whether people like Ausmus or can't stand him, it goes back to the majority of this being on the actual players. And what is on Ausmus -- pitching, mainly -- he is learning. I just hope he doesn't take all year to get there.
Kurt: I don't think Dombrowski would fire him midseason. Ilitch? I dunno. If he gets an itchy trigger finger because he's spending so much money on a team that should be good and it's not ... Ausmus is gone. Ilitch might bring hockey expectations to baseball. Time to time he just steps in and shakes it up. You think of Trammell a bit here. He got several seasons from Dombrowski. He didn't have a good roster though and it was a rebuilding period. But as soon as they had a better alternative, they took it. And it turned out well. I'm not a big "Gardenhire is the solution" person but I'm not the one writing the checks. If that guy is, then we'll see a change.
Catherine: Refresh my memory on how it goes when Ilitch steps in in these situations.
Kurt: Oh it goes bad every time Ilitch does it, I swear.
Catherine: You have to wonder if Ilitch would shy away from Gardenhire because of his record with the Twins, but that's throwing wild guesses. I wonder if he'd be more inclined to go with someone else, or even stick within the organization from the minor league side. Triple-A manager Lance Parrish comes to mind.
Kurt: Well, Leyland left the Rockies in a bad way. And I think he had a losing record for his career when he joined the Tigers. Not his fault, he managed bad teams. But he was a name brand manager and the guy who teams were going to go after. So Detroit made a move to get to him first. I think they wanted Ausmus because he was the big name people talked about. Sometimes I think Ilitch just likes to make news! Promoting Parrish makes sense to me, too, but that just seems out of character for the organization
Catherine: True enough, it seems to be that way at times, just trying to make news with moves. Promoting Parrish would be the best move, in my opinion, if they did something of that nature. But, yeah, it's not their MO.
Going back to Castellanos, his situation just bugs me. Not that I want to pound it into the ground, but at this point he's simply ignoring signs and running around -- literally -- doing what he wants. He's costing the team wins.
It doesn't matter how much he improves defensively if he can't avoid running himself, and the team, into outs -- and runs, and wins. And small sample size offense from a couple games shouldn't override the prevailing problem that he, for the most part, hasn't been able to hit himself out of a wet paper bag.
Kurt: The Tigers have one of the worst third base situations possible. Almost a win worse than average. (Somehow still better than the Yankees!) Nick can hit. But can he hit? That's the question. Like you said, SSS. We know he's capable and he does something like Thursday with a triple and double and you go "OK, is Nick back?" We've seen it before and he wasn't back. He does just enough to scrape by.
The defense seems to have fallen off a bit too from earlier in the season. He's better than last year but ... he could be better. When your utility guys from a weak bench are a better option, you know you've got problems. I don't know why he doesn't go down to Toledo for a little while either.
Catherine: And when your utility guys are the better option, why aren't they starting over Castellanos?
Kurt: They were for a few days!
Catherine: Romine has done so well that he might as well stay there. For now. Or bench Castellanos if you don't want to send him to Toledo. But they have to do something.
For fans, it's got to be frustrating. Both with Castellanos and the inconsistency with the offense. Heck, for me analyzing and assessing it on a daily basis gets frustrating at times. Baseball is inconsistent by nature, but this team has a special dose of it. Even from last year, it at least feels exponentially magnified, and the double plays are ridiculous, even if it's a byproduct of getting runners on-base at a high clip. It does the team no good if they can't stay on the bases, hence, going back to that earlier article about the same topic.
Kurt: This team is frustrating. I don't blame fans at all for being annoyed. I think even with lower expectations people expect better. It may end up a .500 team. Most people pegged it around .550. So the randomness of baseball makes .500 feel within the realm of possibility. But beyond that nerdy moment, I think fans get frustrated about two or three things: 1) A lack of effort, 2) a lack of fundamentals, 3) when the manager does what he wants counter to the prevailing thought. This team exhibits effort, so that's no issue.
I think the fundamentals -- Kinsler's bunt snafu, baserunning things (from several) frustrate people, and Ausmus doing things like taking V-Mart out of the lineup or sticking with Joba in high-pressure situations -- or leaving a starter in too long in general, too, cough Justin Verlander -- really makes people mad. Right now they're almost in the perfect storm for fan anger. It should get better. If it doesn't, changes will be made. Whether those changes pan out, who knows, but fans want a head or two and they'll get it. That's just sports.