The 2014 ALDS was a monumental failure for the Detroit Tigers. Swept in three games by the Baltimore Orioles, the short series revealed the Tigers' many faults. In no specific order: the bullpen, the bench, the bullpen, an offense carried by a few stars, the bullpen, in-game tactical management, and the bullpen. Perhaps the most damning moment of the series was its final one, when Brad Ausmus called on Hernan Perez to pinch-hit in the ninth inning of Game 3. With the tying and winning runs on base, Perez grounded into a double play, ending the series.
The lack of bench options at Ausmus' disposal did not go unnoticed, particularly by now-general manager Al Avila. When Avila announced that the Tigers would be retaining Brad Ausmus for the 2016 season, Avila cited the flawed roster as a major reason why the Tigers have limped to a sub-.500 record this season. Avila did everything short of throw his former colleague under the bus, saying that this year's team "was flawed from the start."
This is a big reason why Ausmus will be back next season. Between injuries -- Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Victor Martinez, Anibal Sanchez, and Jose Iglesias have all missed significant time due to injury this season -- and ineffective play, it's no surprise that the Tigers are 11 games under .500. Ausmus has been thrown into trying circumstances, and it is not his fault that the team has fallen well short of expectations. No amount of zany Joe Maddon antics or old school Buck Showalter strategy could have overcome what this team has gone through, especially after the Tigers traded away David Price, Yoenis Cespedes, and Joakim Soria at the trade deadline.
Ausmus isn't perfect, sure. His in-game management has been questionable at best, and his bullpen management leaves a lot to be desired. Even with the faults in his roster, Ausmus has not always put his players in the best position for success. To lay the blame of this season on Ausmus' shoulders would have been unfair to him. This isn't a reason to keep him for 2016, but the Tigers have seen enough positives that they feel confident in his abilities next season.
Those positives have come behind the scenes. Fans only see a small percentage of a manager's interactions with his players, and are only given glimpses of the factors that weigh into each and every in-game decision a manager makes. Avila cited Ausmus' work with the young players on the Tigers' roster as a major factor in the managerial decision, and the players echoed that praise. James McCann has quickly become a fan favorite because he's not Alex Avila, but it's easy to see how much he has improved since the beginning of the season. Jose Iglesias made the All-Star team, Nick Castellanos has enjoyed a solid second half, and others have shown flashes of promise.
Ausmus has also earned clout with the veterans. Fans will be quick to point out Justin Verlander's icy stares when Ausmus strolls out to the mound in a late-inning situation, but the staff ace was quick to come to his skipper's defense when fans booed him lustily two weeks ago. Ian Kinsler threw in a lighthearted jab at those same fans on Sunday, saying "He's gonna be our manager next year, so deal with it." Ausmus has also drawn praise from Alex Avila and Torii Hunter, among others.
If anything, the analysis should end there. The players are the ones who have to deal with their manager for 162 games a season, and if they feel Ausmus is the best person available for that job, he should keep the job. Full stop.
There are other reasons to be encouraged, though. Avila was very candid in his press conference when he explained the thought process behind his decision, and his pragmatic approach is something the Tigers will need as they head into one of their most pivotal offseasons in recent memory. The core of this team is talented enough to return to the postseason next year, and rocking that boat unnecessarily would have been unwise.
Brad Ausmus may not be the best manager in baseball. A week ago, most thought he would be updating his résumé on October 5, one year to the day after the Tigers were eliminated from the 2014 ALDS. Instead, he will be a part of a franchise looking ahead to 2016. He and the Tigers have a chance to erase the bad memories of a tumultuous season, and the team's show of faith in their second-year manager should give us confidence that he can right the ship in short order.