BULLPEN TAKES BACK SEAT

By:  Kurt Snyder

You might think I am going to jump into the fray with “the sky is falling” popular opinion in light of the VMart injury.   But I am going to let someone else tackle that subject.   I don’t feel like yelling today.   Nope, let’s think back to a year ago for a moment.

Last season, when the Tigers left spring training it was obvious to everyone, fans and media alike, that the bullpen was the weakest link and the area to be most concerned about in the team’s quest for another division title.

They had spent big on a closer, seemingly easing the minds of everyone, yes everyone. They had checked the box appropriately, it seemed, when Joe Nathan was signed to be the guy that would shut the door in the ninth.

Ironically, the concern was with everyone but Nathan. The rest of the pen had been pieced together with cast offs and guys left over from the pen that had seen better days in their careers. Joba Chamberlain had been brought in looking to make a comeback. Ian Krol arrived in the well documented “worst trade in the history of baseball.” And the Tigers would continue to pin their late inning hopes on guys like Phil Coke as they sadly lost Bruce Rondon to Tommy John surgery.

Well, we all know the ending to this fine tale. When we all worried most about the supporting cast, it was the ring leader himself, Joe Nathan, who fell on his face from the very first day he stepped onto the field wearing the D. All year long, we hid our faces from the television as Nathan mostly gave us Nothin’ for most of the season.  It was the worst season of his career, so kindly saved for us in Detroit. Thanks so much, Joe.

Even the acquisition of a previously stellar Joakim Soria at the trade deadline couldn’t save us as he struggled early before an injury robbed him of any effectiveness he had left. Nothing would save us from our bullpen, but little was tried.

You could almost sense that our unproven rookie manager wanted to stand up and admit to all that he was hiding nervously behind his bullpen all season.  But it wasn’t the bullpen holding back the team, it was Brad himself.   If you have a glaring weakness, it’s the manager’s job to make the most out of what you do have, not continue to trust in what you don’t.

So here we are, approaching another spring training, where many fear again that the bullpen is our weakest link followed by a once feared starting rotation that we will have to wait on to see if it has indeed been downgraded.

But, I for one don’t feel our biggest weakness or concern lies in either of those areas. I think our weakness lies at the feet of Brad Ausmus. Until he opens his mind and discovers there is more than one way to skin a cat, he will continue to drag down a team that is still extremely talented and still worthy to be a favorite to win another division title. But they will need a competent manager to lead them to the Word Series.

You know what I am talking about. Who has Anibal Sanchez, leaving that mound in Baltimore in Game 2 after 2 innings of brilliance, still stuck in their heads?  Who wakes up screaming as they relive Ausmus going back to the same pitchers, who were bludgeoned in Game 1, for another shot at destruction in Game 2?

The hope is that Ausmus has learned the hard way and these same thoughts have kept him up all winter. Because this is still a very good team, capable of so much, especially if we can somehow get healthy; a factor that may be the most important of all.

So, when they hit the field in Lakeland, until proven otherwise, the biggest weakness will be the guy standing in the dugout, either leading this team to the Promised Land or again straight into the ground.    Come on Brad, we need our sleep.