By: Kurt Snyder
The 2016 Tigers have been a team of ups and downs; never able to get too far from breaking even. As a result, they have a team in front of them threatening to leave everyone in their dust, as the Indians are the only team in the division thus far who are winning quite a few more than they lose.
The Indians, who had been putting a thorough whooping on the Tigers to the tune of 11 straight victories, looked like they just might win them all.
But the Tigers must have surely felt good when they got on the plane for their short flight from Cleveland to Toronto, having finally beaten the Indians.
But the Tigers had only salvaged the last game of the series in Cleveland. When they left town, they were further behind than when they arrived; certainly not how you get back into a race threatening to get away from you.
So with a tough 4-game series awaiting them in Toronto prior to the All-Star Break, the mindset for this team had to be to head out on a high note. A series win would be the goal.
But it’s no picnic playing in Toronto these days and wins are hard to come by. The Tigers were running into a hot Blue Jays team, so it would be important to get off to a good start.
But Brad Ausmus managed his way out of a victory in Game 1, a game that was there to be had. JV had departed in the 6th in favor of Shane Greene, which certainly got my attention. Brad wasn’t wasting any time. He was getting to his biggest guns in the pen early, so it seemed, in the interests of preserving the lead and a shot at a series opening victory.
You might say it was very un-Brad like. He’s typically a guy that sticks to a system. But who was I to argue with the aggressive approach he was taking.
It was all lining up before our eyes. Justin Wilson came on in the seventh and later got into a jam in the eighth, but the lead was still intact with 2 outs. Kirk Gibson could see what was developing. KRod would soon be in for an opportunity for a 4-out save. And why not? When you get a lead, you do what you can, whenever it is, to maintain it.
But KRod would never get off the bullpen bench. He would never even warm up, much less come into the game. The bullpen door opened, and out came Alex Wilson, who promptly gave up a 2-run single, essentially losing the game.
But let’s be fair, KRod’s been very good but not perfect. There are no certainties. Troy Tulowitzki could have still delivered the game winner. I am just not real sure why an attempt to slam the door wasn’t pursued.
Did Ausmus have the remainder of the series in mind? Would he jeopardize KRod’s availability if he was overworked in Game 1? It’s a fair point. A 4-out save situation may tax him more than usual. But are you making an assumption that KRod would even get additional save opportunities over the next 3 days? Are you undervaluing the opportunity to open a series with a win over a hot team on their turf?
The Tigers starting rotation is so ravaged, the team went into the series not even knowing who would pitch Saturday and Sunday. Verlander pitched Game 1 and after that it would be Pelfrey followed by 2 guys with the same initials, TBD.
So who knows how many opportunities the Tigers were going to get to win in this series? But they had one Thursday night. And Brad chose not to put the foot on their neck. Killer instinct? Nowhere to be found.
This is just one more example to support why I can’t fathom this team being successful in a playoff series, should they find themselves in one in October. You see, in the playoffs, all the games seem to be like this, where every run, every opportunity to win is so important. But Brad just doesn’t seem to know when to pull the trigger.
After Thursday’s game, Craig Monroe wondered why KRod wasn’t brought in. And in response, Rod Allen was certain that Brad would have to answer the question in the post-game interview; a question that never came.
But Brad is rarely challenged with tough questions following a game, especially after a loss. The Fox crew is more than likely not allowed to ruffle any feathers. So let me ruffle a few.
Sometimes there are games to be won by the manager. And Brad continually reminds us of the kind of grit, the kind of intestinal fortitude he has when faced with a tough decision. And sadly, there is very little.
Does Brad walk from the dugout to the clubhouse after a loss feeling as if he did everything he could to help his team win? If he did Thursday night, then the fate of this team is already sealed.