For the fourth consecutive season, the Detroit Tigers are AL Central champions, but this time around, it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing toward another title. Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera have had down years, at least compared to their previous greatness. Injuries suffered by Jose Iglesias, Anibal Sanchez and Alex Avila, along with the trade of Austin Jackson, have tested the team’s depth. The defense hasn’t been a strength, particularly at third base (Nick Castellanos) and right field (Torii Hunter). And shortstop has been a trouble spot all season.
Despite all that, they managed to hold off the Royals by a single game, thanks in large part to the continued excellence from Max Scherzer, surprisingly great years from Rick Porcello, J.D. Martinez and Victor Martinez, and the acquisition of David Price. But as the Tigers prepare to travel to Baltimore to meet the Orioles in the ALDS on Thursday, one big question hangs over them: When will first-year manager Brad Ausmus‘ seemingly questionable bullpen decisions cost Detroit a playoff game?
That’s an issue that has taken on a life of its own over the past few weeks, as Ausmus has stuck with his season-long plan of Joba Chamberlain in the eighth inning and Joe Nathan in the ninth, despite the consistent struggles of the 39-year-old Nathan and the presence of July trade acquisition Joakim Soria, who was a star closer in Kansas City before undergoing Tommy John surgery. Soria was in the midst of a rebound season with the Rangers when he was traded, and he has appeared in 13 games for the Tigers. Only one of those appearances was a save situation, and even that was just because Nathan was unavailable, having thrown 42 pitches in the previous two days.
Ausmus’ strategies are easy to question. But what never seems to come up is this: The Tigers’ bullpen has generally been awful no matter what Ausmus has done. Maybe the issue is less with the managers’ deployment of the relievers and more with the simple performance of the players in uniform? Read the rest of this entry »