Baseball is a long season. I mean a loooooong season. Yet with 162 games needed to complete a season, the Detroit Tigers are only worried about their last 5 games.
They currently sit 1 game behind the Baltimore Orioles for the 2nd and final Wild Card spot. The Orioles are in a tight series with the Toronto Blue Jays who hold the 1st Wild Card spot.
The Tigers have two games remaining against the Cleveland Indians who have already clinched the AL Central. This fact helped the Tigers last night, as they were able to win 12-0 against what essentially amounted to the Indians AAA team. It didn’t hurt that Justin Verlander was pitching last night. To be fair though, most of the people in the crowd could have pitched the team to a win last night.
So, what does that mean for the last five games the Tigers have to play? They have two more against the Indians, who by all reports are going to continue to play their lesser players in order to rest their starters for the ALDS. This means that barring a complete pitching collapse, or lack of offense, the Tigers should be able to win at least one of the two remaining against the Indians.
Their final three games are in Atlanta against the Braves. Normally, when you play the second worst team in baseball, you expect to win most if not all games in the series. This isn’t a normal series against an awful team. The Braves are playing their final home series at Turner Field, which has been the teams home since 1997. The Braves are still a team with talent, and now they have motivation, which means that the Tigers will need to take this team seriously in order to win the games they need to make the playoffs.
What happens however if the team is not able to overcome its deficit and once again misses the playoffs. I believe that Brad Ausmus’ job relies on the team making the playoffs. In professional sports, managers and coaches don’t keep a job for long if their team isn’t successful. Often times, the manager is in a position where they are fighting an uphill battle to win games, let alone compete for championships. Unfortunately, being a coach is a results based position, so if your results don’t match the goals set out by management, you’re unlikely to keep your job.
Often times managers are fired without a clear cut better option available (see Gardenhire, Ron) because the current voice and way of doing things have become stale. Although Ausmus hasn’t been the manager for very long, he has been there long enough to need more than one playoff appearance in order to keep his job. The issue I have with Ausmus is that he seems bored or uninterested in winning or losing. He has tried at times to show that he is emotionally invested in the team, but he seems too laid back to be an effective manager.
The Tigers have not had a payroll lower than $163m in the three years that Ausmus has been manager. In the time, the team has played in just one playoff series, getting swept by the Orioles in 2014. That cannot happen to a team as talented as the Tigers. While they have been bit hard by the injury bug this year, fans won’t stand for another year missing the playoffs. Although Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera are having resurgent seasons this year, neither one is getting younger and neither is owner Mike Illitch, who desperately wants to see the Tigers win a World Series while he is alive.
The question then becomes if the Tigers manage to squeak into the playoffs, but get swept once again, is that enough to save Ausmus’ job? Only time will tell. That time will come over the next 5 games. Until then, all we as fans can do is sit and wait. Oh that agonizing wait.