(Tom Hagerty, Flickr)
The Detroit Tigers are in the midst of one of their ugliest slumps in the last few years. After a hot start and now a seemingly endless string of blowout losses, the question needs to be raised when is it time to start to panic about this team?
1. When is it adequate to start to worry – read panic – about the state of this team or is the hot start reason enough to give them the benefit of the doubt?
Chris Burke: Not yet. We’ve been through enough hot and cold stretches over the past few years to know that one week in May will not make or break things. I don’t think this team is as good as the hot start indicated, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it has been the past week.
Max DeMara: Much like I said with Miguel Cabrera when folks pressed the panic button with him prematurely, give it another three weeks. Baseball is funny. The Tigers dominated the Orioles and Red Sox in a variety of ways—clutch hitting, clutch pitching, bullpen dominance—and have had the fates turned around on them in a hurry. Such is the game. It’s a long season. They weren’t going to play .700 baseball all year long, anyway. If these losses are still happening by the end of June, it’s probably time to feel more concern than in late May.
Andrew Tomlinson: I tend to be a bit knee jerk with this team, so I will say I think the time is now to panic. Maybe it is just a case of playing three desperate teams back-to-back-to-back, but the Tigers do not even look competitive. The offense can’t get out to early leads the pitching can’t buy time for the offense to make an impact and the bullpen can’t stop games from becoming laughers. The way they are currently playing is an absolute joke and since they cannot seem to stop the slide, it is really starting to look like this may be more than just an aberration.
2. Can the team’s issues be fixed?
CB: If by the teams problems you mean the starting pitching, then sure. A rotation as loaded as this one will not keep imploding like this for very long. The offense may be another issue though…
MD: I’m not sure there’s a way to fix a string of bad starts and an offensive funk combined with a wacky travel schedule. Detroit had plenty of days off earlier in the year within a comfortable schedule, and have now played a ton of games consecutively. Maybe that’s what has finally caught up with them. In addition to the plane flap in Cleveland, they flew into Oakland hours after being blitzed at home in a long game by Texas and had to get off the tarmac and play baseball again. Even though we think of them as such, these guys aren’t robots; they’re simply humans. Fatigue and misfortune can happen in a day to day grind.
AT: While some of this can be chalked up to the whole team going ice-cold at once, much like the win streak was everyone being hot at once, but one thing that is worrying me is Justin Verlander. He used to be the stopper for streaks and now he just keeps getting lit-up. More than that, he has lost three-mph on his fastball and after the offseason surgery, his streak of bad starts is looking more like reality than mirage. If he isn’t right the pitching staff could be in trouble, as it is not as imposing without him.
3. Is there a lack of leadership in the locker room and thus the reason why they can’t ever seem to rally recently?
CB: No. We heard up until a week ago about how this locker room was in better spirits and more cohesive than last years team ever seen. The wins will come, the rallies will come.
MD: It’s unfair to pin a week-long slide on leadership. The players are a tight group who have added some rejuvenating pieces in Rajai Davis and Ian Kinsler who lead by example. Otherwise, it’s the same group who perhaps came within a David Ortiz grand slam of making the World Series two years in a row. As any team can attest, sometimes, things just don’t go your way. It’s not like they’re going out trying to lose every game by double digits just to spite each other. It’s simply a team-wide funk.
AT: Maybe it isn’t a case of lack or leadership, but maybe it is a lack of focus. Obviously it is important to be loose as a club, but looking at the recent streak maybe all of the Zubaz, MLB Network appearances and quirky little dances have distracted the team a bit. It is time for them to get back down to focus and quit with the antics. The fact they had a team meeting on Saturday and still got lit up is not filling me with confidence either.
4. When do you begin to question Brad Ausmus? It is clear the team isn’t performing and usually it is the manager held responsible for that, has the time come to wonder if he is able to manage a major league squad?
CB: Not yet. I was as quick as anyone to jump on Leyland when this team struggled, and it’s certainly worrisome to see how poor the fundamentals have been the last few days. But unless the starting pitching improves, there’s not much every manager can do. Teams that give up 10 runs per game and blow through their bullpen regularly don’t win very often.
MD: Brad Ausmus isn’t going at this by himself as a rookie. He’s got Gene Lamont, Jeff Jones, Dave Clark and Omar Vizquel there with him. In other words, there’s loads of people with loads of experience—managerial and otherwise—who’ve seen it all in the game together. I’ll start to question Ausmus only when his record slides below .500, or he starts making bizarre managerial moves resulting in losses. We haven’t seen either of those things happen much this year or during the losing streak, so he gets the benefit of the doubt.
AT: Again I’ll defer from the group and say I’m starting to waver a bit. Why on earth does Ian Kinsler have to rest when they are trying to break a streak and maybe the bullpen was overused a bit. He is not in full on Leyland mode yet, but managers should help guide teams through losing streaks and he has yet to show he can do that.