SHARP: Beating so-so teams not good barometer for Tigers

The slump’s over. The bats are booming. The manager’s safe — for now.

All’s right, but nobody honestly can say if the Detroit Tigers (21-22) are all right as they inch closer to .500 following Sunday’s series-finale 9-4 victory over Tampa Bay. It might seem like eons ago that the season unraveled, demanding dramatic change. But the 6-1 stretch doesn’t make Brad Ausmus a managerial savant any more than the preceding 1-11 stretch branded him a hopeless incompetent.

Too much credit when things go well. Too much blame when things pivot south.

“Baseball can be a stomach-churning roller-coaster ride,” Ausmus said. “It really can. If you’ve experienced that enough, it’s easier for you to keep a level head. We’ve got a veteran team that’s experienced that before. We certainly have a lot of coaches who’ve experienced that before.”

Let’s pump the brakes a little, shall we?

Level-headed thought is even more important now that the Tigers are playing better than when little went right for them and everyone was on the Ausmus managerial death watch.

The Tigers are 13-5 against teams with records .500 or worse. That’s fine. They’re doing what they’re supposed to do against inferiors. But they’re 8-17 against teams better than .500.

If they can’t beat the better teams, how can anyone logically suggest that they’re a legitimate playoff contender?

“Wins are wins any way that you can get them,” second baseman Ian Kinsler said.

The past week bought everybody extra time. The Tigers are happy with that. The past seven games gave them extra games to make proper personnel evaluations. Although the Tigers look much better than a week ago, the overall compelling narrative hasn’t changed.

Will the Tigers fool themselves into believing that they’re simply a veteran starting pitcher and another late-inning bullpen arm short of seriously challenging for a World Series?

Anything short of that isn’t worth further mortgaging more quality low minor league talent for a probable three-month rental. It’s one thing going “all in” with a payroll perilously close to $200 million. But it’s another thing naively ignoring that such a bloated salary balloon soon will pop. It can’t help but burst. And general manager Al Avila must prepare this organization for that rapidly approaching day. Even if his boss — owner Mike Ilitch — doesn’t want to hear that.

The Tigers must stop easily disposing prospects at the July 31 trading deadline under the guise that there rarely are consequences parting with minor leaguers who never come close to reaching the heights of even a marginal major leaguer. Avila must have a list of minor league untouchables even if the Tigers declare themselves buyers in the trade market this summer. It would be foolhardy purging the system of promising Class A talent like explosive outfielder Christin Stewart and hard-throwing young pitchers Beau Burrows — last year’s first-round draft pick — and Matt Hall.

“It’s great when you’re hitting,” Ausmus said. “But it’s pitching that wins. The chances of putting seven runs a game over 162 is pretty slim. Pitching wins. We need to pitch. I know we’ll hit. But we need to pitch.”

Jordan Zimmermann left Sunday’s game with a strained right groin. He was scheduled for an MRI Sunday evening. The Tigers are off Thursday; therefore, they could afford Zimmermann missing one start without any serious disruption to the regular rotation. But as the first 40 games of this season already have proven, there can no assumptions of matters running smoothly with this team.

They’ve got some depth at Triple-A Toledo. Left-hander Matt Boyd, acquired in the David Price trade to Toronto last summer, looks poised for another promotion when needed. Rookie right-hander Michael Fulmer looks like he should keep a spot in the rotation for now after striking out 11 in his win Saturday.

Unlike a week ago, time isn’t an adversary for the Tigers. They’ve feasted on bad teams, buying them more time to figure out if they’re really a good team.

avatar

Posted by Tribune News Services

Leave a Reply