Catching Fire: Is Brad Ausmus Evolving?, Or, Evidence That Brad Ausmus Definitely Reads ALDLAND

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Although it did not happen precisely as I predicted, the Tigers scored enough runs off new Red Sox pitcher Drew Pomeranz to allow rejuvenated starter Justin Verlander to depart after the sixth inning with a 2-1 Detroit lead. The offense added insurance runs in the seventh and eighth, but, with Justin Wilson on to take care of the power portion of the Boston batting order in the bottom of the eighth, the situation quickly became dicey:

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Those skyrocketing green leverage index bars right before the red ones are what pop up when you load the bases before you get any outs. Not good if you’re on defense. Wilson secured the first out by way of a strikeout, but the next batter singled, driving in a run and narrowing Detroit’s lead to two, with the bases loaded and only one out. That will earn you your first red leverage index bar of the night.

Wilson always looks a bit fidgety on the mound, and with the home crowd mockingly chanting his name like they would that of a visiting hockey goalie who appeared to be cracking under pressure, Wilson mustered his second strikeout of the inning. The reliever appeared, if not relieved, then not unhappy when manager Brad Ausmus came out to fetch him, surrendering the ball without protest. The team’s closer, Francisco Rodriguez, would be coming in to attempt a four-out save.

Not three weeks ago, a nearly identical situation presented itself to Ausmus and the Tigers. They were on the road in Toronto– another team they’re chasing in the AL Wild Card race– that night, and Verlander left in the sixth inning with Detroit up one. That favorable margin held through the top of the eighth inning, and Wilson was back out to handle the bottom of the eighth. He quickly got himself in trouble, putting two men on base. The next two batters made outs, but Wilson walked the third, leaving himself with bases loaded, two outs, and the slimmest of leads to protect. Last night, Ausmus went to his surest option, Rodriguez, in that spot, but on that night in Toronto, he turned to Alex Wilson, a decidedly less sure option, who immediately proved as such by surrendering the lead for good.

At the time, I criticized Ausmus for the decision to bring in Alex Wilson instead of Rodriguez, as well as for his stated reason for making that decision:   Continue reading

Catching Fire: Tigers offered another opportunity tonight against Pomeranz

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The Detroit Tigers are not out of the playoff hunt, but without any new faces likely to join their band during this in-season trade period, the team is going to need to take advantage of every beneficial opportunity the schedule affords them if their playoff push is to succeed.

The good news: on balance, that schedule is a favorable one.

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Detroit has the easiest post-All-Star break schedule among the AL Central teams, and they’ve held steady in second place for a few weeks now. First-place Cleveland has maintained a roughly six-game lead, though, and the Tigers also have been stuck at about four games back in the AL Wild Card chase as well.

Recent losses by relevant teams in both of those races– Boston, Cleveland, and Toronto– created an opportunity for the Tigers to make significant gains on both the divisional and wild card fronts. Detroit fumbled that opportunity, though, dropping two of three against the Twins and two of four against the White Sox.

They have yet another opportunity tonight at Fenway Park, though. Justin Verlander has been excellent again this season, and he’ll start tonight against the newest member of the Red Sox rotation, Drew Pomeranz. Detroit’s batters should be salivating.

As Joe Sheehan pointed out when Boston dealt a top prospect to San Diego in exchange for the Padres pitcher, Pomeranz isn’t exactly a model of endurance:

Pomeranz is up to 105 innings pitched heading into tonight’s start, and the twenty-seven-year-old doesn’t exactly have a track record of getting better as the season progresses:

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Those late-season climbing trends in his xFIP indicate that Pomeranz, like many pitchers, tends to perform worse as his seasonal workload accumulates. He’s made one start for Boston so far, and it went badly. He lasted only three innings, surrendering five earned runs on eight hits, two of them homers.

Tonight’s game represents another good opportunity for Detroit to make progress toward a playoff spot. Even if that’s just a one-game wild card spot, this may be the closest they come to postseason action for some time, and they need to make the most of it.

First pitch is at 7:10 on ESPN.

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Previously
Catching Fire: Brad Ausmus is not saying, he’s just saying – 7/8
Catching Fire: Ian Kinsler is the San Francisco Giants of the MLB All Star Game – 7/6
Catching Fire: Night of a thousand feet of home runs – 6/21
Catching Fire: Pelf on the shelf – 6/16
Catching Fire: When is it okay to stop short? – 6/15
Catching Fire: Heading for the exit velocity – 5/17

Catching Fire: Boy, the starters need to carry that weight a longer time – 5/3
Catching Fire: Who’s Number Two? – 5/2

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