The Royals and Tigers match-up this week in a series that was supposed to be a big divisional clash. However, baseball is unpredictable, and while the Royals have been flying high this year, the Tigers have stumbled after a hot start in April. We talked with Rob Rogacki, editor of "Bless You Boys" to talk about the disappointing Detroit summer.
Royals Review: How does it feel for the Tigers to be sellers at the trade deadline for the first time since....well, when was the last time the Tigers were sellers?
Rob Rogacki: I think many Tigers fans were relieved by the team's decision to sell at the trade deadline. I wrote last week that preseason expectations can take the fun out of watching your team, especially when they aren't living up to the hype. The Tigers were fast approaching those dreaded Philadelphia Phillies comparisons, so it's refreshing to see that owner Mike Ilitch was willing to trust his staff and allow the team to sell at the trade deadline.
While it's not particularly fun to watch your team punt on a chance to reach the playoffs, I think anyone who watched this Tigers team consistently realized that the odds of them making a playoff run were very long. Even with David Price, they didn't have the pitching to compete with the best teams in the AL, and buying at the deadline would have only accelerated their decline. Instead, GM Dave Dombrowski has jumped ahead of the curve by grabbing a few promising prospects. Daniel Norris is coming off a stellar debut in Baltimore, and pitchers Michael Fulmer and Matt Boyd are both currently enjoying breakout seasons. None of them need to be stars on this roster, but getting some cost-controlled production will provide a huge boost for this team's payroll flexibility.
Royals Review: Do you anticipate a big shift in organizational philosophy or was last week just some minor re-tooling until this winter?
Rogacki: If anything, the organizational shift in philosophy came last winter, when Dave Dombrowski jettisoned starter Rick Porcello to Boston in exchange for Yoenis Cespedes. I was a bit tepid on that move at the time, but like usual, I was as wrong as can be. Cespedes put up 4.2 WAR before he was traded, and even Alex Wilson has been worth more WAR than Porcello this year. Between trades and monstrous free agent contracts, the Tigers had lost four quality starters from their roster in just over a calendar year (Porcello, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, and Drew Smyly). It's no coincidence that five of the six players the Tigers acquired at the trade deadline were starting pitchers. Sure, most of them will likely end up in the bullpen, but Dave Dombrowski's hallmark has been a strong starting rotation, and he's getting back to basics with this latest "rebooting" phase.
Royals Review: The Tigers still look like a talented team on paper. What has held them back this year?
Rogacki: The offense scuffled a bit in the early season as they grounded into an inordinate number of double plays at inopportune times, but the pitching staff has been the downfall of the 2015 Tigers. They rank among the very worst teams in the American League in just about every statistical category, and were it not for the heroic efforts of David Price, the Tigers might have the worst record in the league. Anibal Sanchez has contracted homer-itis, while Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene fell apart after hot starts. Justin Verlander spent two months on the disabled list, and his recent resurgence was "too little, too late" for the Tigers' playoff hopes.
Then there's the bullpen, which... yeah. Do I have to talk about the bullpen? It's bad. Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy have been nice pieces, but they have been used in lower leverage situations while the likes of Joba Chamberlain, Tom Gorzelanny, Bruce Rondon, and Neftali Feliz have been thrust into high-leverage situations with aplomb. Brad Ausmus is being asked to mold a pile of poop like its Play-Doh, but he's doing a rather crappy job of putting relievers into the right situations to succeed. Without Joakim Soria to lean on now, though, Ausmus might start being more flexible.
Royals Review: Brad Ausmus has received a fair amount of criticism this year. What is your biggest concern with him and is he on the hot seat?
Rogacki: Many will cite Ausmus' bullpen management as one of his biggest issues as the team's manager, but I'm seeing things that are much harder to quantify. The Tigers have seemed unfocused at times this year, making more mental errors than I remember seeing in recent years. They do not seem to have learned from their in-game mistakes, particularly on the basepaths. There have been moments of miscommunication between Ausmus and his players that you don't seem to hear about with other teams. I'm not as bloodthirsty as the Tigers fans who have wanted Ausmus' head on a pike for months, but I'd also like to see the team look elsewhere for 2016. The list of potential replacements isn't very appealing right now, though.
Royals Review: There have been some bright spots for the Tigers like shortstop Jose Iglesias who not only makes highlight-reel catches but has come on to hit as well. We've got a pretty good defensive shortstop with Alcides Escobar. Make the case that Iglesias deserves the Gold Glove over Esky.
Rogacki: If I'm appealing to actual Gold Glove voters, I would just attach a VHS tape (I'm assuming that's how far they've advanced) of a looping Iglesias jump throw highlight and a paper copy of his statline with the .315 batting average in 72-point font highlighted in like six different colors. That should be enough to seduce those old bats, right? For those rooted in the 21st century, I'm still going to attach the jump throw highlights, because they're awesome. Iglesias often makes the spectacular look routine, and the "welp that's a single" into something downright silly. He can be prone to mental lapses at times, and many of his 10 errors are deserved. However, he is one of the best shortstops in baseball at making "unlikely" or "remote" plays (based on Inside Edge's classifications), both of which top Escobar.
Royals Review: What do you hope the Tigers accomplish in the last two months of the season?
Rogacki: If you allow me to be unreasonable for a moment, I hope the Tigers make up their 3 1/2 game deficit in the wild card race, go on a Royals-like run through the postseason, and beat the Nationals in however many games it takes so that I'm in the stands at Nationals Park when they clinch their first world championship in 31 years. Since that's not going to happen, I hope that they continue to hit. This offense is a lot of fun to watch, and nearly everyone is going to be back in 2016. I hope Daniel Norris stays healthy and pitches well, in that order, and I would like to see them sort out Shane Greene and Buck Farmer in hopes that they become useable pieces next season. I hope that Justin Verlander continues pitching like he has in his last four starts, because he has looked like the old Verlander of late. I also hope they find a way to finally conceal Miguel Cabrera in bubble wrap.
You can read all the latest Tigers news at Bless You Boys. Special thanks to Rob Rogacki for his help.