We're entering year three of the Brad Ausmus management era. In his first season, the Detroit Tigers won the AL Central Division title before being eliminated in three games in the ALDS. In his second season, the Tigers finished in the basement of the AL Central with a 74-87 record. The last-place finish sparked rumors of Ausmus' demise until the Tigers announced he'd return for a third season.
The shortcomings in 2014 could be attributed to Ausmus being a rookie manager. Despite that, winning a division title in your rookie season is an accomplishment. The disaster that was the 2015 season was mostly attributed to multiple injuries and underperforming players, and eventually to the decision to trade away major pieces at deadline.
Despite this, there were still times that Ausmus made a decision that left many people scratching their heads. A questionable call to the bullpen, leaving a pitcher in too long, taking a pitcher out too early. These things frustrate the fans, and led many to turn their backs on Ausmus, declaring him a bad manager. Granted, it was only his second season as a bench boss. But the excuses need to end now.
Ausmus is starting his third season as manager of a team that's expected to vie for a World Series title, and he has arguably the most talented roster of his tenure.
Ausmus' bullpen features Justin Wilson, Mark Lowe, and Francisco Rodriguez as the seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-inning guys. Gone are the days of guessing who to piece together to close out a game. The Tigers' best reliever in 2015 is available to plug into one of those spots in case of emergency, too: Alex Wilson.
Despite losing ace David Price, Ausmus has Justin Verlander, who seemed to regain his old form toward the end of 2015. He also has another ace in Jordan Zimmermann, and veterans Mike Pelfrey and Anibal Sanchez, along with a rising star in Daniel Norris. That's a starting five capable of having two 20-win starters, and another three with at least 12 wins.
Ausmus' lineup consists of six players who have been an All-Star at one point in their careers, and many who continue to perform at an All-Star level year after year. He also has the best hitter of our generation in Miguel Cabrera. Players such as James McCann and Nick Castellanos are still young and show a lot of promise with the bat.
The defense should once again be very strong, after finishing ninth in all of baseball with a .986 fielding percentage in 2015, only .002 points shy of the MLB lead. Led by defensive wizard Jose Iglesias and his double-play partner Ian Kinsler, there shouldn't be many balls that manage to squeak through the middle of the infield.
On paper, this is the strongest team Ausmus has had. With an owner who wants to win now, Ausmus will be expected to send the Tigers to the promised land and deliver a World Series championship to Detroit. The time for excuses is over. It's now time to get results.