That Sinking Feeling

A bunt. And then, a walk. Then, a missed pop-up.

Up until then Justin Verlander had set down the first 16 batters he faced last night. Perfect game going in Seattle. Then he lost it. On a bunt by Jarrod Dyson. Then, a walk. Then, seemingly a harmless pop-up dropped and the bases were loaded. A hit and a strikeout followed, but then Nelson Cruz doubled to end JV’s night. An inning later, Shane Greene gave up the game and the Mariners won 7–5.

This season is quickly going south. The Tigers have lost five in a row and have fallen almost to last place in the AL Central. Last night was quite probably their worst loss of the season. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if newly installed owner Chris Ilitch tells Al Avila after this weekend to leave Brad Ausmus in San Diego.

Comerica Park is quickly becoming MLB’s version of Art Van Furniture. Tigers are offering tickets for nothing just to get people in the seats. Digital passes, discounted tickets, weekday value packs, you name it. The team is still marketed well, but something’s amiss in Tigertown.

If it’s not the starters, it’s the bullpen. If it’s not the bullpen, it’s the hitting. For all the talk of this being the last shot, this team sure is shooting themselves. Miguel Cabrera is hitting 45 points below his “normal” average. When he started the season 0–12, everyone said he’ll heat up. Well, it’s late June and he’s hitting .266 (54 points below his career average) with seven home runs and 32 RBI’s and his OPS is 150 points lower than his career average, then you know he’s 34 and slowing down. If the Tigers are out of the race by mid-August, I suspect they’ll shut him down for the rest of the season.

In a little over five weeks, the non-waiver trade deadline hits. J.D. Martinez, (a certainty) Ian Kinsler (strong possibility)and maybe even Verlander might be gone by July 31. Also, Justin Upton, Jose Iglesias, Anabal Sanchez and others might be gone by then as well.

I have been watching the Tigers for 50 years. In those 50 years, they have won two World Series, four American League pennants, seven division titles and a wild card. I’ve seen the improbable, (the 1968 comeback from the brink against the Cardinals) to the expected (1984’s wire-to-wire ride), the wild (the 1972 playoffs vs. Oakland), the wacky (1976, the year of Mark “the Bird,” Fidrych) and everything in between. A hundred-loss seasons, 119 losses in 2003, a revolving door of managers between Sparky Anderson and Jim Leyland, the failed ownership of Tom Monaghan, who had the temerity to hire Bo Schemblecher (who knew nothing about baseball) and fire legendary broadcaster Ernie Harwell. I’ve seen Tiger Stadium closed and Comerica Park opened.

Last year, the Tigers finished just out of the playoffs and just good enough for Brad Ausmus to keep his job. Several columnists and bloggers last season speculated that Ausmus’ job was safe because Mike Ilitch, the longtime owner, didn’t wish to fire him after a similar swoon last May. Well, Ilitch died in February and his son, Chris, is now the owner.

There are rumors out there that the Ilitch’s have quietly been kicking the tires about selling the team. They point to the Pistons following Bill Davidson’s death and his widow wanting nothing to do with ownership. It took nearly two years and the tying of then-President Joe Dumars’ hands, but Karen Davidson finally found someone willing to buy the team. The family faced a $2.7 billion tax lien, but settled for $388 million.

If a similar situation is unfolding for the Ilitch family, Al Avila might be similarly handcuffed. Even though, just by doing nothing and allowing the expiring contacts of Sanchez and defrocked closer Francisco Rodriguez to expire, that pushes the Tigers payroll under the luxury tax threshold that only they and the Dodgers are currently paying. If they trade Martinez and Kinsler, they’re not going to get the same results like they did in 2015, when they traded David Price and Yeonis Cespedes for Daniel Norris and Buck Farmer.

Even a contending team, like the Astros or Brewers won’t give the Tigers their top prospects in exchange for either Kinsler or Martinez, which would likely be a two-to-three month rental, although I might be willing to say Houston might bite on getting J.D. back after letting him go for nothing in 2014. Now, a team like the Dodgers, throw in JV and either one of those two, you might make a deal.

In short, the Tigers, at the moment, are stuck in neutral from an organizational standpoint and sliding backwards in terms of their on field product. Whether or not they can “turn this thing around in a hurry,” as Ausmus hopes, will play itself out between now and the All-Star Break in two-and-a-half weeks. What happens to the team itself, that might take years.

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