Jul 31, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler (3) receives congratulations from third baseman Nick Castellanos (9) after scoring in the first inning against the Houston Astros at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Section 313 – Seat No. 11

Welcome to Section 313, Seat No. 11 — I’m glad you’re here this week. As the weekend series with the Tampa Bay Rays has already kicked off, the Tigers find themselves four games back of the division and only two games back of a Wild Card spot.  Which leads me to my thoughts about this team.

Generally, I hear people saying, “you’re way too optimistic about this team,” something for which I am never going to apologize. I always respond with, “I’m always optimistic until I can’t be.” But as the season progresses my position on the optimism-pessimism scale does begin waver. Current position on the optimism/pessimism scale: concerned optimism.

What is there to be concerned about?

In previous Section 313’s we’ve pointed toward the pitching, hitting, and even coaching as to suspects for the Tigers overall underperformance. And not to rehash everything I’ve written previously, but not one single facet of this team is to blame completely for the sub-.500 record, it is solely a team problem.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Detroit Tigers
Sep 25, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez (41) hits a grand slam home run in the third inning against the Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

There is no question that the core of this team is old and growing older with each and every passing day. Miguel Cabrera hasn’t been right for what seems like the entire season, finally breaking his silence last night in his post-game conversations with the press. But he’s not even the biggest concern on this team; arguably that honor lands at the switch-hitting feet of Victor Martinez. Martinez has been struggling, except for the month of May, this season and has been a constant source of media questioning for his statue-esque place as the clean-up hitter. His position in the batting order does seem to be a point of soul searching for Brad Ausmus, as he’s contemplated moving Victor if he feels so inclined. Some of it could be the illness he is dealing with that just came in, but regardless the numbers, even before this week haven’t been great.

Mar 20, 2017; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus (7) talks with teammates before an MLB spring training baseball game against the New York Mets at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

And that is where I think the most concern for me comes right now, the skipper. I will say that I, more than most, support Brad as the manager of the team. Again, I say that with cautious optimism. When he was hired as the manager of the Detroit Tigers a few years ago my immediate thoughts were that he couldn’t be that bad and that it wasn’t a terrible choice. Yet, I did feel that given the team that we had at the particular time needed a more seasoned manager and not one that was cutting his teeth on a managerial job.

I will say and stand firm on my belief that Brad Ausmus can be a good Major League manager. No one catches for 18 years in the Major Leagues and doesn’t know how to field manage a game. His experience with the game does not concern me. His intelligence, which is unacceptably questioned often, does not concern me. I’m sure that over the years Ausmus will prove to be a very capable manager. However, with rookie managers, sometimes there are growing pains, which is why it would have better served Ausmus — and the Tigers — for him to cut his teeth elsewhere.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Tampa Bay Rays
Apr 19, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA;Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Francisco Rodriguez (57) reacts after they lost to the Tampa Bay Rays in the ninth inning at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Detroit Tigers 8-7. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This was no more clear than in last night’s game against the Rays. In the bottom of the seventh, the Tigers were handed a gift when Rays shortstop Daniel Robertson slipped on a ground ball from Victor Martinez, which scored Ian Kinsler giving the Tigers a 3-2 lead. Francisco Rodriguez, who had complained to the media about his role on the team earlier in the week, was warming during the inning and once they scored the question became, do they give in the K-Rod or go with someone who has been more effective?

If you watched, you know the answer. Brad decided to go with K-Rod and well, he wasn’t ready for late game lead-holding just yet. An interesting perspective was given by a Twitter personality that made me think (please excuse the language).

If Hookslide23 is right, either way, Brad was in the wrong. The Tigers do not have the luxury of “trying out” KRod in high-leverage situations right now, due to the fact that he just hasn’t been good enough in the opportunities that he’s been given to this point.

What is there to be optimistic about?

Even with the concerns mentioned above, there is still room for optimism with this team. Namely that optimism comes from the clustered American League and the talent that is on the Detroit Tigers roster. Let’s start with the American League Standings [via MLB.com]:

AL WILD CARD STANDINGS

The picture painted between these two graphics is simply this: though the Tigers have underperformed to this point they still remain very close to contention. The AL standings is no Picasso, that is for sure, it’s more like something I would try to create in a moment of creative bliss–just a jumble mess. But given the fact that every team that is just outside the Wild Card spots is playing either .500 (Angels) or sub-.500 baseball gives hope for the Tigers.

If this Tigers team can perform at a rate that is expected given the names and past performance of said talent, they will be in contention–not only for a Wild Card birth but even possibly for a division championship. Optimism abounds in the numbers here.

All that matters at the end of the day is that the Tigers win because in the end teams are measured by their wins and losses. A good team wins and bad teams lose. It’s the black and white of the game. Still being in contention having dealt with poor pitching, poor hitting, and poor managing should be a positive for this team and the fan base. The Tigers truly have not even gone on a single run, a run of which the are more than capable of putting together. Given that I’m probably more optimistic than most, but still won’t apologize for that.

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