Yesterday was a bizarre and upsetting day for Detroit sports.
First, we got the news that Pavel Datsyuk, the mercurial star of the Red Wings, would not be ready for the beginning of the hockey season. His ankle is slowly mending from surgery that repaired ruptured tendons. Starting the 2015-16 season without Datsyuk isn’t catastrophic, but it does cast a shadow on the early stages of what should be a hopeful campaign for a fresh-faced team with a new coach.
In the afternoon on Sunday fans at Comerica Park were puzzled to see dark clouds of smoke billowing above the ballpark. It was the result of a seven-automobile car fire in the parking lot. Luckily no one was injured, but it caused quite a bit of anxiety.
Speaking of anxiety — I present the 2015 Detroit Tigers. On Sunday they were beaten soundly by the visiting Birds by the score of 9-3. Several bad things happened during the game: Justin Verlander was lit up for six runs in one inning and again looked very mediocre. It’s been a long, steep decline for JV since he stood atop the baseball world as MVP just four years ago. Third baseman Nick Castellanos was felled by an errant grounder that behaved like the “magic bullet” and changed course in mid-air to smack him the the face. He exited the game and is day-to-day. Also in the contest, Ian Kinsler was so irked at making an out that he slammed his bat to the ground with such force that it startled and intimidated (apparently) the home plate umpire. Mr. Kinsler was asked to leave the game.
After Sunday’s loss, which put the Tigers below .500 for the first time in the Brad Ausmus Era, both Verlander and team leader Victor Martinez were visibly irritated while talking to the press corps. Both of them know this team is better than this, with or without Miguel Cabrera. Both of them know that they should be playing better. Both of them know time is ticking away on this season and teams are stacking up in front of them for the playoff race.
The Tigers hadn’t been below .500 in the second half of the season in five years. They hadn’t been below .500 at all since April of 2013. But after a red-hot start (remember April?) that’s changed, and Ausmus — rightly or wrongly — is on the hot seat, at least in the eyes of many fans. But the manager correctly understands that there are no sudden fixes in a game as complicated as baseball.
“It’s not like there’s some magical formula where I can wave a wand over the top of the field and all of a sudden they’re in sync,” Ausmus said when asked if it was frustrating that his team can’t seem to put good offense and pitching together at the same time.
Tear a few more weeks off the calendar with the Tigers playing this passive and it won’t matter what Ausmus thinks or whether the offense is up or down or sideways. The Tigers are four-and-a-half games out of a playoff spot and there are five teams ahead of them, including the humdrum Orioles who just managed to take two of three from the Bengals. It’s hard to imagine that Dave Dombrowski would hold a fire sale with a team that Mike Ilitch loves so much, but it’s becoming more of a possibility with each passing series of uninspired play. Miggy may come back to a locker room filled with new faces and missing some familiar ones. We knew this team couldn’t win a division title every year (or did we?) but we didn’t think it would end in such lackluster fashion.
The Red Wings and Tigers are both riding impressive, historic streaks of success. Do all good things have to end? There’s a chance the Tigers could right the ship, and the Wings have a young team filled with several up-and-comers. But if that isnt the case, are Detroit fans patient enough for rebuilding?
How about them Lions? Training camp starts in eight days. ROAR.