Brad Ausmus doesn’t want to make the tough calls

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When the Tigers acquired reliever Joakim Soria from the Rangers on July 23, giving up two of their top 10 prospects to do so, it seemed obvious he should take over as Detroit’s closer. After all, he had a 2.70 ERA at the time and was 17-for-19 saving games for Texas. Nathan had a 5.89 ERA and had blown five saves in 25 chances.

Instead, manager Brad Ausmus stuck with Nathan. It worked out fine. Soria stumbled out of the gate for the Tigers and then suffered a strained oblique that cost him a month. Nathan’s ERA was much improved the rest of the way, though his WHIP actually went up a bit (Nathan had a 5.61 ERA and a 35/14 K/BB ratio in 33 2/3 innings in the first half and a 3.70 ERA and a 19/15 K/BB ratio in 24 1/3 innings in the second half).

After Soria returned, Ausmus never wavered, not even to install Soria as the eighth-inning guy over Joba Chamberlain. While most focused on Nathan’s struggles, Chamberlain had gone from posting a 2.63 ERA in the first half to a 4.97 ERA afterwards. He had a 40/12 K/BB ratio in 37 2/3 innings prior to the All-Star break and a 19/12 K/BB ratio in 25 1/3 innings afterwards. At least in the second half, the eighth inning had proven more problematic for the Tigers than the ninth.

Related: Tigers give up four in eighth, lose 7-6 to Orioles in ALDS Game 2

Yet Ausmus refused to try anything different. Maybe Soria hadn’t quite returned to form following the oblique injury, but Al Alburquerque remained criminally underused. Alburquerque had a 2.51 ERA this season, lowering his career mark to 2.82. He allowed two runs over 18 2/3 innings in August and September. He held right-handers to a .190/.281/.237 line and was still plenty respectable against lefties (.245/.311/.369). Yet his last three appearances this year came in games the Tigers lost a combined 28-9. He hasn’t pitched in the ALDS.

It’s not just the eighth inning, either. On two occasions against the Orioles, Aumsus has seemed to defer to his players against his better judgment. In Game 1, he started Davis in spite of a groin injury that had him looking more like a 40-year-old catcher than a fleet-footed center fielder. There’s no way Davis should have played (Davis started again today, then exited in the fourth because of his injury). In the sixth inning today, he sent Justin Verlander back out to the mound, only to pull him after a leadoff single (that should have been caught by Davis’s replacement, Ezequiel Carrera). If Verlander was one mistake away from coming out, why send him out to make that mistake?

Brad Ausmus’s flaw has nothing to do with intelligence. He just seems overly resistant to change. He doesn’t like tweaking his lineups: Rajai Davis has bigger platoon issues than any right-handed hitter in the game; he’s a quality leadoff man against lefties, but he really shouldn’t be starting against righties at all. Ausmus hits him ninth on a full-time basis regardless. Ian Kinsler had a .270 OBP in the second half, yet remained the everyday leadoff man. Ausmus decided it made more sense to win or lose with Chamberlain in the eighth than it did to try anything different. And now the Tigers’ season appears nearly over because of it.

Last year, Tigers manager Jim Leyland installed career infielder Jhonny Peralta, returning from his 50-game PED suspension, as his left fielder with three games left to go in the regular season. When Austin Jackson, a leadoff man all season long, struggled in the postseason, Leyland suddenly dropped him in the order in the ALCS and started hitting Torii Hunter first and Miguel Cabrera second.

Ausmus, still a rookie manager, lacks that boldness at this stage of his career. Down 2-0 to the Orioles, He’ll probably go in a different direction given a lead in the eighth inning of Game 3 on Sunday, but only because he’s really been left with no other choice (Anibal Sanchez almost surely will be that eighth-inning guy unless David Price can get through the inning himself). I still imagine Ausmus will turn into a strong manager in time, but 2014 has been a learning experience for him. It’s too bad for the Tigers that they didn’t get a year with Leyland at the helm and Ausmus as a bench coach before making the transition.

Justin Verlander named 2019 American League Cy Young Award winner

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Astros starter Justin Verlander was voted by the Baseball Writers Association of America as the 2019 American League Cy Young Award winner. Teammate Gerrit Cole finished in a close second place at 159 points. Charlie Morton finished third at 75 points, Shane Bieber fourth at 64, Lance Lynn fifth at 18, Eduardo Rodríguez and Lucas Giolito sixth at eight, and Mike Minor eighth at seven.

Verlander, 36, won the AL Cy Young Award (and AL MVP Award) in 2011 with the Tigers). He and Cole became the first pair of teammates to finish first and second on the ballot for the AL Cy Young Award. Four NL teammates accomplished the feat: Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in 2001 and ’02, Don Newcomb and Sal Maglie in 1956, and Mike Marshall and Andy Messersmith in 1974.

During the regular season, Verlander led all starting pitchers in wins (21), games started (34), innings pitched (223), and WHIP (0.803). He also compiled a 2.58 ERA with a 300/42 K/BB ratio. Along with a 300-strikeout season, Verlander achieved other milestones, including reaching 3,000 strikeouts for his career and 200 career postseason strikeouts (an all-time record).

2019 was not without controversy for Verlander, a future Hall of Famer, as he had a well-publicized disagreement with Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press. He tried to have Fenech barred from the clubhouse during media availability despite the collective bargaining agreement ensuring access to BBWAA-credentialed reporters. It was one of many Astros-related scandals in 2019.

Verlander is the first Astro to win the Cy Young Award since Dallas Keuchel in 2015. Roger Clemens (2004) and Mike Scott (1986) also won the award back when the Astros were in the National League.