By: Will Burchfield
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus has been preaching a day-by-day philosophy since this season began, refusing to look past the game at hand.
But as far as Detroit’s former skipper is concerned, the team is destined for the playoffs.
“I truly believe we’re going to get in, that’s just my opinion,” Jim Leyland told the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket on Wednesday morning. “I definitely think we’re going to get in. But at the same time, you’ve gotta win games.”
The Tigers’ 8-1 win over the Twins on Tuesday pulled them within 1.5 games of the Orioles for the second A.L. wild card spot with 12 games to go. If Detroit continues to take care of its own business, the standings will take care of themselves.
“When you’re in a situation like this, you have to make sure that you realize that you have to win,” said Leyland, who was involved in numerous playoff races over his 22-year career as a big-league manager.
“Obviously you’re going to scoreboard watch a little bit, there’s no question about that, but the biggest point is you have to have your team ready to go out and win games because at the end of the day, that’s the thing that’s going to count. It doesn’t matter what somebody else does. We’re at that point now.”
In Leyland’s opinion, it is crucial that the manager maintains an even keel amid the heightened stakes – something that he feels Ausmus has done particularly well.
“I think that you have to pretty much stay status quo as you are the whole year. Everyone knows the magnitude of these games now, but at the same time you don’t want to send a message to your players that you’re panicking, and I think Brad has done a great job of that,” Leyland said.
Leyland is just the latest prominent baseball figure to praise Ausmus for his work this season. Peter Gammons suggested in August that the Tigers’ skipper should be considered for the Manager of the Year Award and Kirk Gibson stood behind Ausmus earlier this month.
All three of them followed the same logic: amid numerous injuries and under-performances, Ausmus has kept the Tigers relevant.
“I personally think – and I know there are people that never want to hear this – but I really think it’s remarkable, to be honest with you, the situation we’re in right now. I think Brad Ausmus has done a fantastic job,” Leyland said.
“People say everyone has injuries, but the injuries that we’ve had – JD (Martinez) missing that much time, (Cameron) Maybin missing that much time and the revamp of the pitching staff in the middle of the season, pitching that many rookies – I think the guy has done an absolute phenomenal job.”
In recent weeks, it has been suggested that the Tigers should remove the slumping Victor Martinez from the clean-up spot in favor of J.D. Martinez. Ausmus has stuck with V-Mart, citing his ability to hit from both sides of the plate, while fans have accused the manager of soothing the ego of a veteran player.
Leyland’s not buying it.
“I think the bottom line is – and people sometimes don’t really quite understand this – as a manager you do whatever you think it takes to win the game, and you’re not worried about somebody’s feelings being hurt or anything of that nature,” he said. “You’re doing what you think it takes to win the game and that’s the way you have to manage your team and that’s exactly what Brad’s doing.
“But time’s running out. At the end of the day, when you have veteran players that have track records, in most cases you’re going to want them in there,” Leyland added.”
Leyland, now 71 years old, said he has enjoyed watching the Tigers from the comfort of his living room rather than the stress-riddled confines of the dugout. Still, on some nights, he feels the lure of the competition.
“There’s no question about that. You never lose that competitive nature. I mean, I’m into this thing, I’m into this race. I got up in the middle of the night last night to see how Toronto did,” he laughed. “It is different but it’s certainly an exciting time for the Tigers and Tiger fans.”