Edson: Most Improved Tiger? It’s Manager Brad Ausmus

Nick Edson, Columnist

Last year at this time, Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus was clinging to his job.

General manager Dave Dombrowski, the man who hired Ausmus, had been fired weeks earlier. Most Tiger fans believed that Ausmus was next in line to go.

The Tigers suffered through a disappointing 2015 season. Dombrowski dealt away some top of the line talent at the trade deadline. What the Tigers received back were just a bunch of no-names, many Tiger fans believed.

But we do know those names in 2016 – Michael Fullmer, Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd and Jacoby Jones. They have all played key roles in the Tigers resurgence this season.

Truthfully, so has Brad Ausmus. I have to admit I was one of those Tigers fans who believed that Ausmus should have been let go. I thought he lacked the fire and the strategic skills to be a successful major league manager.

I was wrong.

Ausmus has taken some big strides this year on both levels.  In many respects, he is the most improved person in the Detroit Tigers dugout this year. And he has done it while the team has faced more than its share of injuries and challenges.

They are in the thick of the American League wildcard race with only a month left in the season. They are making the playoff push that we expected last year.

Why the difference from last year to this year?

There are several factors that have helped Ausmus. First, he was given a vote of confidence by new general manager Al Avila and re-signed for 2016. Secondly, the Tigers have a strong clubhouse thanks to the likes of Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera.

That has allowed Ausmus to concentrate more on strategic moves and handling his pitching staff with more confidence.

What we called “too laid back” a year ago we now call “level headed.” And it’s all because of winning.

The Tigers can still be a frustrating team to watch – they can rattle off five wins and look ready to roll into the post-season, then they can lose five in a row. They haven’t been consistent but they do have one ingredient they were missing a year ago – the ability to show some fire and rally in the late innings.

Part of that is because of Ausmus’ improved managerial skills. Last season, we scratched out head at some of his personnel moves, especially in the late innings. This year, he has shown steady signs of improvement.

So it’s time to give credit where credit is due. Brad Ausmus has arrived as a big league manager. It took a couple years, but I think we’ll look back at some point and realize it was the right move.

THE LAST WORD – College football kicked off over the weekend and we have to take the opening games with a grain of salt. Michigan was impressive in its first game. Michigan State, well, not so much. But both came away with expected victories. The truth is, I think both teams will be Top 25 this season. But Michigan won’t be as dominant as its first game. And Michigan State won’t be as disappointing. Remember, it’s a long season.

And how about those Detroit Lions? I’ve been a Lions fan since 1962 – the year they should have won the NFL championship – and I’ve been disappointed just about every year since. I’m hoping, of course, they are a playoff contender when they open the season next week. I guess as of now, they are.

Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.