As the July trade deadline neared, there was much rumbling about the Tigers lack of offensive prowess. General consensus was that Detroit had to make a move to bring in a big bat. He should be left handed and be able to hit for some power. Instead, Dave Dombowski pulled the trigger on a deal for LHP Jarrod Washburn.
Then in mid-August, the Tigers added that hitter, acquiring Aubrey Huff from Baltimore. So far, neither Washburn nor Huff have been the key to maintaining the Tigers’ divisional lead.
The difference maker so far has been a healthy Carlos Guillen.
Since returning from injury on July 24, Guillen has provided very solid production. Coupled with a resurgence from Magglio Ordonez and Placido Polanco, Guillen has taken his rightful place in the middle of the Tigers order and lead to a much stronger team offense.
When the 2009 season began, Guillen was slated to play left field for Detroit. The former All-Star short stop had moved to first base and then third base in 2008, trying to cope with a body that was failing him. In order to shore up in infield defense, Guillen was shuttled out to left, allowing Brandon Inge to take over as the everyday third baseman.
Guillen wasn’t ready. Guillen broke camp with a bad Achilles and was trying to play through a throbbing right shoulder. The results were not good. Before the injuries finally pushed Guillen to the disabled list, he had limped through 24 games, mostly limited to DH duties. During that time, he had a paltry line of .200/.267/.244/.512 in 90 at bats.
As his time on the DL grew, the reports were not encouraging. As late as early July, there were rumors of a possible surgery to be performed on Guillen’s shoulder, a move that would cost him the rest of the year. But Guillen pressed forward with his rehab, and eventually saw some improvements.
Guillen began feeling good enough to begin a rehab assignment with AAA Toledo in mid-July. With the Tigers facing the rival White Sox for a five game series, Detroit made the move to recall Guillen, though he was not yet completely healthy. In fact, he’s still not.
Though listed as a switch hitter, Guillen’s shoulder has not yet healed enough to allow him to hit right handed. He only recently began playing defense again, seeing time at first base and left field. But what he has done, at half strength, has been a huge shot in the arm for a sagging Tigers offense.
In 33 games since his return, Guillen has belted eight home runs, and has driven in 23 runs. Prior to his disabled list stint, he had zero homers and just six RBI. While his season totals don’t look all that impressive, he has carried a .287/.354/.523/.877 line since his return.
Since being acquired prior to the 2004 season, Guillen has been a fixture in the heart of the Tigers order. Guillen’s return to form, along with solid contributions from Ordonez and MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera, has kept the Tigers in first place through August.
The Tigers will play rivals Minnesota and Chicago 13 more times before the season’s end. If Detroit plans to hold off both of those clubs, it will take a strong effort from the entire team. But specifically, it will take a healthy dose of Carlos Guillen.