The Black Hole in the Tigers Order
By John Parent
The Tigers have lost six straight games, all of them coming against teams that they should be beating routinely. I know, I know, Cleveland has the best record in baseball and maybe, just maybe they are much better than expected. I don’t much care for that explanation, however.
The Tigers are doing their best to find ways to lose games. The offense is struggling mightily and when they get good starting pitching, as they have the last two days, there hasn’t been enough support. Couple that with a pair of Joaquin Benoit blow-ups and things are looking pretty dim right now. Oh yeah, and the Yankees come to town for four games starting tonight. It just gets better, doesn’t it?
As Chris mentioned yesterday, Don Kelly started in Magglio Ordonez‘s place in Sunday’s series finale with the Tribe and he had a solid ballgame. That spot right in front of Miguel Cabrera in the order should produce results.
After all, even if you don’t buy into the idea of lineup protection, you can’t argue with the idea that pitchers will be more aggressive with the hitter just in front of Cabrera. The last things they want to do is to walk a guy and give the Big Fella a chance at a two-run bomb when they could have held him to a solo shot.
Kelly came up with a pair of hits and drove in a run yesterday. This was Kelly’s second start in the three hole and he has collected four hits (two doubles) in 10 at bats in that spot in the order. In fact, not only has Kelly produced at a much higher level in that spot in the lineup than at other spots (he’s a combined 3-for-20 in all other lineup positions), but the same holds true for the other two Tigers who have taken Magglio’s place in front of Cabrera this year.
Ordonez is struggling, there is no one who could argue against that. This season he’s hitting .159/.227/.174/.401, all while batting third in the order. In the 18 games that Ordonez has started, the Tigers are just 7-11. In the ten games that he hasn’t played, the Tigers are 5-5. I know we are dealing with small samples with all of these numbers, but that’s just the product of the early part of the season. And make no mistake, it’s getting late quickly right now with the club already 7.5 games out of first place.
Ryan Raburn, who has had a solid start to the season, has hit third three times (all Tigers wins). In those contests, Raburn has hit .357 (5-for-14)/.438/.571/1.009 with three doubles and two RBI. None of his four home runs have come fro the three-hole, but his combined average at all other spots in the order this year is just .235 and he has fanned in 36% of his plate appearances when batting anywhere but third, and only 19% of his trips when batting third. Again, small samples, but I think we are seeing a trend.
The third Tiger to occupy the three-hole in place of Magglio is Brennan Boesch. Boesch has made five starts in this spot and the Tigers are 2-3 when he does. Boesch has had a good deal of success when batting fifth and sixth this year, but he has done his best work when hitting third. He’s hitting .309 (21-for-68) when bating behind Cabrera (combined totals of batting fifth and sixth) with a .412 slugging percentage. In the three-hole, Boesch is 9-for-21 (.429) with a .667 slugging percentage. His only home run has come from that spot and seven of his 13 RBI have come when batting third as well.
The problem is that right now, it’s difficult to justify moving Boesch up in the order. Victor Martinez is due to return from injury on Wednesday and at that point, perhaps Jim Leyland can look at moving Boesch (or Raburn for that matter) up and feel comfortable with VMart hitting behind Cabrera again. No one in the American League can provide Cabrera with “protection” in the lineup, but Martinez gives the Tigers their best chance when Cabrera is pitched around. But no matter how hot the Tigers number three hitter is, you can bet that that hitter won’t get the Cabrera treatment.
For whatever reason, be it hi age, his ankle, his short hair, Ordonez hasn’t taken advantage of his good fortune of having a masher like Cabrera behind him. Others in that same spot have. I’m not suggesting a permanent move down in the order for Magglio; if he gets himself righted, he’s more than welcome to come back to the three-hole.
But in the meantime, the Tigers best chance for success is to have Raburn batting in front of Cabrera for the foreseeable future. When Martinez returns he will bat fifth and Boesch can hit sixth. Or flip-flop Boesch and Raburn. Really, either way would be fine by me.
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