Left Handed Bats Will Make Difference in Second Half for Tigers


Bill Simonson is an idiot. It really is that simple. He’s an idiot on his radio show and he’s an even bigger idiot when he writes his blog at MLive. He’s such an idiot that I hate even responding to his drivel, but I feel compelled to.

Simonson spent his post today lambasting Tigers manager Jim Leyland for his “second-half struggles” in years past. There is no denying that since Leyland took the reigns in 2006, his teams have performed better in the first half than the second, but instead on breaking down why Leyland’s previous squads limped to the finish and what Simonson thinks may happen this year, he goes off on the manager for the fact that over the past week, Ryan Raburn has started more games than Alex Avila or Brennan Boesch.

Well, I suppose if you are an idiot, you’ll get enraged over that last line. How could a manager start a guy like Raburn so often and keep potential all-stars on the bench? Um, because neither Boesch nor Avila are second basemen and Raburn is. Like it or not, someone does have to play second base. We can debate how well Raburn plays the position if you’d like, but he does play it. And the majority of the games this past week were played in National League parks, meaning the DH was not in use, so there goes at bats for either Avila or Victor Martinez. One of the two was going to have to sit.

Simonson then goes on to state that the Tigers poor second halves are caused by Leyland resting his best players too often. I just don’t buy that argument. Leyland doesn’t start resting his players in August, he does it from day one of the season. Wouldn’t the logic Simonson uses mean that the Tigers should be underperforming all year long and not just in the second half? According to him, it does mean that. Simonson suggests this team should be “at least six games up” in the Central right now.

I hate feeling like I have to defend Jim Leyland. Like everyone else, I am left scratching my head at some of the lineups he runs out there on a given night. But there are reasons that his teams have struggled in the second halves since he came to Detroit, and there are reasons why I don’t think we’ll see a similar path this year.

The downfall of the 2006 team was the injury to Placido Polanco. Polly missed over a month late in the year and the Tigers, who didn’t know anything about winning at that point, were ill-equipped to handle the loss of their most steady performer. The 2007 team was rolling along in a tight race with Cleveland until Gary Sheffield went down. Last year, it was Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen whose injuries cost the club.

What about 2009? Well there’s not much you can do when the Twins, who hadn’t played above .500 all year and were without an MVP winner, go 17-4 in their last 21 games. Two of those losses came to the Tigers.

But every team has to deal with injuries, it’s how you deal with them that makes the difference. The Tigers depth was either inadequate in some years, or ineffective in others (see Huff, Aubrey).

This year’s club has something that Leyland’s Tigers teams have never had. They have three legitimate left handed bats.

The Tigers under Leyland have always been right handed heavy. Be it Ordonez, Polanco, Pudge, Sheffield, even Marcus Thames, Brandon Inge, and Craig Monroe, the Tigers have had a dearth of left handed bats, especially middle-of-the-order type hitters. The only legitimate stick was a healthy Guillen, and he hasn’t been healthy in years. No, fans, Sean Casey doesn’t fit that description. Apart from him, you’re looking at guys like Huff or Curtis Granderson. But Grandy was the lead-off man, so he doesn’t count either.

This year they have Martinez, they have Avila, and they have Boesch. This is a different team for those reasons.

One might worry that Boesch may have another second-half collapse, but he’s got a different approach at the plate this year, one that should eliminate the prolonged daught he suffered through in 2010. Avila has never hit like this before, so I suppose you can wonder if he can keep it up. I think he can. His swing never gets too long and his eye is tremendous, which allows him to hit in good counts frequently.

Then there’s Martinez. This is a guy you just don’t worry about. VMart will hit, just as he has done his whole career and just as he has done this year.

If the Tigers hit the skids down the stretch this year, it won’t be because of Jim Leyland. It will be because an injury or two pops up and bites them. That can’t be placed at Leyland’s feet. He has the horses this year like he’s never had before and his willingness to rest his players early in the year should mean they don’t wear down late.

I like their chances. A lot.

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