For the vast majority of the season, the Detroit Tigers fielded a lineup heavy on quality hitters, but one that also featured three gaping holes. The healthy returns of Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez, along with the acquisition of Wilson Betemit, have changed all of that and made the Tigers one of the league’s deepest lineups.
Early this year, when Austin Jackson was hitting .181 through April, the Tigers didn’t appear to be a great offensive club. DH Victor Martinez had gotten off to a slow start as well, Ryan Raburn has already lost one starting job (as the left fielder), and both Magglio Ordonez and Brandon Inge were also struggling.
In the months since then, Jackson has been solid, posting a .270 average and .343 OBP over his last 67 games. It’s easy to look at his overall numbers and call this season a disappointing follow-up to his should-have-been Rookie of the Year campaign, but I think most of us expected some kind of a regression there. To see that since May 1 he’s been pretty good is an encouraging thing.
Jackson has had all sorts of help bringing the Tigers offense back from the dead early on as well. After a stint on the disabled list in early May, Martinez has been one of the better hitters in the game. While he hasn’t been driving the ball out of the park, VMart has 20 doubles since May 4 (also covering 67 games) and a .335 average with an .848 OPS. In those 269 plate appearances, he’s walked 21 times while striking out only 23 times.
The three gaping holes we talked about earlier weren’t Jackson or Martinez, though. I’m sure I don’t need to remind anyone of the seemingly automatic outs that were Ordonez, Raburn, and Inge. We’ve covered the Inge situation ad nauseum around here so we’ll just leave it at this: by bringing in Betemit, the Tigers now have a major-league caliber hitter in the nine-hole. We know Betemit isn’t a good defender, but I wouldn’t expect to see too many throws like the one he had last night, either. As below average as he’s been, he’s not typically that bad.
The Raburn problem has also been addressed with the return of Guillen. It’s only been five games, but since coming off the DL, Guillen has reached base in eight of 19 plate appearances. His home run the other night against Oakland was a reminder of what kind of a hitter he can be. In that at bat, Guillen was ahead 2-0 and sat on a fastball from Guillermo Moscoso. Despite being away from the major leagues, as baseball altogether, for almost a full year, Guillen didn’t miss his pitch. He took advantage of a pitcher’s mistake in a way that his predecessors at second base have been unable to do this year. Simply put, Guillen is just one more professional hitter to add to a lineup that now seems overflowing with them.
But in my mind, the best thing that has happened to the offense of late is the healthy return of Magglio. When the season began he was clearly not himself. Many of us speculated that he was still suffering from a bum ankle, many others figured the game had finally just passed him by. He was hitting just .172 when the Tigers placed him on the shelf.
After spending more than a month on the DL to strengthen his ankle, Ordonez returned on June 13. In the 27 games he’s played since then, Maggs is putting up a .303/.376/.404/.781 line. His extra-base power isn’t what it used to be, but he’s come up with several clutch hits that have provided the club with two-out runs. What’s more, Ordonez has grounded into just two double plays since his return and his .376 OBP shows he’s doing a great job of putting traffic on the bases ahead of Miguel Cabrera.
If nothing else, by adding Betemit and Guillen, the Tigers now have a lineup that feels complete. The minor league hitters and struggling veterans have been replaced either with healthier versions of themselves or with fresh blood in the lineup. Of course, there’s always the fear that guys like Guillen and Ordonez could break down at any time, but that’s a risk the Tigers have been willing to take and it’s a risk that most clubs would take as well.
The club still needs to add a starting pitcher, and they really should consider a bullpen arm as well, one that is capable of keeping a two-run deficit at two runs rather than six, but if the lineup can stay healthy down the stretch, the Tigers have the bats to win this division.