The Detroit Tigers hold a 7.5 game lead in the American League Central this morning with a chance to widen the gap over the Cleveland Indians this evening. This past weekend, the Tigers dismantled (or “decapitated” as Hawk Harrelson said) the Chicago White Sox in a three-game sweep, knocking the Sox to 8.5 games off the pace. Just 13 hours later, the Tigers took on Indians ace Ubaldo Jimenez and topped the Tribe, 4-2.
While the quest for Detroit’s first Central division crown (and first division championship since 1987) looks more and more like a foregone conclusion, it hasn’t all been good news for the Tigers and their faithful. On Sunday, it was revealed that outfielder Brennan Boesch, sidelined since August 24 with ligament damage in his thumb, would require surgery. He will miss the remainder of the Tigers’ season.
The Tigers have gone 9-3 in the 12 games since Boesch last started, but it would be foolish to assume this is a better team without him. Boesch has provided a potent left handed bat this year, showing a more mature approach at the plate than he did a season ago. Without him as an option, the Tigers will be forced to use some guys that, in perfect world, they’d rather not.
Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski saw a need for an upgrade over Magglio Ordonez in early August and pulled the trigger on a deal that brought Delmon Young in from the Twins. Young has yet to draw a single walk in a Tigers uniform through 93 plate appearances, but he’s done everything else the Tigers could have asked. He’s hitting at a .300 clip and slugging better than .450. He’s driven in 17 runs in 21 games with Detroit. Unfortunately, Young is no longer replacing Ordonez in this lineup, he’s now replacing Boesch; a much more lateral move for the Tigers.
Essentially, as far as the outfield is concerned, we’re back to square one. The right field spot will now consist of a revolving door of players. Ordonez will probably see the bulk of the work in right, but he’ll be supplemented by Ryan Raburn and Andy Dirks as well. If the Tigers can find a combination of bats that can maintain the level of production that Boesch offered, they’ll be fine. If not, this team could be in trouble come October.
Dirks homered on Sunday and was in the lineup again on Monday. He provides the best defensive option for the Tigers in right and he also bats left handed. Raburn has been playing a lot of second base of late, but with Carlos Guillen‘s return and Ramon Santiago‘s torrid second half, Raburn is no longer needed at second. He’s a good outfielder and he’s been on a patented Raburn second-half tear. Since August 1, Raburn has produced a .314 average and .857 OPS.
Then there’s Ordonez. Maggs has been given up for dead a couple of times already this year, which is what prompted the deal for Young in the first place. But a funny thing has happened since Maggs had his everyday job taken away; he’s begun to hit. Going back to August 15 (Young’s first game as a Tiger), Maggs has played in only nine of 21 games, but he has at least one hit in each of those games. Over his past 33 at bats, Maggs has produced a .394 average and .928 OPS. Now, nine games of excellence is nothing when compared to the season-long ineptitude we have seen from Ordonez, so there certainly will be (and should be) skepticism about his ability to maintain a high level of performance at the plate.
It could very well be that this is simply one last flash of the Ordonez we once knew, but it also is possible that maybe, just maybe, Maggs has a little more left in the tank that we thought. Perhaps the extra rest he’s been afforded by not being run out there every day is allowing him to stay fresh and produce on days when he’s in the lineup. If that’s the case, this three-headed right field attack may very well do enough damage to offset the loss of Boesch.
I’d expect to see Ordonez playing roughly every other day in right field with Raburn and Dirks also seeing starts. The sliver lining is that these three guys aren’t being asked to carry the load offensively, but merely to replicate the solid season Boesch was having.
If Maggs and Raburn can offer enough punch to combine for an OPS of around .800, they will have done enough to keep turning the lineup over. That both of these guys have a track record of success makes this problem a bit easier to deal with as a fan. Well, that and the 7.5 game lead the club currently holds.