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Detroit Tigers: Is It Time to Believe in Justin Upton?

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Jun 20, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers left fielder Justin Upton (8) is mobbed by teammates after he hits a game winning home run in the 12th inning against the Seattle Mariners at Comerica Park. Detroit won 8-7 in twelve innings. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 20, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers left fielder Justin Upton (8) is mobbed by teammates after he hits a game winning home run in the 12th inning against the Seattle Mariners at Comerica Park. Detroit won 8-7 in twelve innings. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /
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After a few Detroit Tigers games with Justin Upton home runs, is it time for fans to finally believe in the veteran centerfielder?

In yesterday’s game against the Seattle Mariners, Upton homered twice. Once in the seventh inning, scoring Nick Castellanos and delivering a one-run lead. His second was a huge walk-off in the twelfth inning.

Prior to yesterday’s game, Upton has continued his strikeout pace; but in the past four games, he has countered it with four home runs.

During the month of May, Upton hit a slash of .213/.286/.326 with 89 at-bats, 19 hits, and 1 home run. He struck out 34 times and walked 9 times. He earned three RBIs.

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Jun 18, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Detroit Tigers left fielder Justin Upton (8) hits a home run against the Kansas City Royals in the seventh inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports /

During June, he showed serious improvement. His slash improved to .288/.358/.562 with and OPS of .920. In 73 at-bats, he had 12 hits, 21 runs, and 5 home runs. He struck out 20 timed and walked 8 times. The biggest improvement was in RBIs; he earned 20 of them. His patience improved and so did his swing.

As of yesterday’s game against Seattle, Upton currently has a 10-game hitting streak. Is this a long enough streak for fans to recognize that Upton is the real thing?

The biggest problem with Upton is the continued strikeouts. Upton has 92 strikeouts in 278 plate appearances. For comparison purposes, Victor Martinez has 261 plate appearances and only 34 strikeouts. The next highest strikeout number belongs to Nick Castellanos, who has 277 plate appearances and 70 strikeouts. After Castellanos, J.D. Martinez has 69 strikeouts and Jarrod Saltalamacchia has 53 (in half of the plate appearances).

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Fans have decided to believe in Castellanos, but can the tide turn on Upton?

There are fans on social media who have decided that it is time to believe in Upton. It is apparent that Upton is working hard to get his swing in order. Fox Sports Detroit reported on his drills to keep his feet in place when he’s at the plate. If the Detroit fans, who love a hard-working athlete, can embrace him for his work ethic rather than the results, there is no reason why they cannot grow to believe in him.

May 3, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Detroit Tigers left fielder Justin Upton (8) hits a single during the fourth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
May 3, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Detroit Tigers left fielder Justin Upton (8) hits a single during the fourth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

Unfortunately, the fans only have April, May, and June to base their decisions on and Upton’s April and May were relatively the same. The other piece that is standing in the way is the $22 million contract. The other players with immense contracts like that are Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, and Victor Martinez. These three men have already endeared themselves to the fans because of their prior performances. (Anibal Sanchez is another player with a huge contract – but that is a conversation for another day.)

Since Upton was a member of the National League for so long, Tigers fans have had very little exposure to him as a player. He was in the 2015 All-Star game, as well as the 2009 and 2011 games. He has earned two Silver Slugger awards, with the last one in 2014. But, since 2010, he has been in the top 10 in total strikeouts and he currently is in 2nd place this season.

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So, Upton is showing Tigers fans who is really is: a guy who can hit big and who can strikeout big. Tigers fans haven’t seen this in a while; the big hitters of recent – Cabrera, Martinez, and Martinez – do not earn K’s on a regular basis. Since this is who Upton is, it is time to embrace him for the hardworking hitter than he really is.

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