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Detroit Tigers: Justin Upton becomes a fan favorite in 2017

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May 9, 2017; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Detroit Tigers outfielder Justin Upton reacts in the dugout after hitting a solo home run in the eighth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
May 9, 2017; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Detroit Tigers outfielder Justin Upton reacts in the dugout after hitting a solo home run in the eighth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /
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In 2016, Detroit Tigers fans were questioning Mike Ilitch’s decision to sign Justin Upton for so much money.

Now, the Detroit Tigers left fielder has become a sure thing to get on the bases and create problems for opposing teams.

After spending nine years in the National League, Justin Upton was a relative unknown to Tigers fans who were rarely exposed to the Arizona Diamondbacks or the San Diego Padres. But, after his strong finish in 2016 and his even better start to 2017, it is easy to see why Ilitch had to have him.

During the first 120 games of the 2016 season, Upton did not show off his true talent. In those games, he had 13 home runs, 140 strikeouts, and 31 walks. His batting line was .226/.281/.371 and a head-shakingly sorry .652 OPS.

May 5, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; Detroit Tigers left fielder Justin Upton (8) hits a single against the Oakland Athletics during the sixth inning at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
May 5, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; Detroit Tigers left fielder Justin Upton (8) hits a single against the Oakland Athletics during the sixth inning at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

Then, Boston and Big Papi came to town. While we, the fans, will never know exactly what David Ortiz said to him, we do know it helped because when Boston left town, Upton changed.

Upton’s Strong Finish to 2016

In those last 38 games, Upton had a slash of .309/.397/.765 and an OPS that nearly doubled his prior one: 1.162. He also had 18 home runs (added to his 13 prior), 39 strikeouts, and 19 walks. He became a completely different player at the plate. And, fans took notice.

The Stronger Start to 2017

But, entering the 2017 season, we all wondered what Justin Upton would show up. The slow-starting one or the one who looked like a professional baseball player. Fortunately, the J-Up that finished 2016 has come back for 2017. And, it looks like he is enjoying himself.

May 13, 2017; Anaheim, CA, USA; Detroit Tigers left fielder Justin Upton (8) celebrates with right fielder J.D. Martinez (28) after hitting a solo home run against the Los Angeles Angels during the sixth inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
May 13, 2017; Anaheim, CA, USA; Detroit Tigers left fielder Justin Upton (8) celebrates with right fielder J.D. Martinez (28) after hitting a solo home run against the Los Angeles Angels during the sixth inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports /

Of the everyday players, Upton is leading the team in a variety of stats. He has the most home runs, with eight. James McCann is following closely with seven. Upton also has the best batting stats with a line of .266/.385/.541 and an OPS of .926.  Victor Martinez has a higher batting average with .270, but his other stats are lower. Alex Avila also has a higher slash, but he has only had 52 at-bats to Upton’s 112. Nicholas Castellanos has more hits, doubles, and RBIs, but he has 33 more at-bats, too.

Success Out West

Over the past few years, the Tigers have not had much success when they travel west to play in California. But, with the help of Upton, this road trip was different. In the games against the Oakland A’s, the Arizona D-Backs, and the first three against the Angels, Upton provided a serious amount of offense. He scored three home runs and five RBIs. His OPS during these eight games was .958. Other than the second game against the A’s and the last game against the Angels, Upton had at least one hit.  In the game on May 11 against the Angels, Upton had his first 3-run home run.

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Unfortunately, Upton’s batting prowess was not rewarded when J.D. Martinez returned to the team on Friday. Instead of moving Upton up to the fourth spot, which would be the best spot for his powerful bat, he was actually down to the sixth. While Martinez showed why he deserves a spot in the middle of the lineup with his two home runs on Saturday against the Angels, Upton has been performing well all season. Upton’s power is wasted in the sixth hole; he should be getting more at-bats in each game.

The Case to Move Upton Up in the Lineup

I’m going to suggest that if Brad Ausmus had put him in the fourth spot in the lineup when J.D. returned, the Tigers would have been able to capitalize on the bases-loaded situation they had in the game on Friday against the Angels. Victor Martinez was the front man on the bases, so they were clogged by his slowness. A simple shift of Upton to the fourth spot and V-Mart to the sixth could be huge for the team. Instead of ending the inning and the game without a run scored, it could have been a different story.

Next: Jordan Zimmermann just isn't that good

Upton has proven that he is for real. He needs to be taken seriously and given the respect he deserves for his prowess at the plate. He deserves the fourth spot in the lineup.

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