The Detroit Tigers have used eight different hitters in the five-hole this season and another 11 in the sixth spot. Tonight, as they begin a series in Minnesota, the club will turn to catcher Alex Avila as the next in line to hit behind the cleanup spot.
Miguel Cabrera is turning in yet another MVP-caliber season and he’s doing it with Prince Fielder hitting behind him. That duo has driven in more runs than any set of teammates in baseball this season.
Lately, however, the Tigers have been faced with a big problem: late in games, teams have been routinely pitching around both Cabrera and Fielder in order to pitch to the likes of Delmon Young and Brennan Boesch. Going into the season, Tigers manager Jim Leyland would have been fine with that idea, but both Boesch and Young have spent the season posting numbers far below expectations.
How bad has it been? The Tigers have gotten fewer RBI out the five hole than all but two AL clubs. Their 38 RBI from the six hole is the worst in the league. Young, who produced eight home runs and 32 RBI in just 40 games for Detroit last year (while hitting third), has posted an OPS of only .691. Recently, Leyland moved Young down to sixth in the order versus right handed pitching, sliding Boesch and his .674 OPS up into his place.
Avila, for his part, is having yet another sparkling August. After hitting .360 with seven longballs and 18 RBI last August, Avila has backed that up with a .452/.553/.645 line in eight games thus far this month. Small sample to be sure, but Avila’s overall OPS of .782 is forth-best among Tiger regulars, trailing only Fielder, Cabrera, and leadoff man Austin Jackson.
There we rumors swirling just before the trade deadline that the Tigers and GM Dave Dombrowski were working to acquire Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano. That deal didn’t happen, but Soriano is the type of player that can be moved during the waiver trading period. The Tigers were able to catch lightning in a bottle when they got Young from the Twins last August and his performance seduced the club into thinking he’s more of player than he is. Young has struggled to adapt to a role as a DH and, at this point, has been passed on the club’s depth chart by both Andy Dirks and 27-year-old rookie Quintin Berry.
Boesch, like Young, had big expectations coming into the year. Slated to hit second, in front of the big boys in the middle of the order, was tabbed by many (myself included) as a player to watch, primed for a breakout year. Instead, Boesch has posted a slugging percentage of .388, which is lower than Young’s, but also lower than backup catcher and noted slugger Gerald Laird.
The Tigers have already made moves to upgrade poor performance at second base in adding Omar Infante. They added a good right handed bat in the versatile Jeff Baker earlier this month. But the performances turned in by Young and Boesch can no longer be carried. Each hitter is well over 450 at bats; chances are that they are what they will be. Dombrowkski and company likely won’t be getting Victor Martinez back this season, so they may be forced to look outside the organization to fortify lineup that has lacked the expected depth.
The White Sox don’t seem to be fading and neither Young nor Boesch is likely to turn things around dramatically. Leyland is making the right call to finally move Avila into a more prominent role in the order.
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