The Detroit Tigers remain in the playoff hunt, just a few games out of the second Wild Card spot. They have a chance to make the playoffs, but they need to fix their recent hitting issues. Ian Kinsler and Victor Martinez are both day-to-day and Nick Castellanos is trying to make it back for the final week of the season after breaking his hand on a hit by pitch from Logan Verrett in August. The Tigers have averaged just 3.29 runs per game since the Angels came to Detroit in late August.
The probable playoff rotation looks set with Justin Verlander, Michael Fulmer, Matt Boyd, and Daniel Norris looking good and the threat of Jordan Zimmermann if he can get healthy. The Tigers could got hot in the playoffs, and with the superstars on the team, they could be a prime team that gets hot at the right time and could at least challenge the Cubs if they were to catch fire. The key to this is fixing the lineup so they can score a lot in their next 11 games.
Kinsler has a concussion, and there’s really no timetable for that. The Tigers will probably try and bring Victor Martinez back for their upcoming homestand, though, as the Royals and Indians make for tough divisional opponents. The biggest question is where should they hit him when he comes back. Victor has hit just .190/.281/.266 since the Angels series I mentioned earlier. I’m usually not a big RBI guy, but the fact that Victor only has two RBIs in his last 22 games shows me that he’s struggling and that he should probably be moved from his number four spot when he comes back. This becomes even more true due to the fact he’s coming off a knee injury, and pressure on Victor should be minimal. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus does not want to move Victor from the cleanup spot and has referenced the fact that Victor is a switch hitter as an advantage in late innings. With the month being September, that logic is pretty much out the window now because most teams are carrying ten or more relievers. There’s really no reason to justify Victor still being in that four hole. There is also question with Victor’s pride, as he didn’t even want to go on the DL last year when the Tigers placed him there. Victor hit fifth all of his 2011 season, so I don’t think moving him down a spot or two would really affect him.
Now we get to who should replace V-Mart for the Tigers? Two options stick out for me. They are J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton. Let’s start with Upton. He has always been a streaky hitter, and 2016 has been no different. The good thing is that Upton is hot right now. Upton is a few hits away from his “carry the team” level of offensive production. He has nine home runs and a .937 OPS over the last 28 days.
The other option is J.D., who is leading the Tigers in batting average and slugging percentage and is second in on-base percentage. J.D. has been more consistent and I’d trust him in the four spot. Personally, I’d hit Victor sixth, but if the change is made then more than likely J.D. will hit fourth, Victor fifth, and Upton sixth. This would still work out a lot better than it does now.
The offense saw its downturn shortly after Castellanos got hurt. Castellanos had a breakout year going until the pitch that broke his hand. He’s close to coming back, but he still has soreness in his hand as he is rehabbing down in Lakeland. If he can somehow rest his hand for a few days and then start hitting again this weekend, it would be a huge get for the Tigers to get him back when they play the Indians.
Kinsler is another huge part of the offense, but as long as he’s out Cameron Maybin should get leadoff duty and the Tigers should use Jose Iglesias as their number nine hitter. Iglesias is very hard to strike out, as his K percentage is only 9.5 this season. The only issue is that Iglesias has an on-base percentage lower than .300, and you want your leadoff guy getting on base with guys like Miguel Cabrera, Upton, J.D., and Victor following him. As long as Kinsler is out, Erick Aybar should probably play second and hit eighth, and the Tigers should think about moving Upton back into the two hole, as he has been hot and has a reputation for being patient and taking walks.
The Tigers have used a platoon system at catcher and rightfully so, because James McCann historically hits lefties well, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia hits righties. Salty has come up with a few huge hits for the Tigers this year and he will have to start a few more games, but I think his use should be reduced to a minimum the rest of the year. Salty has just 14 hits in his last 100 at-bats and a 39 percent strikeout rate. He’s a good pinch hitter with his power, but the platoon should be forgotten and playing time allocated mostly to McCann until it can be fixed in the offseason.
It all comes down to the Tigers getting healthy and Ausmus piecing things together for the Tigers. The only other obstacle is the last series, which will be played in an NL park, Atlanta. If Castellanos isn’t ready by then, Miggy should slide to third and Victor to first. If Castellanos is back, I’d start him two of the three games and use Victor Martinez off the bench. Victor is a veteran, and a guy who hit two pinch-hit homers this year in an NL park. Ideally this is the lineup the Tigers should use for the rest of the season, and if they get into the playoffs, this lineup could be as lethal as any and match up with the AL’s elite.
- 2B Ian Kinsler
- CF Cameron Maybin
- 1B Miguel Cabrera
- RF J.D. Martinez
- DH Victor Martinez
- LF Justin Upton
- 3B Nick Castellanos (if he’s a no go, move McCann here and use Aybar/Romine/McGehee)
- C James McCann
- SS Jose Iglesias