The Detroit TIgers Must Approach This April Like the Playoffs

April 06, 2012

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Joe Halstead

The Detroit TIgers Must Approach This April Like the Playoffs

It is said- and correctly so- that while a pennant may not be won in April, a pennant may be lost in April.

On this note, the Detroit Tigers have immediate cause for concern. Their early schedule- in the month of April alone- includes two more games against Boston, a three-game home series with the Tampa Bay Rays (April 10-12), a four-game home series against the American League Champion Texas Rangers (April 19-22) and, just to pour a bucket of salt water over the wounds incurred, a three-game series in the Bronx Apr. 27-29.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland is known for using his entire roster liberally. OFers Clete Thomas and Andy Dirks, and 2Bmen Danny Worth, Ramon Santiago and, eventually, Brandon Inge, might see significant playing time.

But, should they?

The Tigers made substitutions in the 2011 post-season out of necessity. They were beat up, and running out of players. Luckily, some of those substitutes stepped up in a big way, such as UT Don Kelly and Santiago.

However, the Tigers are at nearly 100% health, and they need their front line to do battle with the American League's best. 

So, here's hoping that Leyland doesn't tinker with his team too much. Obviously, he wants OF Delmon Young to continue what he's been doing for the Tigers since last August, which is to drive in runs. Surely, Leyland would also like to see one of his second basemen grab the brass ring. So far, all we have are multiple second basemen who play competently enough to hit .250 and turn the double play when necessary.

Ah, maybe, that is, until now. 2B/OF Ryan Raburn had the Spring Training of his life, batting over .400 for a stretch, eventually cooling a bit to a .268 average. However, he still slugged .661, having hit 6 HRs, 2 2Bs and a 3B. That accounts for nine of his 15 hits in the spring.

Raburn should be given plate appearances on a daily basis. Now is the time to either cash in on what may be a different season start for Raburn, one in which he heats up well before the All-Star Break, or find out now that he's the same old Ryan Raburn. I'm betting on the former; he already had a hit on Opening Day against formidable Boston Red Sox ace Jon Lester.

Delmon Young, also, needs consistent reps. There simply is no reason to install a revolving door out in left field, unless that door serves to transfer Raburn and Young amongst the LF and DH spots, so that Santiago may remain at second base.

In fact, given Raburn's shaky defense, the Opening Day lineup should be considered the Tigers playoff lineup, assuming no major personnel changes. And, given the Tigers' April opponents this year, they need to play playoff-level baseball. NOW.

Thus, the Tigers Opening Day lineup should be its everyday lineup throughout most of April. The Tigers are going to face the very best teams in the AL this month, so it needs to play its best baseball, lest the Tigers drift eight or ten games below .500, and face the obligation to play .750 baseball throughout the summer just to have some kind of (unfomfortable) lead on the Cleveland Indians.

Just ask the Boston Red Sox how that tends to go. History shows that it tends not to go well.

 

--Joe Halstead

@joehalsteadmich 

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