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Can Guillen be the answer to offensive woes?

By: Andrew Mouranie

Throughout the first half of the 2009 season, the Detroit Tigers have been one of Major League Baseball’s pleasant surprises. In 2008, the Tigers were picked by many to win not only the American League Central division, but the World Series as well. Unfortunately for Tiger fans, the team fell way short of expectations and finished last in the Al Central (yes, even behind the lowly Kansas City Royals).

So coming into 09, fans and pundits alike were expecting slight improvement from Jim Leyland’s squad, but many pointed to the postseason as a pipedream. The offensive talent was clearly there, it was just a matter of getting quality starting pitching, which in turn would make a shaky bullpen more effective. Mission accomplished… so far.

As of this writing, the Tigers are 48-42 and have a 1 game lead over the Chicago White Sox and a 2.5 game edge on the Minnesota Twins in the AL Central.

The big question mark coming into the season has been the solution to the Tigers woes. The pitching staff has a 4.06 ERA, good for third in the American League and leads the league with seven shutouts. Ace Justin Verlander (10-5, 3.34 ERA, AL-best 155 strikeouts) has regained his form from 2006 and 2007 and has reestablished himself as one of the game’s premier young hurlers. All-Star Edwin Jackson has proven to be the steal of the offseason by posting a 2.52 ERA through the first-half (trailing only KC’s Zack Greinke and Seattle’s Felix Hernandez in the AL). 20-year old Rick Porcello, who many believed would be pitching for Double-A Erie this season, has eight wins at the break. Closer Fernando Rodney is even 19-for-19 in save chances.

If those numbers continue into the second-half, the Tigers should be right there come late September. However, what was thought to be the team’s strength has turned into the question mark. Can the Tigers score enough runs to help the pitching staff?

There is no doubting the tremendous first-halves put up by Miguel Cabrera and Brandon Inge. Curtis Granderson has developed into a legitimate home-run threat. Marcus Thames has returned from his stint on the disabled list to provide a offensive lift. Adam Everett, who was brought in for his glove, has given the Tigers some clutch hits. Those guys are the good news.

And now the bad news…. Magglio Ordonez has four home runs, two less than RAMON SANTIAGO! Placido Polanco, normally hitting around .300, is hitting .257. As a team, they rank 11th in the AL with a .257 team batting average. Not good for a team with the firepower they have.

There is no question general manger Dave Dombrowski is looking to add to his team at the trade deadline later in the month. A veteran left-handed starter would help greatly, as the organization looks to ease back on the workload of Porcello and fellow starters Armando Galarraga and Luke French are average at best. A left-handed bat is an even bigger need, however. And while there are some intriguing options out there (Baltimore’s duo of Luke Scott and Aubrey Huff or maybe Washington slugger Adam Dunn), the answer to the team’s problems could already be in-house.

Shortstop-turned 1st baseman-turned 3rd baseman-turned outfielder Carlos Guillen is expected to come off the DL within the next week or two and could be the answer to the Tigers offensive woes. He has been out since early-May with a right shoulder injury.

Since arriving in Detroit prior to the 2004 season, Guillen has arguably been the team’s most consistent player. From 2004-2008, Guillen averaged .308 and provided a switch-hitting option for predominantly right-handed lineups.

His batting style fits Comerica Park perfectly. He isn’t much of a power threat, but he is a very good hitter down the lines and into the gaps. But as much as anything, he will provide some protection for Cabrera.

Yes, Inge and Granderson were All-Stars, but coming down the stretch, teams are not going to allow Cabrera to beat them. He might not have been in St. Louis for the mid-summer classic, but make no mistake about it, Cabrera is the team’s best player. With Granderson leading off, Inge batting 6th (or so), and Thames currently residing in the clean-up spot behind Miggy, teams will pitch around Cabrera as the games become more and more important. But if Guillen can remain healthy, teams might be more reluctant to do so.

So as much as fans are clamoring for the Tigers to go out and get a big left-handed bat at the trade deadline, the best answer might already be working his way to Detroit: Guillen began a rehab assignment in Lakeland last Monday and is reportedly on the fast track back to the big leagues.


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