One Month In, It's Time for Changes

There's no better time to shake things up than in the midst of a prolonged losing streak. And after a full week of losing despite some strong starting pitching, now is the time for the roster to get a shake-up.

It was a week to forget for the Tigers – going 0-6, and getting swept by the Seattle Mariners at home, and then on the road against the division rival and division leading Cleveland Indians.

And with a four game series coming up with the always dangerous New York Yankees, it's not about to get any easier.

Now isn't the time to obsess over win-loss records, with only a month of the season gone by and much of the record dependent on a few games and the strength of your schedule. But now is the time to focus on how players are actually performing, and right now, you can't say a lot of good things about the Tigers, especially on offense.

The pitching staff is by no means lighting the world on fire, with an ERA second to last in the American League. However, that is being driven by the bullpen's league worst 5.50 ERA. And while it's bad, the Tigers have invested what they can in the positions, and now just need to hope that pitchers like Joaquin Benoit straighten things out. The emergence of Al Alburquerque of course is a huge wild card that could provide a big boost as well.

On the other hand, there are moves that can be made to address the lineup.

The team will get Victor Martinez back this week, and presumably will be sending Omir Santos back down to Triple-A Toledo. Martinez's bat in the middle of the order will certainly be a boost, but one player does not solve everything.

The Tigers rank in the bottom half of baseball in runs scored per game and OPS, and in the midst of the six game losing streak, they averaged just three runs per game. Barring some consistent stud pitching, you are going to win very few games that way.

With a cursory glance at the roster, it's pretty clear to see where the shortcomings are.

The concerns that existed entering the spring about potential holes in the lineup have been validated thus far. Four starters currently have an OPS under .600 (Brandon Inge at .575, Will Rhymes at .556, Austin Jackson at .537 and Magglio Ordonez at a putrid .401).

The hope is that Jackson and Ordonez will come out of it, though even if Ordonez doesn't, both Brennan Boesch and Ryan Raburn have hit enough that they at least aren't gaping holes. Getting Martinez back also means that the team will have more flexibility in who plays where, as the need to fill the designated hitter role meant that Ordonez, Boesch and Raburn were all in the lineup almost every day, with no opportunity to rest a cold bat.

Jackson's strikeout numbers are still alarming as he leads the big leagues in strikeouts, however, over his last ten games he's actually hitting a respectable .262 with a .340 on-base percentage. Couple that with his outstanding defense and things are at least trending up for the young center fielder.

However, he still should be able to be spelled in the lineup, especially when he goes through slumps like the Seattle series. And given manager Jim Leyland's decision to use Casper Wells almost exclusively in the corners and not in center field, the move should be made to swap Wells for outfielder Andy Dirks, who is working as the Mud Hens' leadoff hitter and center fielder.

Dirks, to his credit, is hitting .340/.400/.617. He's got 13 extra base hits already, has driven in 16 runs, and swiped 10 bases without being caught once, all while posting the sixth best OPS in the International League.

And speaking of strong OPS's in the International League, the top ranked OPS in the IL is also a member of the Tigers organization, and coincidentally plays a position of need for the Tigers in second base.

The Raburn experiment there hasn't gone horribly, but it's also a clear defensive negative, especially when you've got groundball starters like Rick Porcello and Brad Penny taking the mound two of every five games.

Sizemore isn't a gold glover, but he's a more natural defender at the position, and is simply hitting the cover off the ball with a .408/.495/.605 line.

With the need for offense obvious, and Will Rhymes hitting just .221 with only one extra base hit this spring, it seems clear that it's time to make the switch and give the guy with the greater potential in his bat the opportunity to show what he can do.

Rhymes meanwhile is still a serviceable player that can be called upon again should Sizemore fail, or an injury calls for the need.

With the return of Martinez, coupled with a more potent bat at second base and an offensive-oriented alternative in center field, the Tigers can help provide a desperately needed boost to the lineup, and hopefully avoid the droughts that have plagued the team through the first month.

Without changes, one can always hope for improvement, but unlike the bullpen, there isn't a past history of success, and the frustration is likely to remain.

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