The thing about the Detroit Tigers is, they’re really good. They can hit as well as anyone in the league, they pitch well enough to strike out the Devil himself, and they even have some speed sprinkled about the field. There’s a reason they were slated to run away with the American League Central, and why they made it to the ALCS last season. They stumbled out of the gate early in the season but in July they’re 14-4 and now find themselves in first place.
Their Reggie Jackson, the straw that stirs the drink, is of course Miguel Cabrera. He’s hitting .330/.389/.581 with 23 homers and just knocked his 300th career dinger the other day. His partner in crime, Prince Fielder, is having a down year, “only” hitting .308/.393/.499. (Not even slugging .500, what’s the point of even paying the guy?) Considering that the park these guys play in is one of the largest in the game even after they moved the fences in, Progressive Field is going to look downright bandboxian.
So that’s what is coming to Cleveland, and the hometown Indians have their plates full on this one. But it’s not just Prince and Miggy, whose much-maligned move from first to third to accommodate Prince hasn’t been the butchering many expected, that get this team going. They’re not the only ones who could lead this team to the World Series.
Austin Jackson is having a breakout year of breakout years. He was injured the last time the Indians played the Tigers, but he’s back with a vengeance. He leads the Tigers in on-base percentage at .393 (so much for his not being able to take a walk). He’s got 10 homers and five triples, a perfect blend of speed and power they haven’t seen in Detroit since, well, Curtis Granderson. Jackson is no slouch in center either, and with guys like Delmon Young or Andy Dirks flanking him at times, he has to cover a good amount of ground. He’s been a brilliant table setter this year and gives Prince and Cabrera a nice boost to their RBI totals as they mercilessly shell the outfield stands with baseballs.
Jackson gets talked about quite a bit, but the guy that filled in for him while he was on the DL, Quintin Berry, is still a pretty well-kept secret. Maybe we’re looking at an example of small sample size, but the 27-year-old rookie is 50 games into his career with a 105 OPS+. He leads the Tigers in steals with 14 and hasn’t been caught yet. He’s only 4-for-19 against the Indians this year, but three of those hits were doubles. He’s a fine bottom of the order, second leadoff man type of guy. He’s not going to blow a game open, but he’s going to do a lot to get the Tigers wherever they end up.
As for that guy that just showed up, Omar Infante was acquired along with Anibal Sanchez, continuing the Marlins’ pipeline to Detroit—they’re still dancing in the streets over the Miggy trade. Infante has a good glove, so needed in what was touted as a chance at one of the worst defensive infields ever at the beginning of the year. He’s also won a batting title somehow (though so did Bill Mueller, so what does that tell you). Infante is also much better in every way than his predecessor Ramon Santiago (.654 OPS to .754 for Infante) , though what this could conceivably do is let Leyland put Santiago at short and slide Jhonny Peralta to third for a defensive situation. It won’t happen often because Cabrera has to play, but in big moments when defense is valued the versatility could be important. Make no mistake, this was a pretty good move by Dave Dombrowski. Plus, at the risk of sounding cliché he’s a glue and hustle guy like David Eckstein, the kind of guy that makes the clubhouse a nice place to be for the long dragging season.
Finally there’s Brennan Boesch, who needs to produce for this team to go far. You can’t have a power output from just Fielder and Cabrera, and Boesch has come on of late with a .969 OPS the last month. If he can add that pop that Alex Avila did last year or something similar, the heart of this lineup is dangerous for even the best pitchers, and Avila will fit in nicely in the No. 6 hole where the pressure won’t crush him like it did last October.