Tigers hope to get right with lefties out of picture
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ROIT -- The guy who throws 86 mph and the guy who had nearly a 6.00 ERA down the stretch shut the Tigers down. So, naturally, they're looking forward to the guy who threw the perfect game and the guy who finished fourth in the National League in ERA in 2011.
OK, maybe "looking forward to" is putting it too strongly. But the American League champions become a tougher offensive team when the opponent starts a right-hander. So after scuffling against soft-tossing Barry Zito and previously-slumping Madison Bumgarner, there's optimism that maybe things will turn up for Detroit against Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain.
Changing ballparks may help, too. Not to mention the obvious change of replacing the pitcher in the lineup with a designated hitter. And of course there's the simple matter that eventually good hitters will hit. But the greatest reason for the Tigers to have a little extra spring in their step is they're finally free of facing port-siders for a few days.
"I'm sure that's why they pitched two left-handers in the first two games," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland, "is because they knew we were a little weaker from that side."
Against right-handed pitching, few teams were more dangerous offensively than the Tigers in 2012. They hit .275 with a .337 on-base percentage and a .434 slugging percentage, adding up to a .771 OPS that ranked third in the American League. By comparison, they hit .253/.329/.395 against lefties, ranking seventh in the league in OPS.
So it's not as though they're helpless against left-handers. But they were certainly weaker. It's somewhat puzzling, though, because Detroit has a number of dangerous right-handed hitters who thrive with the platoon split. It primarily comes down to this: the core of the Tigers' lineup is effective from both sides. But they received more contributions from players on the margins against right-handers.
For Saturday's game against Vogelsong, Andy Dirks and Quintin Berry will be added to the outfield, Delmon Young will move back to designated hitter, and Avisail Garcia will go to the bench. Dirks is a significant addition, a player with on-base ability and a little power, while Berry is a much lighter hitter, but a very real threat on the bases.
There are downsides, most notably turning Young from a legitimate middle-of-the order hitter into a marginal bat for a designated hitter. Young has shown a major platoon split throughout his career. His OPS was 196 points higher against lefties than righties in 2012, and it's 116 points for his entire career. Second baseman Omar Infante also is much better against lefties than righties.
But that's balanced out at least in part by the catcher's spot suddenly becoming much more potent. Alex Avila will start, and while the left-handed hitter had a very difficult year against lefties this year, he continued to hit righties well. He posted a .262/.367/.429 line against opposite-side hurlers.
"Sometimes you just can't explain it," said Avila, who was quite effective against same-side hitters last year. "Sometimes throughout a course of the season, a pitcher is going to have your number. In our case, we've had trouble all year with left-handed pitching, which is strange, because we have a lot of good hitters on the team."
It may not matter one bit. If Vogelsong and Cain throw their games, they can shut down left- or right-handed batters. But whereas the Giants' previous opponents, the Cardinals, feast on southpaws, the Tigers will be looking forward to seeing San Francisco's righties on Saturday and Sunday.