Detroit Tigers: 6 Players Who Could Be the Tigers' Surprise Heroes
Everybody remembers heroes, but no one remembers second place.
The Detroit Tigers have several players who could potentially be heroes in September, but if the Tigers fail to overcome the Chicago White Sox for the American League Central championship, those players won't be very heroic watching playoff action from their couches.
The Tigers will need huge performances from some key players down the stretch to win the division and make a splash in the postseason.
Justin Verlander, Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera have performed like the superstars they are this season and will be vital parts to the Tigers' success down the stretch, but Detroit will need some of its role players to step up in the last 40 games of the season.
Here are the six players who could play hero for the Tigers in their run at a division title and playoff berth:
Quintin Berry is perhaps the most unlikely member of this list, considering four months ago the 27-year-old outfielder was at Triple-A Toledo, his sixth MLB franchise, with no major league experience under his belt.
Berry made a splash for the Tigers after his call-up on May 23, giving Detroit a much needed shot of energy by hitting .362 with a .423 on-base percentage, six steals and four RBI in his first 11 major league games.
Berry's skill set makes him a good candidate for late-season hero because he can contribute in so many ways. Despite only playing in 70 games this season, the left-hander leads the Tigers with 16 steals, is second on the team in triples and sixth in average.
He doesn't even need to start to make an impact in games. Berry can pinch hit for a base hit, sacrifice bunt, steal key bases and make dazzling plays in the outfield.
His average has dropped to .274, but if he can continue to contribute in multiple ways and manager Jim Leyland continues to have faith in him and put his name in the lineup more often than not, Berry could do some big things for the Tigers.
Delmon Young has caught the ire of Tigers fans all season, but a big performance the rest of this month and through September would definitely make fans forget about his lackluster performance the majority of the year.
Many pundits, including myself, wished Young was traded this season, but Leyland and the Tigers organization had faith that the 26-year-old would make a turnaround on the field and rectify his mistakes off of the diamond.
So far, since Young got arrested for shoving a man to the ground and making anti-Semitic remarks on April 27 in New York, Young has stayed true to his promise that he'd stay out of trouble off the field.
But Young hasn't been that great on the field, hitting .268 with 13 home runs and 50 RBI in 111 games this season.
With the emergence of Berry and Andy Dirks, Young has been relegated to full-time designated hitter; but he is still capable of being a hero for the Tigers in some late-season situations.
Young put on his Superman cape in the playoffs last season, with five postseason home runs, including belting three bombs in the Tigers' division series win over the Yankees.
You know he is capable of breaking out in big situations, but he hasn't done it consistently thus far this year. Maybe he's saving his best stuff for last once again.
Brennan Boesch has underachieved all season.
Boesch began the year hitting fifth in the Tigers lineup behind Cabrera and Fielder, but for one reason or another, the 27-year-old right fielder hasn't been able to put it together.
The left-hander is hitting just .247 with 11 home runs and 48 RBI in 111 games this season. Since an awful start to the year, Boesch has slowly started to pick up the pace, hitting .295 with four home runs and 17 RBI in July and a decent average in August, but he hasn't hit at least .300 in a single month this year.
Boesch was hitting .283 with a .341 OBP, 16 home runs and 54 RBI when he went down with a thumb injury at the end of August last season.
Boesch, who batted .306 with 12 home runs and 44 RBI before the All-Star break last season, sat out the last 32 games of the 2011 regular season and all of the playoffs, creating a big hole in the Tigers lineup. Detroit got out-slugged badly by the Texas Rangers in the ALCS last year, and Boesch's bat could have made a difference.
When the Tigers attempt their run at the 2012 postseason, Boesch could make up for his literal absence last season and his figurative absence this year, with a key contribution down the stretch.
The Tigers made a big gamble when they included minor league catcher Rob Brantly in the deal that sent rookie pitcher Jacob Turner to the Miami Marlins for Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante.
Brantly was the club's best catching prospect and a player many people thought would eventually take over as the starting catcher in Detroit.
When the Tigers traded Brantly, they placed a lot of eggs in Alex Avila's basket—if he doesn't perform, Detroit's minor league cupboard is bare when it comes to catchers.
Avila hasn't performed as well as many people in the organization thought so far this season. He's hitting just .252 with seven home runs and 35 RBI in 88 games.
He's been in every spot in the Tigers' offensive order from No. 5 through No. 9, and has seemed to play his best at the No. 7 slot, hitting .313 with three home runs and eight RBI in 67 at-bats in that position.
If some of the aforementioned Tigers settle into their roles and Avila can improve his average and power numbers down stretch, he has hero potential.
As big of a risk as it was trading Brantly and trusting in Avila, the Tigers trading the phenom pitcher Turner for Sanchez was a huge gamble as well.
Sanchez didn't exactly provide a dazzling early return on the trade, going 1-3 with a 7.97 ERA in his first four starts with the Tigers.
Because of a couple off-days this week, the Tigers skipped Sanchez's spot in the rotation on Tuesday, opting to start Max Scherzer in his place.
The Tigers still have faith that they made the right decision trading for Sanchez, but he has a lot to prove in his next few starts in order to help the team make the postseason.
If Sanchez can lower his ERA, keep his team in games as the No. 5 starter and throw nothing but quality starts for the Tigers down the stretch, he'd be going a long way to help the Tigers not look foolish because they traded away their best prospect to get him.
Bounce-back stories are always enticing.
And if Tigers closer Jose Valverde turns in a heroic performance down the stretch, his second half would definitely be considered a comeback story.
Valverde frankly stunk up the joint in his first several appearances this season.
After closing a club-record 49 consecutive games in 2011, Valverde blew three saves (including the opening game of the season) in just 12 chances and had a 4.64 ERA in his first 22 appearances this year.
He's started to clean up his act lately, lowering his season ERA to 3.55, and he now has 24 saves with only one blown save opportunity since June 2.
When Valverde is on a roll, he's a pleasure to watch and gives the team and the fans a jolt of energy. If Valverde gets even close to the 2011 version of himself, he'd definitely be a hero for the Tigers.
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