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What's Wrong with the Detroit Tigers Offense?

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What's Wrong with the Detroit Tigers Offense?
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Through the first three games of the 2013 American League Division Series between Detroit and Oakland, the Tigers' fearsome offense has been a bust, sputtering toward the brink of elimination after Monday's 6-3 loss.

The offense that averaged over 4.9 runs per game during the regular season has vanished. During 27 ALDS innings against Oakland pitching, Detroit has scored a grand total of six runs.

While the Oakland pitching staff led by Bartolo Colon is good, the Tigers need to find a way to wake up their bats before it's too late.

As the 2-1 series deficit shows, too late may arrive in Game 4 on Tuesday evening.

So, what exactly is wrong with Jim Leyland's offense? If the Tigers are going to wake up from their sleeping lumber and score enough runs to take the series back to Oakland for a deciding Game 5, they'll have to get production out of their leadoff hitter, revive Miguel Cabrera's power stroke, and live with the strategy that worked for 93 regular-season victories.

Three games is hardly enough of a sample size to direct blame at any player, but Austin Jackson's inability to jumpstart Detroit's offense has been a major issue. Heading into Game 4, Jackson is 1-for-11 in 12 plate appearances against Oakland.

One walk bumps his total on-base percentage up to .167, but it hardly makes up for seven strikeouts.

Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are three of the most accomplished individual hitters in the sport. Combined, they form a 2-3-4 in Jim Leyland's lineup that owns 3,357 career runs batted in. If Jackson reaches base at a consistent clip, he will score.

Some of the credit for shutting down Detroit's spark plug belongs to Oakland's starters Bartolo Colon, Sonny Gray and Jarrod Parker. All three have not only kept him off base, but also kept him from using his speed on balls put in play.

During Jackson's four-year tenure in Detroit, he's hit .361 when putting the ball in play, via Fangraphs. As the following chart shows, among all hitters with 2,500 career plate appearances, no batter has a better BABIP since 1961.

Highest Career BABIP Since 1961 (Min. 2500 PA)
Player Plate Appearances BABIP
Austin Jackson 2574 .361
Joey Votto 3790 .359
Roberto Clemente 7032 .359
Rod Carew 10550 .359
Derek Jeter 11968 .353
Matt Kemp 3897 .352
Shin-Soo Choo 3677 .350
Carlos Gonzalez 2826 .350
Joe Mauer 5060 .349
Dexter Fowler 2635 .348

Fangraphs

Jackson must find a way to make contact. If he does, trips on base and runs scored will jumpstart the Detroit offense. 

Of course, a quick and easy way for the Tigers to find offense would be to find Miguel Cabrera's power stroke. If we include the first three games of the ALDS, the 2012 AL MVP has hit one home run in his last 93 at-bats since Aug. 27. From Opening Day through Aug. 26, Cabrera hit 43 home runs in 477 at-bats.

As you can tell from the startling numbers, Cabrera was crushing a long ball once every 11 at-bats on his way to leading the 2013 AL MVP race through late August. Since the end of that month, you don't have to be a mathematician to calculate his AB/HR ratio. With every at-bat, the number goes up here in the postseason. 

It's no secret that Cabrera is playing injured, but Detroit fans were hopeful that rest in September and a few days off before the start of the postseason would cure his ailments enough (via MLB.com) to produce in October. 

He has three hits in three games, so Cabrera's offense hasn't been a problem per se, but his impact power bat still hasn't arrived. All three of his hits in the ALDS have been singles. If Oakland could sign up for another 1-for-4 from Cabrera in Game 4 without an extra-base hit, they would in a heartbeat on their way to the American League Championship Series.

Lastly, Jim Leyland must continue to employ the strategy of offense over defense that drove the Tigers engine to 93 victories and a top offense during the season.

During Monday's Game 3 telecast on MLB Network, the subject of Jim Leyland's decision to play Jhonny Peralta, a natural infielder, in left field spurred a debate between offense and defense in October. Later, Miguel Cabrera, a below-average third baseman, made an error on a ball that a better fielder—or healthier version of Cabrera—would have fielded cleanly. 

While the merits of playing Don Kelly all over the field or using the DH spot for Cabrera can be debated over the course of a 162-game season, now is not the time for Leyland to change his approach. Since Detroit signed a soon-to-be 32-year-old catcher in Victor Martinez prior to the 2011 season and brought aboard first baseman Prince Fielder prior to 2012, thus necessitating the Cabrera move to third, the Tigers have been about offense and power pitching, not defense.

If team president and GM Dave Dombrowski chooses to move toward a different philosophy during the offseason, Detroit can prepare and go into 2014 as a more well-rounded team. That transition shouldn't happen when facing elimination. 

Play the bats and outscore the opposition.

If Detroit can get Austin Jackson to put the ball in play and get on base, find Miguel Cabrera's lethal power bat, and stick with the philosophy that put them in the World Series last October, the ALDS won't end in Game 4 at Comerica Park.

Can Detroit come back to win the ALDS?

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