The Tigers, already thin on offense just lost one of their key cogs as Carlos Guillen, who spend about a third of 2008 and about a half of 2009 on the disabled list with a variety of ailments, went down with a pulled hamstring. He's was immediately placed on the fifteen day disabled list and the Tigers have brought up outfielder Brennan Boesch to take his place.
The Tigers we're a thin team offensively coming into 2010 with Johnny Damon, Magglio Ordonez, and Miguel Cabrera being the only consistently above-average offensive options on the team. Without Guillen, they're left in an even worse position. While rookie Austin Jackson has helped ease some of that burden, there are a couple big issues that portend tougher days ahead for the youngster. More on that later.
For now, the Tigers simply need Guillen to try and get better. The problem is that hamstring injuries have a way of persisting throughout a season. The Tigers are hoping that enough rest will take care of the issue, but I'm not so optimistic, and that could be a doubly bad thing for the Tigers.
Any time you lose a guy who is hitting .311 and has an OPS of .834, it's going to be a bad thing. This is especially true on a team where offense is hard to come by. It's even more true when that offense is nearly the only thing keeping pitchers from throwing to the one guy who can really, really hurt them.
Now generally speaking, I'm not big on the idea of protection in a lineup. There have been plenty of studies done to show that it has minimal (if any) effect on the output of the player being "protected." But given how Miguel Cabrera is currently treating American League pitchers much the same way that a cat might treat a trapped mouse - tormenting, pouncing, devouring - this might be one of the few times it's a legitimate issue.
Cabrera has pummeled opposing pitchers, batting .365 while walking more than he strikes out, and blasting eleven extra-base hits in just 73 at-bats while driving in 19 runs. Right now Cabrera might very well be the most imposing figure in the batters box in the entire American League. The Tigers are going to need whoever occupies Guillen's spot for the next couple weeks to hit and give the opposition some reason to not simply intentionally walk Cabrera every time he steps to the plate.
Given the lineup for game one, that task will, at least for now, fall to the young man who is replacing Guillen, 25 year old Brennan Boesche. Boesche has hammered away at AAA pitchers so far this year, hitting .379 while posting an OPS of 1.075. Boesche however struck out in 24.1% of his at-bats at AA in 2009 while hitting 28 home runs and 61 total extra base hits. So far has struck out in 29.3% of his AAA at-bats while hitting three home runs and seven total extra base hits. That's an admittedly small sample size from this year, but not surprising given his strikeout rate in AA.
Boesche will certainly hit the ball for some power, but he's also going to strike out a ton, at least for now, and because of that, isn't likely to hit for sustainable average. He's also had issues taking a walk which may be more disturbing than the strikeouts because it suggests he's willing to expand his strike-zone to swing at anything. That's precisely the sort of weakness Major League pitchers tend to exploit without regard.
Thankfully to say, this will be a very short-term situation. Hopefully. Because Boesche probably isn't going to hit well enough, consistently enough, to make opposing pitchers fear pitching around Cabrera. And that could mean bad things for the Tigers offense on a longer-term basis.