DETROIT - The Detroit Tigers have been out of the playoff race for months already, but that doesn't mean they can't accomplish anything the rest of the season.
With the trade deadline in the rearview mirror, the Tigers know who's on the roster for the rest of 2019. They shipped Shane Greene and Nicholas Castellanos out of town and brought in four prospects, one of whom is already contributing at the MLB level.
The most important task remaining for the 2019 season is for the Tigers to figure out what they have in many of their young position players.
None of the organization's top prospects will debut in 2019. It doesn't make sense to call up the likes of Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Riley Greene or Tarik Skubal at this point. But there are some interesting young hitters at or near the MLB level.
Recently, the Tigers' offense has been surprisingly adequate. They've scored at least four runs in seven of their last nine games, including a nine-run effort against the Los Angeles Angels and 10-run outbursts against the Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals.
Here's the lineup the Tigers should use for the rest of the season, as long as everyone stays healthy.
- Travis Demeritte, RF
- Niko Goodrum, SS
- Miguel Cabrera, DH
- Brandon Dixon, 1B
- Jake Rogers, C
- JaCoby Jones, CF
- Christin Stewart, LF
- Dawel Lugo, 3B
- Harold Castro, 2B
Rogers and Demeritte
It's no coincidence that the offensive uptick comes after rookies Rogers and Demeritte were added to the lineup.
Yes, they have low batting averages. Rogers is actually below the Mendoza Line and Demeritte is hitting just .222. But both players have something the Tigers have been desperately searching for: a combination of power and plate discipline.
It's important to point out the plate discipline isn't fully developed for either yet, especially at the MLB level. Rogers and Demeritte have each struck out 10 times in their first eight games.
But they've also combined for 13 walks in those 16 games. Add in three home runs and two triples, and both are contributing well from the bottom of the order.
Demeritte has only faced MLB pitching for eight games, but he leads the Tigers with a .371 on-base percentage. He's reached base 14 times in eight games with two triples and two stolen bases.
If he can give the Tigers a good OBP with speed and some power, Demeritte could be a solid leadoff hitter. It's worth giving him a shot in a year when the Tigers find themselves 34.5 games out of first place.
Rogers only has five hits in eight games, but he's doing what he did throughout the minor leagues: hitting home runs and drawing walks. The Tigers should try to get him more at-bats, especially in higher leverage situations.
No. 2 hitter
The No. 2 spot in the lineup should be reserved for the best hitter on the team, not only because that player gets the second-most plate appearances throughout the course of the year, but also because the No. 2 hitter statistically gets among the most high-leverage opportunities.
When Castellanos was on the Tigers, he was clearly the best hitter, but now that he's gone, it's a little tougher to point to the No. 1 guy.
Cabrera doesn't have enough extra-base power to claim that distinction right now, and most of the other players in the lineup can't drawn a walk.
Goodrum isn't having a great season, but he can do a little bit of everything and he's been fairly consistent for the Tigers. He also leads all position players with a 1.3 WAR, despite being a slightly below-average defender.
Goodrum has 38 extra-base hits, leads the team in walks and stolen bases and is a good base runner. He strikeouts out far too often, but he's probably the most deserving of the most important spot in the lineup for now.
Don't let the batting average fool you: Miguel Cabrera is having a rough offensive season.
The former Triple Crown winner has just eight home runs and 24 total extra-base hits. He's one of the few Tigers without a strikeout issue, though, and his .345 OBP is solid, though it's less valuable considering his abilities on the base paths.
The Tigers won't move Cabrera out of the top four spots in the lineup, but there aren't many players giving them a good reason to do so, anyway.
It's possible Cabrera is starting to find a bit of a groove in the second half. Since July 29, Cabrera has racked up 14 hits, including two doubles and three home runs, in nine games. He's sporting a juicy .368/.415/.658 slash line over that span and has been driving the ball more consistently than in previous hot stretches.
Cabrera has hit third for most of his career in Detroit. With the current roster construction, there aren't many great reasons to move him out of that spot.
Dixon at cleanup
Perhaps the most surprising breakout of the season for the Tigers is that of Dixon, who leads the team with a .485 slugging percentage and 14 home runs.
Dixon is limited by his 89/16 strikeout/walk ratio, but he's been effective when he puts the ball in play.
He has 29 extra-base hits in 82 games and ranks third on the team in hits. His .794 OPS makes him a plus offensive player overall and deserving of the cleanup spot in this particular lineup.
Bottom of the order
The order of the final four batters can certainly be argued because nobody has been a true standout.
Jones had a month of excellent production, but he's since cooled off and is dealing with a potential wrist injury. He's the only one of these four with an OPS over .720, so he earned the No. 6 spot, if he avoids a stint on the injured list.
Stewart is on his way back from injury. He hasn't been the home run threat the Tigers hoped this year, hitting just seven bombs in 81 games.
He's hit 21 doubles, though, and can draw a walk, so there's still hope for the former top 100 prospect. If he returns, the Tigers could slot him just behind Jones and hope he starts hitting the ball over the fence.
Lugo and Castro have had similar seasons, but one has done it at the MLB level. Castro is hitting .281 but with very little power and a low walk rate.
Lugo has been terrible at the MLB level, but it's worth giving him a few extra at-bats considering his production at Triple-A Toledo. He was batting .333 with a .859 OPS and 30 extra-base hits for the Mud Hens, so the Tigers are still hoping that production translates to the big league level.
No matter what lineup the Tigers use, they're likely going to finish with the worst record in baseball this season. Not many of the players on the current roster will be starters on the next Tigers team in playoff contention.
But some players are showing positive signs and could be part of the future, so the Tigers need to put them in situations to determine if that's the case.
Specifically, Demeritte and Rogers deserve a chance to get more at-bats in more important situations. Tigers fans certainly can't enjoy a pennant race, but there can still be glimmers of hope for the future.
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