Friday, April 29, 2005

The Best Lineup In Baseball? Try And Argue Otherwise

Brandon Inge: Star-to-be?
Pudge Rodriguez: Hall of Famer
Carlos Guillen: All-Star in 2004
Rondell White: Experienced, professional hitter
Dmitri Young: Hacking his way to .300

Some are household names, some aren't. Some are journeymen, some are young guys coming into their own. Some have potential to be great, others are on the back end of their careers.

They're an eclectic bunch, but so is a grouping of anchovies, lettuce, croutons and grated parmesan cheese. But together, they make a helluva Caesar salad. And together, the Tigers batting lineup of Brandon Inge, Pudge Rodriguez, Carlos Guillen, Dmitri Young and Rondell White are on the verge of bringing the salad days of Detroit baseball back to the Motor City.

Individually, the numbers are eye-popping. Starting at the top of the order and working down, Inge (.355), Rodriguez (.351), Guillen (.403), White (.324) and Young (.338) are simply smoking the ball. No other top five comes close to them as April gives way to May.

The exciting thing -- for Tigers fans and not so much for opposing pitching staffs -- is that you can make a case that none of these players are flukes. Inge hit nearly .287 last season, Rodriguez is a sure Hall of Famer, Guillen made the All-Star team while batting .318 in 2004, and White and Young are no strangers to .300 averages. That they are all on pace to have monster years at once has to be daunting for the rest of the A.L. Central.

Of course, winning teams don't just hit, and while the Tigers are very good at beating you 10-3 or 12-1, they have yet to learn the art of winning 3-2 -- the score of their win April 28 in Cleveland, by the way but still an anomaly. That's because the achilles' heel of this team, like so many others, lies in the feet of their pitchers -- the starters, specifically. The bullpen is solid, but the rotation of Jeremy Bonderman, Mike Maroth, Jason Johnson, Nate Robertson and Wil Ledezma is mostly very young, i.e. very inexperienced, and thus maddeningly inconsistent. Bonderman, the apparent ace of the bunch, is capable of mowing them down, but also suffered thru a six-run first inning against the Indians earlier this month. Johnson is just as likely to toss a two-hit shutout as he is getting bombed by the third inning. The rest, except perhaps lefty Maroth, are all over the charts, start-by-start. Live by youth, die by youth.

But it all has the makings of an exciting, interesting team, because when you watch the Tigers play, you're probably going to see lots of runs -- by someone.

The Tigers' 2005 version of Murderers' Row is fun and entertaining, and has the potential to be one of the most prolific offenses ever seen in Detroit. Problem is, they probably will need every one of those runs until the starting pitchers come together to at least form a pleasing side salad.

(for more on the Tigers, click )

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