By: Jamie Samuelsen
Baseball fans are girding their loins for the Tigers-White Sox series this weekend at Comerica Park.
Justin Verlander. Chris Sale. Prince Fielder. Paul Konerko. Miguel Cabrera. Adam Dunn. Andy Dirks.
If I were promoting a concert or a golf tournament, I’d have to throw in the disclaimer – SCHEDULED TO APPEAR, because you never know exactly who’s going to show up. But when you’re talking about a baseball series between two teams vying for the top spot in the division, you should assume that the best players will play. Jim Leyland and Robin Ventura even altered their rotations just a bit to ensure that Verlander and Jake Peavy would get the ball. If the games are vital (which they are) and the stakes are high (which they are), then the best should play (which they won’t).
The White Sox will send two lefties to the hill over the weekend (Sale and Francisco Liriano) which means that Dirks will most likely be coming off the bench in one or both of those games. Leyland confirmed as much Sunday after the 5-2 win over the Angels. He plays Dirks most days, which is good. But he certainly would not commit to playing Dirks all of the days, which is inexplicable.
Look, I know Leyland gets sick and tired of people complaining about his lineups. And I know he believes strongly in giving guys rests and keeping guys fresh as the season winds into its final month. But when two games are on the line each day when they play the Sox and when Dirks is one of the Tigers three best hitters, then match-ups and days off should go out the window.
I suppose this is Free Dirks 2.0. I wrote back in May that Dirks deserves to be an everyday player the same way that Cabrera, Fielder and Austin Jackson are out there every day. Then Dirks had to go and injure his Achilles and throw the whole movement for a loop. But now Dirks is back, and still Leyland refuses to grant him every day status. He didn’t start last Sunday against Baltimore (Lefty Wei-Yin Chen started for the O’s). And he was also on the bench Friday against the Angels (who sent right-hander Zack Grienke to the mound). True he starts most games. True has gets off the bench in most games. But he should be playing in all games.
The doubters suggest that he can’t play regularly against left-handed pitchers. But to me, that’s short-sighted. He’s hitting .250 this year against lefties. That’s not outstanding. But it’s better than Brennan Boesch who is at .237. And it’s better than Ryan Raburn who is hitting just .165. Yes, you just saw the name Ryan Raburn in this blog. He might be back as early as Saturday when the rosters expand. And he might be in the lineup against Liriano or Sale or both. Do not put that past Leyland.
I believe Leyland is a very good manager even though I disagree with some of his moves. And I clearly believe that he’s doing what he thinks is best for this team. He thinks. And he overthinks. He admitted that his decision to bench Cabrera on Sunday caused him to lose sleep and second-guess himself right up to the time the lineup was announced.
And in this instance, I think he’s over-thinking things. Don’t worry about match-ups. Don’t worry about lefty-righty. Play your nine best guys. You can debate Delmon Young versus Boesch. Or Boesch versus Jeff Baker. But don’t debate this one. By average, Dirks is the Tigers best hitter. By performance, he’s their third best hitter. Play him. Every day. And especially play him in the final seven games against the White Sox.
If, by some random turn of events, the Tigers and the White Sox have a one-game playoff to determine the division and Sale pitches for the Sox, do you think Leyland would start Dirks?
The answer is that he should. And if he starts him there, he should start him here. The stakes may not be do-or-die. But they’re tending in that direction.