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Leyland Is A Genius – For At Least One Night

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By: Jamie Samuelsen
@jamiesamuelsen

All the buzz heading into Game 4 was about Jim Leyland’s lineup.

All the buzz heading out of Game 4 was about the Tigers offense finally breaking out.

Are the two events connected? Honestly, probably not.

Baseball is the ultimate one-on-one game between hitters and pitchers and ultimately the hitters did the job in the 7-3 win. After scoring six runs total in the first three games, the Tigers scored five in the second inning en route to the rather easy win.

But Leyland got heat for standing pat on his lineup after the Tigers were shut out in Game 3. So he reacted by sliding Austin Jackson down to the eight hole and moving every hitter up one slot. It looked rather dramatic on it’s face with Miguel Cabrera batting second and Torii Hunter leading off for the first time since 1999. But once the game started, it really amounted to swapping Jackson and Jose Iglesias in the order as the game progressed.

Jackson entered Game 4 with three hits in 33 at-bats, 18 strikeouts and only one run scored in the 2013 postseason. Anyone batting in front of the likes of Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez should score more than one run in eight games. So it only makes baseball sense that Jackson got on base four times Wednesday night, going 2-for-2 with two walks, no strikeouts, two RBIs and two runs scored. Perhaps there was less pressure on Jackson batting eighth instead of leading off. Perhaps he just saw pitches to hit. Either way, you can bet that he’ll be in the eighth spot when Leyland puts together his lineup for Game 5 on Thursday night.

This is the bizarre standard by which we measure baseball. Callers to the radio station on Wednesday were calling on Leyland to do everything from benching Fielder to knocking over a water cooler in the locker room. I thought he’d be wise to swap Jackson and Omar Infante in the lineup just to put a higher OBP guy ahead of Hunter, Cabrera and Fielder. He had to do something; otherwise he risked standing by as the Tigers went down quietly in another postseason series as they did last year against the Giants.

So he pulled the trigger and immediately was put on the defensive about it before the game. If Leyland had done nothing, he would have been passive. By making a change in the long-standing lineup, some wondered if he was panicking.

“You guys wanted me to change something, and now you want to find the flaw in something we changed,” Leyland said in his media session before Game 4. “I really wanted to give you guys something to write about and talk about.”

After the game, Leyland quickly downplayed the bold lineup and any effect that it might have had on the game. “I don’t know if that had anything to do with it,” Leyland said. “I doubt it very much.”

The Tigers ensured that this series would head back to Boston over the weekend. There is more baseball to be played. And there will certainly be more questions for Leyland as the postseason progresses.

One of the obvious ones – Jackson got on base every time he came to the plate on Wednesday night. Isn’t he the perfect candidate to lead off?

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