Sunday, July 15, 2007

Sunday, 7/15/07's main point: Tigers' Monroe no longer a starter

ON BASEBALL

Craig Monroe
was a great ringleader of the ALCS champion Tigers last season.

Detroit's left fielder wasn't afraid of anybody, especially the Yankees. His fearlessness symbolized the Tigers' deepest penetration into the playoffs since Reagan was in the White House. Most important, Monroe was a clutch hitter. He hit the big home runs. He didn't take pitches when he couldn't afford to. Even in Game 1 of the World Series when the rest of the Tigers appeared starstruck, Monroe jacked a home run. He was the only Tiger who appeared ready for the occasion.

But all that is in the past now. This is 2007 — Jim Leyland will enforce this point until a pack of Marlboros is empty — and 2006 is irrelevent. Which is why the struggling Monroe should no longer be viewed as a big hitter in the Tigers' lineup but as the major weakness. Entering Sunday's game, Monroe was hitting just .220. And he wasn't exactly making up for that number with power stats (9 HRs, 41 RBIs). Additionally, Monroe has struck out 78 times in just 277 at bats (that's easily more than one K for every four ABs).

This isn't just a slump for Monroe, either. A slump is a period of weeks (or sometimes a month) in which a player struggles. Monroe has been awful at the plate since Opening Day. No one in the Tigers' organization will admit this, but it's very possible that Monroe simply isn't a great player — especially in Detroit's stellar lineup. Monroe's best season was 2004 when he hit .293. Since then he's hit .277, .255 and now .220. He's been on a downswing for sometime now, and the only reason we haven't noticed until now is because he knocked all those big hits last season.

Monroe doesn't necessarily have to be traded or released It can't hurt the Tigers to keep an extra outfielder. But as Leyland's lineups are starting to suggest, Marcus Thames — who entered Sunday batting .252 with 10 HRs (but added to that with a three-run HR) — is in the process of taking over Monroe's grass in left field.

Leyland is probably the most loyal manger in baseball. Just consider the patience he's had with closer Todd Jones despite some very rocky outings. But he knows that to give the Tigers the best chance to win, Monroe shouldn't be starting in left field. He could be a dangerous pinch-hitter with plenty of power, but right now he's not a starter.

At least not for the Tigers.

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