While the Detroit Tigers are currently in first place just ahead of the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central, they are desperately missing a key piece to their winning puzzle. Center fielder and budding star Austin Jackson has been absent from the lineup for the past two weeks.
Jackson was the team’s leadoff hitter and a Gold Glove-caliber player in the outfield. His speed and batting consistency at the top of the order has been sorely missed by the Tigers despite some success by his replacements in the order.
Jackson, usually accompanied by veteran Torii Hunter and Andy Dirks in the outfield, has been out for the past two weeks with a hamstring pull and could be out for some time still. He has begun to throw the ball around and should be ready to hit from a tee soon enough, but the Tigers are hoping for the speediest recoveries if they want to stay in first place in their division.
Without Jackson, they are 7-7, scoring an average of 5.2 runs per game, just a slight drop from the 5.4 runs per game with him in the lineup. His replacements at the No. 1 spot are hitting a rock solid .373 with 13 runs, two homers and seven RBIs.
Sure, they are producing at the same, maybe even a better rate than the third-year player, but it’s what can’t be measured on paper that the Tigers are missing. Three guys have filled in as the leadoff man per Jim Leyland‘s request in his absence: Andy Dirks, Don Kelly and Omar Infante – the primary guy being Dirks.
Jackson can bring speed to the table, averaging one run scored per game when healthy this season. He gets on base, and helps other players get on base by distracting the pitcher with speed and he scores — everything they need to create a run.
Detroit has been fine without him, hovering around the .500 mark with him on the disabled list, but they could be even better with him in the lineup plus the production that has filled in for him coming from other places.
The Tigers miss you Austin. Here’s to a speedy recovery for one of baseball’s fun young stars.