July 23, 2009 at 1:12 am

Lynn Henning

Lack of offense could be Tigers' undoing

Marcus Thames supplies some much-needed punch to the Tigers' lineup, but he and the team would be better served if he didn't have to be the clean-up hitter. (John T. Greilick/The Detroit News)

Detroit

What shattered the Tigers on a somber Wednesday night at Comerica Park wasn't only that the team lost 2-1 to the Mariners. And it wasn't only that the team wasted a shimmering pitching effort by Armando Galarraga.

It was the realization that not much is going to change unless the team can make some dramatic moves before next Friday's trade deadline.

It leaves the Tigers in a tense situation no matter how things are resolved.

If the pitching holds up the way it has during the past week, the Tigers probably still don't have enough offense to win the American League Central.

And that's the last thing the Tigers worried about when pitching and defense became their over-arching concerns for 2009. It was believed, correctly it seemed, that the offense would take care of itself if the pitchers and fielders did their jobs.

Now all the sane thinking is washing away because the hitters have been so helpless. And that isn't likely to change unless the team can find a bat or two at what figures to be a very expensive trade price ahead of July 31.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland sat behind his desk after Wednesday night's gut-crusher and said what he must too frequently say after another low-scoring loss.

"You've got to tip your cap to the pitcher," Leyland said again Wednesday after the Mariners' superb right-hander, Felix Hernandez, held them to a single run.

But apart from the credit Fernandez deserved was the indictment the Tigers' offense deserves.

There are too many permanent dead spots in Leyland's batting order. Those cavities aren't going away unless the Tigers can find replacement parts. And good luck there.

Pieces don't fit

Look at the holes:

Josh Anderson has no business being in a starting lineup. He does not hit for power or for average. He is, at best, a fourth outfielder but finds himself in Leyland's lineup regularly because Carlos Guillen is hurt and Magglio Ordonez isn't hitting for power unless an opposing pitcher hangs a change-up.

Gerald Laird is showing why he was a part-time catcher with the Rangers. He's a terrific receiver and thrower. But he's not a day-to-day hitter. He would be better off becoming a reserve catcher next season if young Alex Avila can possibly make the jump from Double-A to the majors.

Ramon Santiago is showing why he always has been a better part-time than a full-time player. He wears down if played regularly and his bat goes south.

Ryan Raburn is an extra. Marcus Thames, a powerful but streaky hitter, is not ideally a clean-up batter. He would be better off batting deeper in the order, as would Brandon Inge.

But because the remainder of the offense is so lame, Thames and Inge are moved higher in an order but at a disadvantage to the bottom of Leyland's lineup.

Curtis Granderson has been so disappointing as an ignition switch that he could find himself on the trading block as soon as the Tigers develop a potential replacement in the minors. And they're getting closer to that day.

Tough decision looms

Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers president and general manager, is no doubt tearing out his silver-tinged hair trying to overcome what appears to be a Catch-22.

He can either spend valuable minor-league material in trying to acquire a big bat next week, or he can wait out the season and hope the Tigers can steal a division title, which theoretically is within their capabilities.

The Tigers have to be careful. They have bad contracts and few payroll options in the immediate future. They have a respectable farm system that's beginning to provide regular help. Ripping into the minors in any kind of desperate attempt to bail themselves out of a bind in 2009 is tempting, but in this view would be short-sighted and destructive.

And yet they have an opportunity to make the playoffs.

Leyland looked as devoid of answers Wednesday night as Dombrowski.

Yes, he said, Fernandez pitched a doozy of a game.

But so did his own pitcher. And his pitcher lost. All because one team hit a big home run as the other team appeared to be praying for one.

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