October 3, 2009 at 1:00 am

Lynn Henning

Should Tigers miss playoffs, blame the bats

Aubrey Huff was back in the starting lineup, but had another 0-for -- this time 0-for-3 -- and he's batting just .184 as a Tiger. (John T. Greilick/The Detroit News)

Detroit

Baseball connoisseurs saw Jake Peavy pitch a masterly game Friday night as the Chicago White Sox fricasseed the Tigers, 8-0, at Comerica Park.

But you might have wondered it if were Peavy or someone else who had stuck a baseball down the Tigers' throats in 2009?

It looked a lot like the same game I saw this season from Ian Snell, Felix Hernandez, Jason Hammel, Brian Duensing, Robinson Tejeda, David Price, Carl Pavano, Clayton Richard, Joba Chamberlain, CC Sabathia, Dallas Braden, Brett Anderson, Felipe Paulino, Jose Contreras, Ervin Santana, Daisuke Matsuzaka, David Hernandez, Zack Greinke, Mark Buehrle, Phil Hughes and any of the relief pitchers who joined all those starters in holding the Tigers to one run or less this season.

And because all those pitchers found the Tigers to be not the toughest brandishers of a bat, manager Jim Leyland's team has two games to show why it's worthy of heading off next week to the American League playoffs.

It might not happen. And if it doesn't, can anyone truthfully say they were shocked?

The Tigers are in trouble this weekend, beyond any justification for being so stressed, because they don't hit the way a playoff contender must craft an offense.

Part of the explanation for having been in first place for 162 days this season is they normally pitch sturdily and field the ball cleanly and with range in the infield (it includes catcher Gerald Laird's arm).

The other half of a not-so-complex equation is that, as we know, the AL Central Division is the gift that continues to give, at least if you're the Tigers.

But charity tends not to discriminate, which is why the second-place (for now) Minnesota Twins are only too happy to accept a handout from the Tigers and Kansas City Royals, two teams that could conspire over the next two days to bring a division title to Minneapolis and send the Tigers home.

'There's no secret to it'

"It's simple -- we've got to score some runs," Leyland said, his voice calm, after the Tigers had lost their second consecutive game, and seen Wednesday night's three-game lead slip to a measly game. "If we don't, we'll get our (tails) beat.

"There's no secret to it. We've got to grind out at-bats."

Analyzing the Tigers' hitting miseries is robust bar conversation. It's more concise to simply see the Tigers for what they are: a batting order with too many dead spots.

Curtis Granderson has 30 home runs but carries a .249 batting average. Magglio Ordonez has had a big September but has as many home runs (seven) as Ramon Santiago. Aubrey Huff has been an improbable disaster. Carlos Guillen is batting .250 and has limited range in left field.

Brandon Inge, for his 27 home runs and 83 RBIs, is batting .233 with 167 strikeouts. Laird is hitting .229.

Miguel Cabrera is a superstar, no question, but he is 26 years old, has a .327 average, and can go 0-for-4 without having hit a ball to the outfield, as he did Friday night. He will soon enough become an American League version of Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols, at least during his hotter stretches, but he is not yet there, and when he is less than formidable, he leaves a serious hole in a batting order that can't afford any Cabrera off-days.

'Puzzled all year'

Leyland and anyone who has followed this team with any insight has known for months that the Tigers were pushing the expiration date on first place with an offense so meek.

It is why this first-place run has been so radically different from anything the Tigers before knew, whether it was 2006, 1984, 1968, or any other season in which they held first place for the brunt of the year.

"To be honest," said Leyland, "I've been a little puzzled all year why we haven't hit."

Puzzled, perhaps.

But he and everyone else weeks ago resigned themselves to some cold hard facts about these Tigers: If they win, it will be in spite of an offense so anemic it's no wonder no one at Comerica Park has been able to relax, much less enjoy, a long first-place ride that could yet be derailed.

lynn.henning@detnews.com">lynn.henning@detnews.com