Detroit — When you are starting to win games again and your offense has finally broken out, you don’t go tinkering with the batting order.
What ain’t broke, right?
The Tigers have won six of seven games and averaged 6.8 runs in that stretch. So Brad Ausmus isn’t thinking about any lineup alterations — other than getting outfielder Steven Moya and utility man Andrew Romine some much needed playing time (both were in the lineup spelling Justin Upton and Jose Iglesias Sunday).
But with the addition of Cameron Maybin, a natural No. 2-hole hitter, there is a temptation to move him up and move J.D. Martinez back down into a more traditional RBI slot.
It’s a temptation that isn’t overwhelming Ausmus at the moment.
“That could happen, but I probably wouldn’t do it now,” he said before the game. “I haven’t thought about it too much. As long as we’re hitting and scoring runs, it’s not really crossed my mind.”
There are points and counterpoints to making such a move, of course.
Maybin has more plate appearances in the two-hole than anywhere else he’s hit over his career. He has 652 plate appearances there, hitting .260 with a .319 on-base percentage and a .682 OPS.
He’s also knocked in more runs there than any other spot in the order (53) and stolen 26 bases — second to the 27 he’s swiped from the leadoff spot.
Martinez is gradually perking up in the two-hole. He collected two hits, including an RBI double in the 9-4 win Sunday and was hitting .239 with a .320 on-base percentage and .865 OPS since moving to the top of the order. He’s hit seven homers and knocked in 17 runs in the two-hole.
One argument for keeping Martinez hitting second is his 1.103 OPS with two on and runners in scoring position. Also, he’s been up in key situations late in games and has a 1.048 OPS in the final three innings of close games, per Baseball Reference.
“Theoretically, the two-hole is the best spot for RBIs,” Ausmus said.
In the last 15 games, since Martinez was given a day off, he has had 14 plate appearances with runners in scoring position. He is 3 for 11 with three walks and two RBIs. He’s also hit five home runs in the seventh inning or later in that stretch.
One reason he’s getting those late-inning opportunities, especially since Maybin has been back, is the increased production from the bottom of the order.
“Maybin has added length to our lineup, no question,” Ausmus said. “That’s the thing — if you can get the bottom of your lineup hot and swinging that bat well and getting on base, now you are flipping your lineup over and you're getting your best hitters coming up. That’s how you score runs.
“When teams go on offensive streaks is when the bottom of the lineup is hitting. Because the guys at the top of the order are your best hitters and over the long haul, they are going to hit.”
Maybin has been on base constantly since coming off the DL. He’s 12 for 20 with a .652 on-base percentage. He’s also stolen four bases in six games.
His speed works both sides of the two-hole vs. seven-hole argument.
On one hand, he would score a lot more often from first base on an extra-base hit by Miguel Cabrera or Victor Martinez than J.D. Martinez would hitting second.
On the other hand, if Maybin is hitting second in front of Cabrera, he might not have many opportunities to steal a base.
“That’s the other thing about hitting Maybin second, you hate to limit his ability to run,” Ausmus said. “You don’t want to run as much in front of Miggy and Victor, your run-producing guys. If Maybin is at the bottom of the lineup, really, there is less risk with him trying to steal a base.”
It’s a compelling discussion, for sure. And there might be a time when it becomes a viable option. But for now, Ausmus is content to leave well enough alone.