The Red Sox and Tigers square off Wednesday night for Game 4 of the ALCS. While Boston is pushing ahead with a very familiar lineup despite its offensive struggles, Detroit has opted to shake things up considerably.
Tigers skipper Jim Leyland has finally had enough of Austin Jackson's struggles at the plate this postseason. The veteran skipper has bumped his regular leadoff man down to the eight spot for Wednesday's game, putting the players at the top of the order in some very unfamiliar territory.
That'd be Torii Hunter batting leadoff, something he hasn't done as a starter since July 4, 1999. (Coincidentally, that game came against the Tigers.) Hunter has just 15 starts and 71 career plate appearances in the No. 1 spot, likely because he's hit .164/.211/.239 in those few trips to the plate -- though small sample-size caveats abound.
Cabrera is also treading into unfamiliar waters by hitting in the two hole. He has just nine career plate appearances in the second spot, all of which came when he was a member of the (Florida) Marlins back in 2004.
Also of note is Jose Iglesias sliding back into the nine spot and resuming shortstop duties, which pushes Jhonny Peralta back into the outfield.
For the Sox, things stay pretty much the same other than Daniel Nava moving back into the lineup:
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
Shane Victorino, RF
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
David Ortiz, DH
Mike Napoli, 1B
Daniel Nava, LF
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
Stephen Drew, SS
Will Middlebrooks, 3B
Jake Peavy SP
While some might argue that Game 4 of the ALCS isn't a time for putting your best hitters in positions they are unfamiliar with, others would argue that Leyland's decision to bump the heavy hitters up a spot in lieu of throwing Andy Dirks or Don Kelly into the leadoff role is the better approach.
Red Sox starter Jake Peavy doesn't have the velocity of Boston's other starters, so getting back to Hunter, Cabrera, et al., one spot sooner -- potentially giving one or both of them an extra at-bat -- gives them more opportunity to take advantage of Peavy's not-so-electric heater. Cabrera has struggled against hard heat all postseason, so giving him as many opportunities as possible against Peavy -- as marginal as a one-spot move is -- should work in their favor.
The reason for all the moving and shaking comes down to Austin Jackson's newfound inability to make contact with the baseball. His numbers dipped some at the dish in the regular season, but his futility this October has been historic. Through eight games, Jackson is batting .091/.143/.121 with 18 strikeouts in 35 plate appearances.
He's been so bad that Leyland has gone on record saying he's doing Jackson a solid by demoting him:
Leyland: "I think I'm actually doing Austin Jackson a favor. He's getting kicked around right now..."— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) October 16, 2013
Likely the only reason that Jackson isn't out of the lineup altogether is because he provides stellar defense in center.