Friday, July 22, 2011

Tigers "X" Factor Could Be Big Help Down the Stretch

So what do you think of the Tigers' new acquisition, brought in after the All-Star break and in advance of the interleague trading deadline? Do you think he can provide a boost? Is he an upgrade from what the team had prior to his arrival?

Tell me, what do you think of Carlos Guillen?

Don't look at me like that. You thought I was speaking of someone else?

I promised myself, at the beginning of the season, that I wouldn't write about Guillen, talk about Guillen, or even mention his name---not until he was officially a part of the team.

It was nothing personal, nothing superstitious. It just didn't make sense, to me, to waste typing, speaking or thinking about a player whose future was suspect, at best.

The second baseman Guillen underwent microfracture surgery on his knee, thanks to an injury suffered while completing a game-ending double play in New York last August. Inexplicably, Tigers management seemed to go into spring training, 2011 actually expecting Guillen to join them when the team headed north.

That was a foolish notion at best, an irresponsible one at worst.

I promised not to breathe Guillen's name until his return appeared imminent. Anything else was a waste of time.

But all bets were off when Guillen returned to the Tigers lineup last Saturday, his knee surgically repaired and pain-free.

My self-imposed moratorium is over. Guillen is back and he's hitting the ball---so far---and looking mobile at second base. The black hole at second base has been filled.

With Guillen's return and the acquisition of 3B Wilson Betemit, the Tigers, in less than a week, have plugged two gaping cavities in their lineup.

Guillen has looked sharp and fresh, swinging the bat with authority. He smashed a monster home run the other day against Oakland that ate up a fan in the right field stands. It would have eaten up a fourth outfielder with a glove, with the ferocity Guillen displayed in hitting it.

If Guillen can continue his inspired, competent play, and if Betemit is even his .268 career self, the Tigers will have taken two giant leaps for fankind.

Now all that's left is to secure another starting pitcher, which is like saying all your bank account needs to be solvent is an extra 50 grand.

Easier said than done.

GM Dave Dombrowski isn't playing anything close to the vest this year. Why should he? Why be coy now?

DD isn't shy in acknowledging that another starter is in his crosshairs. With so many teams still considering themselves "buyers" at this deadline, might as well lay your cards on the table.

But I can finally say it now: Carlos Guillen might be the biggest "X" factor you've ever seen in Detroit, regardless of sport. His return and potential production down the stretch might be the biggest yet least expected thing to happen to any Detroit team trying to scratch and claw its way into the post-season.

It wouldn't have been shocking to learn that Guillen's knee simply wasn't responding as well to treatment and rehab as hoped. It would have been dispiriting but not unexpected to find out that we shouldn't count on seeing Guillen until 2012.

That's what makes Guillen the premier "X" factor. This is a guy whose stat line might have been filled with goose eggs in 2011, but who might now be a key contributor down the stretch.

It's OK now to speak of Carlos Guillen, in my book. Scream his name from the rooftops, if it tickles your fancy.

What a pickup, eh?


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