When Jim Leyland pulled a lineup out of his hat

Hannah Foslien

Okay, so Jim Leyland's making a big change to his lineup for Thursday night's decisive Game 5.

Jhonny Peralta's moving back to shortstop, his old position. Rookie Jose Iglesias is benched. And Don Kelly's taking over for Peralta in left field. This is all being done, of course, in the interest of scoring more runs. The idea being that Kelly's a better hitter than Iglesias.

On the other hand, Kelly's a really, really terrible hitter. Even against righties, the lefty-hitting Kelly's got a .235/.295/.362 career batting line. Maybe that makes him better than Iglesias, but can Iglesias be much worse? And shouldn't the defensive hit be a consideration? Ah, but maybe that's not really so important in this game:

Justin Verlander could probably post a sub-4.00 ERA with an infield molded by Auguste Rodin. In fact -- and I wish I knew how to figure out something like this -- he might be better served with Peralta at shortstop and a real outfielder in the outfield. But that raises a pretty obvious question ... If Leyland wants a real outfielder in left field who hits left-handed, why not Andy Dirks, who's got the advantage of actually being a real outfielder -- Kelly's actually a super-utilityman -- and is a better hitter, to boot?

Sports fans, this is just good ol' Unca Jimmy playing a hunch. And since it's baseball, it might actually work.

Also since it's baseball, maybe Miguel Cabrera will actually hit a home run in Game 5. Seems pretty unlikely, though. Since returning to the lineup in early September, Cabrera has hit one (1) home run in 88 at-bats. After batting .358 with a .661 slugging percentage through August, he's .273 with a .318 slugging percentage since. Not so long ago, there simply wasn't any way to pitch to Cabrera. Throw a pitch on the inside part of the plate, and he'd pull it a long way. Throw it on the outside part of the plate, and he'd hit it 380 feet the other way.

Not lately, though. He doesn't seem to have any real power, which means you just have to keep the ball out of his pull-happy zone. And as Jeff Sullivan demonstrates at length, that's exactly what the A's have been doing:

The TBS broadcasters speculated initially that the A’s would try to pound a hurting Cabrera inside, believing he wouldn’t be able to catch up. They might believe, instead, that inside is where Cabrera could maximize his bat speed, and by staying away, they’ll force him to right and up the middle, where he doesn’t have the strength to punish them these days. Everyone can pull the ball harder than they can shoot the ball to the opposite field. The A’s have tried to keep Cabrera to the opposite field, and it’s worked, and there’s no reason to believe they’ll do differently Thursday night. You still have to respect a hitter like Cabrera because his natural talent is virtually unparalleled, but when he’s right, he’s a hitter without weaknesses. He’s a hitter with weaknesses today.

So that's something to watch in Game 5: Will Sonny Gray try to keep his fastballs away from Cabrera?

Whatever happens, but especially if the Tigers lose, it's fair to wonder if Cabrera should even have played in this series, since it seems pretty apparent that he's not been right. Hasn't been right for some time. Would the Tigers have a better chance, for example, if Peralta and Iglesias were both in the infield, with Dirks in left field? Of course, the problem is that neither Dirks nor Iglesias (nor Kelly) is much of a hitter, and the Tigers are generally short of good left-handed hitters. The Tigers are probably just as well off playing Cabrera, and hoping that Sonny Gray makes a big mistake.

Or, more reasonably, that Justin Verlander is unhittable. At some point, though, the Tigers aren't going to win the World Series if Cabrera's not hitting home runs.*

* /free analysis

More from Baseball Nation:

Is Sonny Gray better than Bartolo Colon?

Walking the bases loaded ... intentional?

Hey, remember when Adam Wainwright was in trouble?

Game 5’s blown call that wasn’t

Were the D’backs short on frontier justice?

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