For a good chunk of the year, Victor Martinez was the great comeback story of 2016. A year earlier he missed more than a month’s worth of games on the disabled list and struggled to be effective in many of the ones he did play in after injuring his knee a few weeks before spring training.
He came back strong from the start, posting better than a 1.000 OPS in April continuing with 800+ OPS in each May and June. Batting cleanup between Miguel Cabrera and J.D. Martinez and switch hitting in a heavily right-handed lineup, Victor Martinez gave the Tigers’ offense the opportunity to give pitchers a bit different of a look.
For the past three weeks though, Martinez has done more to hurt his team’s chances than to help them. With an achey knee and the the season on the line, Victor Martinez should no longer bat in the cleanup spot, and the Tigers might be best served by giving him a few days break entirely. Manager Brad Ausmus has to shake things up before the season is totally given away.
Saturday Martinez went 0-for-4 and grounded into a double play. That dropped his average during the past three weeks to .179 with just three extra-base hits, and that was his fourth GIDP during that time, as well. Despite having the likes of Ian Kinsler, Cameron Maybin and Miguel Cabrera batting in front of him, Martinez has just one RBI since Aug. 25. That RBI came on a solo home run.
The effect on the team has been noticeable. Since Aug. 26 Detroit is averaging 3.4 runs per game. This is a team that averaged 4.7 runs up until that point — while slugger J.D. Martinez was sidelined for more than six weeks and Nick Castellanos was missing three more.
If you looked only at the stats, you might be tempted to call it a statistical anomaly. These things happen, and unfortunately that means they can come at the worst of times. But with Martinez, you can tie his ineffectiveness to his health: his surgically repaired left knee has been aching again. However, the Tigers are not tempted to give him another cortisone shot as they did in June, Chris McCosky of the Detroit News wrote on Friday.
“His right-handed swing looks all right, though I know [Thursday] wasn’t great (0 for 4),” manager Brad Ausmus said. “But that knee is going to be bothering him, from time to time, for the rest of his life.”
McCosky notes Martinez has been even worse since a “hard, awkward slide” on Sept. 12. Through Saturday, Martinez is 3-for-18 for a .166 average.
Miguel Cabrera continues to hit. He’s batting .287 with .390 OBP since Aug. 26. J.D. Martinez continues to hit. Since Aug. 26 he’s batting .303 in September with five doubles, two home runs and eight RBI.
The Tigers are 3.5 games out of the second wild card spot. They might be 4 out by the time Saturday is over. There are six AL teams fighting for two wild card spots currently.
Now’s not the time for Ausmus and the Tigers to hope Victor Martinez visits the fountain of youth. They have to drop him in the lineup — or give him a few days off entirely -- before it’s too late.