Strength in the middle.

It’s been bantied about in all the major team sports.

NBA championships, folks used to say by rote, can’t be won without a dominant big man clogging up the middle. It’s not required nowadays, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

Strong interior blocking, in the middle of the offensive line, is indispensable when it comes to establishing a ground game in the NFL. Conversely, superior middle linebackers have been the hallmark of countless championship platoons, too.

Hockey’s glamour guys are the flashy centers—the fancy playmakers who can also score.

And in baseball?

You’ve heard it countless times: “One of the reasons why (insert team) are so successful is because they’re strong up the middle!”

The middle being, of course, catcher/shortstop/second base/center field.

The 1968 Tigers were 3/4 strong up the middle, with Bill Freehan behind the plate, Dick McAuliffe at second base, and Mickey Stanley in center field. It was only light-hitting shortstop Ray Oyler who was the exception.

The ’84 Tigers were exemplary up the middle: Lance Parrish/Lou Whitaker/Alan Trammell/Chet Lemon.

The 2010 Tigers might look like this in those four positions: Gerald Laird/Scott Sizemore/Adam Everett/Curtis Granderson.

Doesn’t exactly send chills down the spines of opponents.

There’s Laird with his gifted cannon for an arm, and that’s nice. But there’s nothing in his bat other than rally-killing outs.

Everett and fellow SS Ramon Santiago, together, make up an average player at best.

Sizemore, if he replaces free agent Placido Polanco, has never played an inning in the big leagues.

Granderson is coming off an awful 2009 campaign.

If the 2010 Tigers are going to remain in the mix in the Central Division—forget anything beyond that for now—they’ll have to be better in these key “up the middle” positions.

Getting more production out of LF, RF, and DH won’t hurt, either.

But they say you have to be good down the pike, so let’s put our focus there.

Laird is likely to remain the starting catcher, because even though rookie Alex Avila seems to have the bigger stick, the Tigers are enamored with Laird’s gunning down of opposing base runners. I think they’re scared to death to NOT have Laird in there, for fear that they’ll lose a ton of games due to base thefts.

Not sold on that premise, but I do realize how good Laird is at what he does when it comes to throwing a baseball.

Sizemore seems set to take Polanco’s place. It’s unlikely that Jarhead will return in 2010, because the Tigers don’t want to tie up any more dough than they have to in players. Sizemore comes a whole lot cheaper, mainly because he’s a green horn. But you never know how it’s going to go with rookies as starters.

Everett is a free agent as well. His glove is good, but he’s another who gives you virtually nothing offensively. Santiago brings more to the table with the bat, and holds his own defensively. But he’s never really been a full-time player in the big leagues.

The Tigers need to address shortstop, for sure.

We can only hope that Granderson’s 2009 season was an anomaly. If so, then center field shouldn’t be an issue.

So, to review: a good field, no hit catcher; a good field, no hit shortstop; a rookie second baseman; a (we hope) rebounding center fielder.

The Tigers, at least, have what they feel is a capable replacement at 2B in Sizemore, already in the organization.

If I had my druthers, I’d like to see Avila get more playing time, with Laird brought in for defensive purposes late in tight games. I’m fine with Sizemore, because you have to see what you got with him. I want a different shortstop. And I want Granderson to work hard at his game, which I’m sure he will.

The Tigers, right now, are less-than-average “up the middle.” I have a sneaking suspicion that such a deficiency contributed greatly to their house of cards collapsing in September.