It wasn’t all that long ago that I issued a severe weather watch.
Not a warning—that’s what you give when you see signs of brewage, like with a tornado—but a watch.
The directive was that Austin Jackson better have a good season, or else the Tigers offense would be working with one hand tied behind its back.
It was the opinion here that the second-year Jackson—not Miggy Cabrera or Magglio Ordonez or Victor Martines—is the most important brick in the team’s offensive house.
If Jackson doesn’t get on base with any consistency, I cautioned, then the Tigers’ house of cards collapses. The theory was that any good offense is keyed and triggered by its leadoff man, and since that’s Jackson’s job, it’s up to him to start setting the table for the big boys.
The “watch” part comes into play because this is Jackson’s second year after a terrific rookie campaign, and those sophomores automatically are placed under watch.
Now we can upgrade the severe weather watch to a warning.
Jackson went 0-for-4 last night in the Tigers’ 3-0 win over the Oakland A’s. And this wasn’t one of those hit-the-ball-hard-but-got-robbed kind of o-for-4s. This wasn’t the case of a guy being snakebit for a night.
Jackson was 0-for-4 and looked every bit the part, flailing at pitches and not looking real comfortable at the dish. His batting average has sunk to .184, the strikeout total still elevated (16 in 49 AB). The conditions that were right for a second-year slump have now materialized.
Yes, the Tigers have won three in a row. But they haven’t done so with a punishing offense. The team struggles to score runs on most nights, and it’s impossible not to connect those team struggles with Jackson’s personal ones.
For a leadoff hitter, the on-base percentage is the live-or-die statistic. If it were a person it would be Judge Joe Brown. There is no gray area when it comes to the OBP; you either have a good one, or you don’t. And there are no mitigating circumstances.
Jackson’s OBP is .259, sickly for even a No. 9 hitter. Or a pitcher.
As a result, the Tigers must scratch and claw for their runs, or wait for someone to hit a home run.
Even last night was an example—and the Tigers won.
The A’s pitching staff issued an unsightly 11 walks—1o of them unintentional. Yet the Tigers couldn’t scratch out a run until the seventh inning and used walks to edge ahead, 3-0 in the eighth inning.
An 11-walk affair ought to yield more than three piddly runs.
The lack of clutch hitting isn’t all Jackson’s fault, of course, but you can’t help but wonder where the Tigers offense would be if today’s Jackson was more like the 2010 Jackson who hovered at or above .300 most of the season.
You can turn a cross-eyed look at new Tiger Victor Martinez, too, who’s barely above .200 and looking like he’s trying too hard to impress.
But it’s Jackson, I maintain, who holds the future of the Tigers offense in his sophomore hands.
Nothing that’s happened in the first 13 games of the season has changed my mind. And it ought to convert others.