Thumbnail sketches of the Detroit Tigers

Oct 20, 2006 - 5:53 AM BRISTOL, Connecticut (Ticker) - Position-by-position thumbnail sketches for the Detroit Tigers, who open the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday.

Ivan Rodriguez, catcher - The 13-time All-Star hit .300 for the 11th time in his career in addition to belting 13 homers and driving in 69 runs. Even more importantly, the future Hall of Famer rehabbed his image of being a cancer in the clubhouse as manager Jim Leyland spoke highly of "Pudge's" professional attitude and work ethic. The 34-year-old, a World Series winner with Florida in 2003, threw out 51 percent of attempted basestealers (26-of-51). He is 5-for-29 at the plate this postseason.

Carlos Guillen, first base - Moved over from shortstop because of the calf injury suffered by Sean Casey, Guillen is adequate at best at first base. But he more than makes up for it at the plate, where he hit .320 with 19 homers and 85 RBI in 153 games. He established career highs with 100 runs, 174 hits and 20 stolen bases and was one homer shy of tying his personal best. His 41 doubles were second most in club history for a switch-hitter. He batted .349 in the second half, fourth best in the league.

Placido Polanco, second base - Sidelined by a separated shoulder, Polanco announced in mid-September that he would not return this season. Fortunately he did, as he helped Detroit to its first World Series since 1984 by earning ALCS MVP honors after going 9-for-17 against Oakland. Polanco hit .331 in 2005, but since he split the season between Philadelphia and Detroit, he did not have enough plate appearances to qualify in either league. A prototypical No. 2 hitter, the 31-year-old hit .295 this season, including .396 with runners in scoring position and .344 after the count reached 0-2. Despite just 23 extra-base hits, Polanco was moved into the No. 3 hole after Casey's injury. Detroit went 13-21 after Polanco separated his shoulder August 15 in Boston.

Brandon Inge, third base - A second-round pick of the Tigers in 1998, Inge was the catcher for most of the 2003 season in which the Tigers lost a league-record 119 games. An agile defender at the hot corner with a strong arm, the 29-year-old belted a career-high 27 homers and added another in the ALDS against New York. Inge fanned 128 times during the season.

Ramon Santiago, shortstop - A superior defender to Guillen, the 27-year-old has plus-range and a strong arm, but struggles at the plate. The switch-hitter batted .225 with two extra-base hits in 80 at-bats during the regular season and is 0-for-7 in the postseason, including starts in the final two games of the ALCS. A highly regarded prospect in the Tigers' farm system, the Dominican hit .225 in 444 at-bats in 2003 before he was traded to Seattle in the deal that brought Guillen to the "Motor City" in January 2004. He eventually rejoined the organization this year after being waived by the Mariners.

Craig Monroe, left field - Entering postseason play with 11 hits in his final 67 regular-season at-bats, Monroe has caught fire. The 29-year-old is batting .300 (9-for-30) with three doubles, three homers and seven RBI in the playoffs. He destroyed Oakland over the last three games of the ALCS, going 6-for-10 with two doubles, a homer and four RBI. Despite batting mostly in the bottom third of the lineup, the Rangers' castoff led the Tigers with 28 homers. He hit .255 and walked just 37 times against 126 strikeouts. Furthermore, in the seventh inning or later, he was second in the AL with 14 homers and fifth with a .600 slugging percentage.

Curtis Granderson, center field - A third-round pick in 2002, the second-year player has been the catalyst for the Tigers from his leadoff spot. Although leading the league with 174 strikeouts - third most in franchise history - and struggling against fellow lefthanders, Granderson has hit leadoff in every postseason game, going 10-for-32 with seven runs. The 25-year-old also has contributed three homers, two doubles, a triple, seven RBI and four walks against only three strikeouts. After hitting .278 with 11 homers in the first half, Granderson hit just .238 after the All-Star break. Overall, he hit .260 with 31 doubles and 19 homers, including six leadoff shots.

Magglio Ordonez, right field - After watching his former team, the Chicago White Sox, win the World Series in 2005, Ordonez will get his crack after he belted a pennant-clinching three-run homer in Game Four against Oakland. A four-time All-Star with the White Sox, Ordonez signed a lucrative long-term contract with Detroit prior to 2005 and exchanged bards with Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen. After injuries allowed him to play a total of just 134 games in 2004 and 2005, Ordonez led the Tigers with 104 RBI this year while batting .298 with 32 doubles and 24 homers. Guillen named him to the All-Star team as an injury replacement.

Marcus Thames, designated hitter - Leyland has his brother to thank for Thames. While watching the slugger clobber 46 homers in 137 games at Class AAA Toledo over 2004-05, Larry Leyland told his brother that Thames would hit 30 homers at the big league level if given sufficient at-bats. Leyland gave the 29-year-old 348 at-bats and Thames responded with 26 homers. After starting all four games against New York, Thames made just one start vs. Oakland.

Alexis Gomez, designated hitter - In three stints with Detroit this year, Gomez hit .272 with a homer in 103 regular-season at-bats. In his postseason debut, he homered and drove in four runs in Game Two at Oakland. A long-time prospect in the Kansas City farm system, the 28-year-old never could hit for enough average or power to stick with the Royals and he joined Detroit off waivers in 2005. The lefthanded hitter belted four homers in a game for Toledo earlier this season.

Jeremy Bonderman, starting pitcher - Although it feels like Bonderman, who was the first player ever drafted after his junior year of high school, has been around forever, he is just 23. The first Tiger since Jack Morris in 1987 to strike out 200 batters, Bonderman's 45 career wins is the most of any active major leaguer under 24. In fact, among all active hurlers, only C.C. Sabathia (49) and Dontrelle Willis (46) won more games before turning 24. The righthander showed his grit by retiring the first 15 batters against the New York Yankees in the ALDS clincher. Bonderman registered back-to-back 12-strikeout performances earlier this season and finished second in the AL in strikeouts (202).

Kenny Rogers, starting pitcher - Rogers is using October to exercise all of his previous postseason demons. Entering 0-3 with an 8.85 ERA in nine playoff appearances, Rogers tossed 7 2/3 scoreless frames in the critical Game Three of the ALDS and followed by blanking Oakland over 7 1/3 innings in Game Three of that series. A four-time All-Star and the 2006 starting pitcher in the mid-summer classic, the 41-year-old is fifth among active lefthanders with 207 wins. Rogers is 9-3 with a 2.85 ERA at Comerica Park this season, including the playoffs.

Justin Verlander, starting pitcher - After going 11-2 with a minor league-best 1.29 ERA and 136 strikeouts in 119 innings in 2005, the 23-year-old made the starting rotation this spring. And he was sensational, becoming the first rookie to win 17 games since Sabathia in 2001 and the first Tiger since Mark Fidrych in 1976. The righthander, whose fastball can reach 100 miles per hour, became the first Detroit rookie to start in the postseason since Ed Summers opened the fourth game of the 1908 World Series vs. the Chicago Cubs. During a first half in which he went 10-4 with a 3.01 ERA, Verlander tossed 20 consecutive scoreless innings. The 2004 first-round pick cooled off after the All-Star break, going 7-5 with a 4.54 ERA. He is 1-0 with a 5.91 ERA in two postseason starts.

Nate Robertson, starting pitcher - The forgotten man in the rotation, Robertson showed his mettle by working around nine baserunners in five scoreless innings in a Game One victory over Oakland. The 29-year-old set career highs in 2006 with 13 wins, a 3.84 ERA and 208 2/3 innings. He has limited lefthanders to a .181 average with two homers and only five walks. Since 2004, Robertson has held southpaws to a .222 average with just five homers, fewest among major league starters.

Wilfredo Ledezma, relief pitcher - Another power arm the Tigers have developed, Ledezma took over as the No. 5 starter in late August, going 1-2 with a 5.10 ERA, but he has pitched well out of the bullpen in the postseason. He pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings to pick up the win in the ALCS clincher. The 25-year-old had a 2.55 ERA in 17 relief appearances and he held hitters to a .173 average during his first 30 pitches.

Jamie Walker, relief pitcher - Walker toiled in the minor leagues for 11 seasons before finally making the big leagues with Detroit in 2002. The lefthander has made 50 appearances in each of the last five seasons, the second-longest stretch by a Tiger behind Mike Henneman's streak of seven straight years from 1987-93. The 35-year-old is especially tough on lefthanders, holding them to a .238 average.

Fernando Rodney, relief pitcher - When closer Todd Jones started the season on the disabled list, Rodney filled in. After serving as Jones' top setup man for most of the season, Rodney lost that distinction to flame-throwing rookie Joel Zumaya and did not pitch against the Yankees. But when Zumaya's wrist sidelined him against the A's, the 29-year-old Rodney pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings with four strikeouts. Rodney, who saved nine games in 2005 and throws in the mid-90s, finished sixth among AL relievers with a .196 opponents average.

Joel Zumaya, relief pitcher - The energetic 21-year-old took Detroit and the rest of the American League by storm with his fastball that approaches and sometimes exceeds 100 miles per hour. He finished third among league relievers with 97 strikeouts - the most by a Tiger since Willie Hernandez struck out 112 in 1984. He also finished fourth in opponents average (.187), hits per nine innings (6.05), sixth in strikeouts per nine innings (10.48) and seventh in ERA (1.94). He compiled a 1.34 ERA over his last 46 outings. Zumaya has yielded a run with three strikeouts over three innings in the postseason, but he missed the last three games vs. Oakland with a forearm strain and is questionable for the World Series.

Todd Jones, relief pitcher - After being released by Colorado in 2003 and Tampa Bay in 2004, Jones hooked up with Florida last year and converted 40 of 45 saves and posted a 2.10 ERA. The 36-year-old had 37 saves this season - tied for fourth in the AL. He also converted 19 consecutive save chances - the longest streak by a Tiger since 2001 - and posted a 1.54 ERA, 18 saves and a .233 average against in his last 34 outings in the regular season. Featuring a sharp cutter, Jones has recorded three saves in five postseason appearances, working five scoreless innings.

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