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Everett's Release Has Whipped Bottom Of Order Into Shape

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The bottom of the Tigers' lineup has seemed to find its groove after the release of shortstop Adam Everett.

Detroit Tigers shortstop Adam Everett is one of the most likable guys you’ll ever find. Manager Jim Leyland called him the "classiest" player he’d ever managed, and that’s saying something for someone who’s managed since the mid-1980s.

But being a nice guy in Major League Baseball just isn’t enough. You have to produce. Everett didn’t.

The Tigers couldn’t wait any longer for Everett and the rest of the bottom of the lineup to come around. They cut ties with Everett last week after a 7-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals, the Tigers’ fifth loss in nine tries against the fourth-place Royals.

With the Tigers sporting a $122 million payroll, they knew they had to part ways with Everett, who had been batting just .185 with four RBI. They needed to make a move, and it may not be the last one they make.

For the time being, Everett has been replaced in the lineup by Ramon Santiago, who has been platooning the shortstop position with him for the last two seasons. Santiago has almost always had a higher batting average than Everett and doesn't give up much defensively but has never been considered an everyday player.

That theory seems to be holding true. Santiago hit .326 in April but has been declining ever since, batting .200 in May and .214 this month. Santiago’s inconsistency is why Detroit has recalled Danny Worth, who went 8-for-24 in a short stint with the Tigers back in May, from Triple-A Toledo. If he produces, he’ll definitely be given a shot at the starting shortstop position. If he doesn’t, then it’s probably back to Ohio.

That’s the message Everett’s departure from the Tigers has sent: if you don’t produce, you’re not going to hang around long in Motown. It’s why Worth is now wearing the Old English D for the foreseeable future, and why Everett is currently looking for another job.

Catcher Gerald Laird is the latest recipient of this message.

At the beginning of the season, it didn’t look like Alex Avila was quite ready to take the starting catcher position from Laird. While Avila brings a power bat to the table, he started to tail off at the end of last year after a hot start. It didn’t help that Avila got off to a rough start this year; at one point he was batting .095.

And after all, Laird wasn’t brought in for his bat anyway, but rather for his proficiency behind the plate. Laird was throwing out everything that moved in 2009, gunning down over 40 percent of baserunners that tried to steal on him.

But that has quickly changed in 2010. Laird was just pathetic at the plate, batting .160 with seven RBI this season, and it’s cost him his job for the time being. Avila has gone 10-for-27 (.370 average) in his last 10 games to up his average to .219, prompting Leyland to give Avila the majority of the starts at catcher. While .219 is certainly nothing to get excited over, it’s still nearly 60 points higher than what they were getting with Laird.

And it’s not just Avila’s offense that is winning Leyland’s favor. Avila has worked on his defense and is now throwing out nearly everyone that tries to run on him, just as Laird did a season ago. The difference is that Avila is also producing some hits now, and that has forced Laird to the bench.

Even fan favorite Brandon Inge has not been free of criticism this season, as his struggles with the bat have had some fans calling for his ouster as well—he was batting .215 as late as May 29. His job is relatively safe though, as he plays outstanding defense and the Tigers have no real prospects to replace him at third base.

Unlike Everett and Laird, it seems Inge has gotten the message. In his last 10 games, Inge is batting .333 (13-for-39), raising his average from a lowly .232 to a respectable .253, looking more like the All-Star he was in the first half of last season.

Did Everett's release spark something in Inge's game? Maybe, but it could also be the fact his two surgically repaired knees are finally back into mid-season form.

For now, it seems like the Tigers have found the right combination at the bottom of the order that is at least capable of producing some timely hits. The seven through nine hitters were especially crucial in a 6-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday. Avila drove in two and scored once, part of a 3-for-3 night, while Inge doubled in a run and scored and Santiago belted a two-run homer.

But it’s still relatively early in the season, and every player goes through slumps during the course of a 162-game schedule. Just ask slugger Miguel Cabrera, who’s currently in a 3-for-26 funk, although he did crush a game-winning home run on Sunday.

If the Tigers are going to catch Minnesota in the Central Division, they’re going to need production from everybody. Should we expect the kind of production the Tigers got on Friday every night? I don't think so. There will still be nights where the hitting is just not there; after all, none of these guys have hit better than .245 in their respective careers.  They just need to eliminate the extended slumps.

I'm not asking the bottom of the lineup put up Triple Crown numbers here, just some hits every now and then. Adam Everett found out the hard way that being a nice guy just doesn't cut it.