Gage: Cespedes transforms Tigers’ lineup

With Yoenis Cespedes, there's more offensive potential at the sixth spot than there's been in many years.

Kim Klement

Detroit — Nothing official yet.

But with right-hander Phil Hughes on the mound for Minnesota, it looks as if the Tigers’ Opening Day lineup will be as follows:

Anthony Gose — CF

Ian Kinsler — 2B

Miguel Cabrera — 1B

Victor Martinez — DH

J.D. Martinez — RF

Yoenis Cespedes — LF

Alex Avila —  C

Nick Castellanos — 3B

Jose Iglesias — SS

And what do I like best about that lineup? You won’t find the answer in the top five spots.

To begin with, though, there’s the speedy Gose at leadoff, but frankly since 2006, with the exception of Edgar Renteria in 2008, the Tigers have had a promising leadoff hitter.

The potential of those who were there on Opening Day waned a bit along the way, of course, but in Curtis Granderson (2006-2007, 2009), and then with Austin Jackson (2010-2013), the spot has been in better hands than it was with, for instance, Gene Kingsale in 2003 — which also happened to be Kingsale’s last year in the majors.

Kinsler at the second spot appears to be ideal, but second hasn’t been the rock solid spot in the past for the Tigers that you might think.

Yes, Torii Hunter was there the last two years on Opening Day, but before that there was Brennan Boesch in 2012 and Will Rhymes in 2011.

Third has been in good hands with Cabrera, and before that Magglio Ordonez for the last seven years — and also with Pudge Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield before that.

Cleanup hasn’t been a problem for years.

Fifth has been a strong spot, too, since 2007. But here’s a trivia question for you: Who hit fifth for the Tigers on Opening Day in 2001 and 2002?

Initials of BM in 2001 and CP in 2002. Give yourself an extra jelly bean if you know the answer.

Sixth this year will be the most intriguing spot in the lineup with Cespedes there — and that’s what I like best about this lineup, compared to previous seasons.

The Tigers have been all over the map with their sixth-spot hitters on Opening Day. Actually, it’s been a trouble spot more often than not for 20 years with the likes of Eddie Williams (admit it, you even forgot he was a Tiger), Melvin Nieves and another short-term Tiger named Jacob Cruz playing right and batting sixth in the 2002 opener.

But with Cespedes, there’s more offensive potential at sixth than there’s been in many years.

Alex Avila hit sixth on Opening Day last year — and before that, Andy Dirks, Ryan Raburn, Brandon Inge and Gerald Laird.

If anyone tries to tell you another team in the American League Central has a better lineup, just point to Cespedes at sixth: The evidence of depth should shut them up.

Seventh belonged to Jhonny Peralta for three years before Nick Castellanos opened 2014 hitting there.

Castellanos will probably hit eighth on Monday, which is where shortstop Alex Gonzalez hit last year.

Gonzalez, if you care to recall anything about him, went 4-for-11 in his first three games as a Tiger — while it looked like he might help fill the void left by Iglesias’ injury.

But a 1-for-19 slump, combined with problems on defense, ended his Tigers’ career after nine games.

By April 20 of last year, he had become a former Tiger.

Iglesias will hit ninth, a spot that belonged to Inge from 2005-2008. But six different hitters have hit there for the opener since — beginning with the fleet, but mistake-prone Josh Anderson in 2009.

Since then, it’s been Adam Everett, Avila, Ramon Santiago, Omar Infante and Rajai Davis.

The core of the Tigers’ lineup is the same with Cabrera and Victor Martinez, of course. And because of those two, it will seem to have a familiar look to it.

But three hitters from last year’s lineup are gone.

Six from the year before.

And seven from 2012.

This is not the same old lineup. There’s power where there has been power — and production where there has been production.

But in the sixth spot, it’s not Gerald Laird. It’s not Brandon Inge — and it’s not Ryan Raburn.

Cespedes at sixth alone makes it look entirely different.

And deeper than even the Prince Fielder years.

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