Of all the perplexities about the Tigers' offense and its run toward a potential postseason berth, Granderson and his season at the plate is high on the list. The center fielder has obliterated his career high in home runs to go with 20-plus steals. Yet he enters the season's final week with a .250 average that would be his career low.
Granderson reached a personal milestone and broke a Tigers record Sunday with his 100th career home run and 24th to lead off a game, powering him past Lou Whitaker for the franchise leadoff homer record. Seven of those have come this year, accounting for nearly a quarter of the team's first-inning homers. He has six more home runs to lead off other innings, and his 24 homers from the top spot in the order stand tied for the Major League lead with Texas' Ian Kinsler.
"Cool thing that it happened," Granderson said, "but all the individual stuff right now gets put out the window."
Though Miguel Cabrera stands unquestioned as the heart of the Tigers' offense, manager Jim Leyland considers Granderson as the man who makes the offense go. Simply getting on base usually does that, but Granderson's home runs have been a different kind of offensive jolt. It doesn't put a runner on the basepaths, but it puts a run on the board.
The stats bear out Granderson's impact. When he reaches base safely to lead off an inning, the Tigers average better than a run per inning at 1.05, according to Bill James Online. When he doesn't, the Tigers average .30 runs per inning.
"That will be a big factor," Leyland said. "If we can get him going real good, that will certainly help."
When the Tigers face a left-handed starting pitcher, however, it's no longer a big factor. After showing strong signs he had lefties figured out last year, southpaws made adjustments to pitch him inside, then outside, and he has struggled to catch up. His .178 average against lefties is among the lowest in the Majors for players with at least 150 plate appearances against southpaws.
It's also a big reason for many of his tweaks at the plate.
"We've done a ton of different things all season," Granderson said. "We've raised the hands, lowered the hands, stood up tall, squatted down, opened up, closed up, all those different things. Change is sometimes a good thing, and hopefully this has been the right one."
Asked which change made the difference over the weekend, Granderson said, "Honestly, I really don't know. I couldn't tell you exactly what I've done different for the last couple games or the last at-bats. It's just been constant. Each day, we've been doing something different."
Granderson has settled into the seventh spot in Leyland's lineup against lefties, a twist after speculation that Granderson's future was as a run producer in the middle of the order. If the Tigers win the AL Central, they'll face the Yankees, who have two left-handed starters in CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte. Granderson is 3-for-26 combined against Sabathia and Pettitte for his career.
Granderson's two-game swing came entirely against right-handed pitching, but it showed some encouraging tweaks he could use off southpaws. He went to the opposite field for a triple down the left-field line off Scott Linebrink Saturday night after singling up the middle an inning earlier. All three of his hits Sunday were pulled to right, including the home run into the right-field bullpen.
"We've been trying different things all season long," Granderson said, "and who knows if this is the right one? It might be. Hopefully it is, and hopefully we keep it moving."