Tigers Opening Day lineup reveals one of their biggest question marks

The Detroit Tigers Opening Day lineup reveals one clear issue.

Detroit Tigers right fielder Kerry Carpenter (30) high fives teammates after scoring against the
Detroit Tigers right fielder Kerry Carpenter (30) high fives teammates after scoring against the / Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Detroit Tigers enter the 2024 campaign as legitimate contenders to win the AL Central. They're probably not considered to be favored to win it, but with how poor the division is, and Detroit improving, they've got a shot.

The Tigers are led by a young and promising rotation but should have an improved lineup. Sure, it won't be hard, as the team was 28th in runs scored last season, but the additions of Mark Canha and Gio Urshela should help as should the debut of Colt Keith, their No. 2 prospect according to MLB.com.

As nice as those additions are, the Tigers are built around the hitters expected to hit in the middle of the order Spencer Torkelson, Riley Greene, and Kerry Carpenter. Or so we thought. The Tigers released their Opening Day lineup and Carpenter was absent.

Tigers Opening Day lineup raises a major question with key player

Carpenter was a bright spot in what was a brutal offensive season for the Tigers, slashing .278/.340/.471 with 20 home runs and 64 RBI. He had a 121 WRC+ which was better than players like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bobby Witt Jr., and Manny Machado. Despite that, he's not opening the season in the starting lineup.

Opening Day should be fun for Tigers fans who get to watch Tarik Skubal pitch and Keith make his debut, but Carpenter being omitted is a curious decision made by A.J. Hinch. The reasoning for it, presumably, is that the Tigers are facing left-hander Garrett Crochet.

Carpenter, even with his great year, had just a .657 OPS in his 78 plate appearances against left-handed pitching. That was nearly 200 points lower than his mark against righties. While that's not great, there isn't much of a reason to bench him, especially when Matt Vierling is the replacement.

Vierling had a .699 OPS against left-handers last season and a .736 OPS against them in his career. Better, for sure, but is it better enough to take Carpenter out of the equation entirely? We've seen how good he can be against righties, why are the Tigers restricting him when the alternative is a player who is only marginally better?

Carpenter can only improve against southpaws if he faces them. Hopefully, he can face some as the season progresses. He can be a real building block if he proves he can be an all-around hitter, and it's tough for him to do that if he doesn't get the chance.