The Rays hit parade rolls into Detroit to take on the Tigers in a three game, weekend series. The Tigers come in with a disappointing 19-21 record after making two big additions in the offseason in Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Upton. The Rays will look to continue their three game winning streak that has seen the team improve to 19-19.
Friday: Matt Andriese vs Anibal Sanchez
Saturday: Drew Smyly vs Michael Fulmer
Sunday: Chris Archer vs Jordan Zimmermann
Where did all the aces go?
Once upon a time, the Tigers would combine their usual stock of elite hitters with elite pitchers, as we've seen with Max Scherzer, David Price, and Justin Verlander leading the team.
Scherzer and Price -- after being traded to the Blue Jays last year -- have left to sign big free agent deals elsewhere. Verlander is learning how to be productive without the velocity he was accustomed to bring during his Cy Young/MVP seasons, but the Rays avoid Verlander this series. Several past worries are gone, though at least two starters the Rays will face are stars:
Anibal Sanchez's last start lasted six innings while allowing four runs and two home runs. Michael Fulmer, the prized piece received in return for Yoenis Cespedes last July, has struggled in his four starts as he has allowed 15 runs, 14 earned, over 19.1 innings.
Zimmermann saw his first bad outing as a Tiger when he was roughed up for 11 hits while allowing eight runs of which seven were earned. He did manage to complete seven innings.
The Rays look to continue their onslaught against three pitchers who had rough outings their last time out. The Rays will face three right handed starters this series, so they'll need to build off their dismantling of Marcus Stroman and R.A. Dickey in Toronto.
Tigers Starters Last 3+ Years vs Right Handed Batters:
Right handed batters have teed off against Anibal Sanchez and he's failed to avoid as many runs as his FIP would suggest. Batters have done damage with a .161 ISO against.
Michael Fulmer is a highly regarded prospect that is having a tough time while receiving his first taste of MLB experience. He should be better than what he's shown so far, but let's hope the positive regression holds off for at least one more start.
Jordan Zimmermann has been really good against right handed batters. He doesn't allow walks and limits home runs. His adjustment to the American League has been good as he's sporting a 2.45 ERA even after the seven earned runs he allowed in his last start.
Tigers Starters Last 3+ Years vs Left Handed Batters:
For right handed pitchers the three starters the Rays will face have done a good job of limiting damage by left handed batters.
Right handed batters have had more success against Sanchez and Fulmer, very small sample. Against Sanchez there's enough history I would be comfortable stacking a lot of right handed batters.
Zimmermann has been worse against left handed batters, but he's still been really productive.
Does anybody have a good bullpen?
The Rays will face another bullpen that has had difficulty keeping runs off the board. The Detroit pen has the tenth worst ERA at 3.98, but middle of the pack with a 3.89 FIP.
This offseason the Tigers tried to solidify their bullpen by trading for Francisco Rodriguez after a really solid 2015 as the Brewers closer. Rodriguez hasn't been terrible, but it's not what they have needed as he's pitched to a 3.68 ERA/4.39 FIP.
They also signed Mark Lowe to a two year deal after a really good 2015 that has been surrounded by mediocrity. He has had two really good years, 2009 and 2015, but otherwise has been around replacement level. His 2016 has been a disaster as he's had a walk and homer problem that has led to a 8.10 ERA/7.07 FIP.
Justin and Alex Wilson have had good starts to the seasons by FIP, 1.79 and 2.12 respectively, but haven't been so lucky in the ERA department, 3.94 and 4.05.
Tigers Relievers Last 3+ Years vs Right Handed Batters:
The Tigers don't have any elite options, but they have a lot of options that should get the job done more often than not.
Their best option is probably Justin Wilson as he has the best track record of limiting damage by right handed hitters.
Tigers Relievers Last 3+ Years vs Left Handed Batters:
Francisco Rodriguez, Justin Wilson, and Alex Wilson have been really good options against left handed bats allowing wOBAs in the mid 200s.
Kyle Ryan and Justin Wilson are the two left handers out of the pen.
Is there a rule where Uptons have to be really bad after signing a free agent contract?
In an attempt to outdo his older brother Justin Upton has had a .225/.260/.325, .257 wOBA, 56 wRC+ start to his 6/$132.8MM contract. He was brought in to replace the bat they lost in Yoenis Cespedes, but to say the deal hasn't gotten off to a good start would be an understatement.
The big breakout surprise is Nick Castellanos as he's enjoyed a huge start to the season, .350/.377/.600, .412 wOBA, 166 wRC+. His line is inflated due to a .402 BABIP, but looks like the 24 year old is living up to the promise that many saw when he was a top prospect.
Ian Kinsler is on fire as he's hit four homers this week and ten on the season. He's been producing all year with a .319/.367/.554, .394 wOBA, 153 wRC+. Miguel Cabrera has quietly had a good season as he's hit .298/.371/.477, .364 wOBA, 132 wRC+. Victor Martinez is having a rebound off a disappointing 2015 as he's hit for .331/.387/.522, .387 wOBA, 148 wRC+.
Their middle of the lineup packs a thump that also hit for average and might be the best in baseball offensively. Limiting damage from the big boys will be key and getting the outs that you are given with the rest of the lineup.
Tigers Batters vs Right Handed Pitchers:
Miguel Cabrera is joined by a host of above average bats. Outside of Cabrera, Upton, Victor Martinez, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia the Tigers batters don't take many walks.
Saltalamacchia has seen a big rebound after being a huge disappointment when signing a 3/$21MM contract that saw him released after a little more than a year. He's striking out 38.9% of PA this year, but has hit for a .318 ISO with seven homers in 95 PA.
Tigers Batters vs Left Handed Pitchers:
With all the major contributors being right handed batters, except for switch-hitting Victor Martinez, it is no surprise that they tee off against left handed pitchers. Smyly will have his work cut out for him.
Cabrera is joined by Victor and J.D. Martinez, Upton, Kinsler, and Castellanos in being well above average hitters against southpaws.
The Rays bats will need to continue to help out the pitchers
The Rays bats will need to put runs on the board to help their staff that has struggled recently. The Tigers have a lineup that can go off on any pitcher and isn't likely to get shutdown that often.
This is a start of twenty straight days of games and the Rays need their starting pitching to get a few more innings to not get them off to a start that sees the pen overworked. They need to avoid self-inflicted damage via walks. Make them string hits together or hit solo home runs and the Rays offense can put up enough runs to come out victorious.
The 31 run outburst against Toronto was a lot of fun to watch and made the off day on Thursday much more enjoyable, but that's in the past and the Rays need to continue to put runs on the board and allow their starters the breathing room to work out of their slump.