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Series Preview: Detroit Tigers at Tampa Bay Rays

Rare White Tiger Swims For His Supper Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The Rays are coming off a series victory against the Red Sox. Beating the Red Sox always feels great; after almost two weeks without a W this series win felt especially rewarding.

But enough basking in the past: beginning tonight, the Tigers are in town for a four game series. They arrive here after sweeping a short two-game series against our Citrus Series rivals in Miami.

The Matchups:

Thursday: Jordan Zimmermann vs Jake Odorizzi

Friday: Michael Fulmer vs Drew Smyly

Saturday: Justin Verlander vs Blake Snell

Sunday: Mike Pelfrey vs Chris Archer

Fulmer has been lights out ever since his start against the Rays.

In the series opener tonight the Rays take on Jordan Zimmermann. By FIP Zimmermann has been the Tigers best starter at 3.62 and a 3.81 ERA. Zimmermann doesn’t strike many out (15.5%), but neither does he get into trouble with walks (4.4%). Zimmermann is coming off his worst start of the season in which he allowed nine hits and seven earned runs in 3.2 innings. In his start earlier this year against the Rays he allowed two runs and five hits over 5.2 innings while striking out three. He was removed from the start due to injury and missed one additional start.

Michael Fulmer has been on a tear ever since his start against the Rays earlier this season. In that game he allowed one run over seven innings while allowing four hits and notching 11 strikeouts. In his last seven starts he’s posted a 0.61 ERA and 3.32 FIP. He has struck out 22.4% of batters and walked 8.8%. He’s been lucky as he has stranded 99.5% of base runners.

Justin Verlander has rediscovered his strike out stuff leading to a 25.2% strikeout rate this season after 21.1% and 17.8% rates in 2015 and 2014 respectively. He has a career high 12.1% home run per fly ball rate which has contributed to his 4.30 ERA and 4.02 FIP. His last start was his worst this season, as he allowed eight runs over 4.2 innings against the Indians. Before that start he was on a really good run as he allowed a 2.34 ERA and 2.81 FIP over his previous nine starts.

Mike Pelfrey is your stereotypical fifth starter. He’s not good and doesn’t eat innings. He has a 5.02 ERA and 5.39 FIP over 15 starts where has averaged just over 5.1 innings per outing. He doesn’t strike many out (10.5%), and doesn’t limit walks (8.2%). As a result he frequently relies on his defense to bail him out. The Rays should be able to get to him.

The Tigers bullpen: Good Peripherals, Iffy Results

The Tigers bullpen has underformed their peripherals: they have a 4.36 ERA, but have just a 3.67 FIP. They have allowed the second highest BABIP at .321 behind only the Twins. The Tigers pen has the second highest ground ball rate at 50.7% and has allowed only 21 homers which is third fewest out of the pen.

Francisco Rodriguez has been capable as a closer, with a 3.25 ERA and 3.09 FIP. He picked up 21 saves and only blown two.

Justin Wilson has been an effective left handed reliever with a 3.30 ERA, but has a 1.66 FIP. He has struck out 31.7% of batters while walking 4.2%. He isn’t just a loogy as he’s been dominant against batters regardless of handedness.

Nobody else is really of note in the pen and if you get to their pen early teams have been able to find a lot of success.

The Tigers offense is good, but their defense...not so much.

The Tigers offense continues to be strong as they have posted a .270/.330/.445, .331 wOBA, and 104 wRC+ line. That is good for sixth in MLB and fourth in the AL by wRC+. They don’t show significant splits, with a 105 wRC+ against right handed pitchers and a 103 wRC+ against left handed pitchers.

Miguel Cabrera continues to be really good at hitting the baseball. He’s hit for a .301/.375/.542 and 139 wRC+. He has hit 18 homers.

Ian Kinsler is putting up one of his best offensive seasons as he’s hitting .295/.351/.492, .361 wOBA, and 124 wRC+. He has already hit 14 homers and is already his third most since his 32 HR outburst in 2011.

Victor Martinez has rebounded after a really bad 2015 that saw him hit for a 77 wRC+ and put up a -2.0 fWAR. He’s hitting .323/.368/.528, .378 wOBA, and 136 wRC+. He needed a big bounce back as he brings negative value with his glove and legs.

Justin Upton has been a major disappointment in his first season after signing a massive free agent contract. He’s hit .227/.286/.371, .284 wOBA, and 72 wRC+. His June has been much better as he’s hitting .245/.325/.451, .331 wOBA, and 104 wRC+. He’ll need to be better to justify the giant contract he was given.

The Tigers pay for their offense with a defense that leaves a lot to be desired. They have put up a -19.0 UZR as a team and -41 DRS. UZR and DRS both have the Tigers as the third worse defensive team in the majors ahead of only the Athletics and Twins.

The return of Brandon Guyer was a welcomed sign yesterday.

The schedule doesn’t get any easier as the Rays face another solid team that is above .500. The first man off the disabled list of many that should return in the next few weeks was Brandon Guyer and he had himself a hell of a game yesterday. Matt Moore pitched well and the bullpen didn’t implode. Taking two out of three against the Red Sox felt good even if there is still a massive hill still to climb.