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Series Preview: Heading to Motown

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays’ eight-game winning streak came to an end Sunday afternoon, but they took a series against the American League East-leading Boston Red Sox. The Rays have taken advantage of a stretch of games where they aren’t playing the league’s elite teams, but they have still played some solid teams and even won a series in Boston.

The next week and a half should be quite interesting. They have three off days in the next 11 days: Thursday May 3, Monday May 7, and Thursday May 10. After that, the Rays will go into the long, grinding portion of their schedule. From May 11 to June 20, the Rays have two off days. On May 12, they also have a scheduled double header in Baltimore to make up the postponed game last week.

The Durham Shuttle is going to be in full force, and the Rays are going to pretty much have to have a five-man rotation for this period. Once this ends, the off days once again become plentiful, and the Rays can go back to aggressively using their pen and not needing a fifth starter all that frequently.

The matchups:

Monday 7:10 PM: Jake Faria vs. Jordan Zimmermann
Tuesday 7:10 PM: Chris Archer vs. Matthew Boyd
Wednesday 1:10 PM: Blake Snell vs. Michael Fulmer

Blake Snell vs. Michael Fulmer is the headlining pitching matchup.

Tigers Starters Last 3+ Years

Pitcher GS IP K% BB% HR/9 ERA FIP
Pitcher GS IP K% BB% HR/9 ERA FIP
Jordan Zimmermann 85 486.1 17.0% 5.5% 1.33 4.89 4.42
Matt Boyd 59 312.2 18.3% 8.0% 1.58 5.27 4.98
Michael Fulmer 56 353.0 18.6% 6.2% 0.82 3.39 3.73

Jordan Zimmermann at one time was a big-time signing. The Detroit Tigers gave up a draft pick and signed Zimmermann to a five-year, $110 million contract. The Tigers haven’t gotten what they were expecting. Since signing the contract, he has thrown 284 23 innings with a 5.75 ERA and 4.89 FIP. Batters have hit .304 with a .347 on-base percentage and .517 slugging percentage against Zimmermann. Zimmermann typically doesn’t walk very many batters. Since moving to the American League, his strikeout rate has plummeted, though it has rebounded this year (24.4 percent strikeout rate in 2018 compared to 14.7 percent and 14.5 percent strikeout rates in 2015 and 2016, respectively) in a very small sample. In their only meeting last year, the Rays scored five runs in six innings off Zimmermann.

Matthew Boyd has been what you expect out of a No. 5 starter, with a 5.27 ERA and 4.98 FIP since 2015. Boyd is a left-hander that has gotten hit hard by right-handed batters. He’s allowed a .279/.341/.493 line and .354 wOBA to right-handed batters. Sept. 8, 2015 was the only time Boyd has faced the Rays. He allowed three runs in five innings.

Michael Fulmer has assumed the mantle of Tigers ace after the departures of Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and David Price. Fulmer has been quite good since being called up. The Tigers acquired Fulmer in the Yoenis Cespedes trade with the New York Mets. In 353 career innings, he has a 3.39 ERA and 3.73 FIP. Last year, Fulmer dealt with some injury issues down the stretch, but he still made 25 starts. The Rays put up three runs in each of last year’s matchups against Fulmer, with him going 6 and 6 23 innings. Fulmer is coming off his strongest start of the year — a six-inning scoreless outing with nine strikeouts against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Tigers have an inexperienced bullpen.

Tigers Relievers Last 3+ Years

Pitcher G IP K% BB% HR/9 ERA FIP
Pitcher G IP K% BB% HR/9 ERA FIP
Alex Wilson 199 216.1 15.8% 5.8% 0.87 3.37 3.92
Shane Greene 131 127.1 25.3% 9.7% 0.71 3.96 3.45
Warwick Saupold 58 80.0 15.4% 10.4% 1.01 5.06 4.95
Daniel Stumpf 75 53.0 18.3% 9.6% 1.02 4.08 4.41
Buck Farmer 34 53.0 21.1% 14.1% 1.36 4.92 5.28
Johnny Barbato 38 43.2 19.3% 11.7% 1.44 5.56 5.35
Joe Jimenez 38 33.0 17.5% 8.8% 1.36 8.18 4.90
Daniel Norris 8 16.1 20.0% 12.0% 0.55 6.06 3.78

The Tigers do possess a couple experienced arms in the back of the bullpen in Alex Wilson and Shane Greene. Greene brings a big fastball and strikeout totals to match. Wilson gets a moderate amount of strikeouts and keeps the ball on the ground.

Daniel Norris has been a starter for most of his career but has bounced between the bullpen and rotation to start the year. The left-hander hasn’t seen a big right/left split.

The bullpen comes in fresh. Joe Jimenez has thrown the last two games, but no other arm has thrown more than once in the last three days.

Miguel Cabrera has bounced back after a disappointing 2017.

Tigers Batters Last 3+ Years

Batter PA HR SB BB% K% AVE OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Batter PA HR SB BB% K% AVE OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Miguel Cabrera 1823 75 1 12.1% 17.8% 0.303 0.389 0.504 0.377 138
Nicholas Castellanos 1822 61 5 6.4% 23.5% 0.272 0.319 0.466 0.334 107
Victor Martinez 1620 50 0 7.8% 13.3% 0.264 0.327 0.409 0.316 95
Jose Iglesias 1553 12 29 5.0% 11.3% 0.266 0.309 0.355 0.290 78
James McCann 1271 34 1 5.5% 23.4% 0.248 0.296 0.387 0.296 82
Leonys Martin 1129 27 46 6.7% 24.0% 0.232 0.288 0.357 0.282 74
Dixon Machado 370 2 2 7.3% 17.3% 0.237 0.296 0.309 0.270 63
Jeimer Candelario 272 7 0 9.6% 22.1% 0.274 0.357 0.452 0.351 117
John Hicks 252 8 3 6.0% 31.0% 0.233 0.287 0.405 0.298 82
JaCoby Jones 252 5 9 5.2% 37.3% 0.203 0.262 0.328 0.260 55
Niko Goodrum 68 1 4 8.8% 38.2% 0.177 0.250 0.290 0.244 45
Victor Reyes 15 0 1 0.0% 26.7% 0.133 0.133 0.133 0.118 -37

As a team, the Tigers are hitting .253/.316/.413 and are putting up a 95 wRC+. The Tigers’ offense is scoring 4.69 runs per game. They have the fifth-lowest walk rate, but they also have the third-lowest strikeout rate. They hit for middle-of-the-pack power.

Last year, Miguel Cabrera put up a .249/.329/.399 line and 91 wRC+. It was the first time he put up a wRC+ below 143 since 2008. This year, he’s gone back to mashing with a .326/.413/.528 line and 150 wRC+.

Jeimer Candelario, acquired in the Justin Wilson and Alex Avila trade last summer with the Chicago Cubs, has gotten off to a quick start, hitting .282/.362/.524 and putting up a 138 wRC+. His four home runs tie him for the team lead with Leonys Martin.

Nicholas Castellanos hasn’t hit for the power that you’ve come to expect, but he’s still putting up a productive .308/.357/.449 line with a 117 wRC+. He’s posted ISOs north of .200 the last two years.

Leonys Martin has been a welcome surprise, hitting for a 119 wRC+ over 105 plate appearances. JaCoby Jones’ 111 wRC+ completes the Tigers above-average collection of bats this year.

Rays look to start a new winning streak.

The Tigers were expected to be among the worst teams in baseball after securing the No. 1 pick in the draft with the worst record in baseball at64-98. The Tigers are playing better than most expected out of the gate and currently sit second in the American League Central with a record of 11-15 but have lost four of their last five.

The winning streak was bound to end some time. The Rays are in the same position they were last year after 26 games with a 12-14 record.