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Series Preview: Rays vs. Tigers

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MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Detroit Tigers Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays leave Boston with a series victory over the division rival Boston Red Sox before they head to Detroit to take on the Detroit Tigers.

The Rays lead in the division has swelled to 9.0 games. The Red Sox find themselves in second 9.0 games back and just head of the New York Yankees who sit 10.0 games back. The surging Toronto Blue Jays sit 10.5 games behind. The three teams fighting for second place in the division and a wild card berth are all tied with 62 losses. The wild card race has gotten very close with the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics lurking 2.0 games behind the Blue Jays. It’s going to be a wild finish over the next few weeks. Baltimore is down 42.5 games in the division.

The Rays magic number for clinching the division is down to 13 with 22 games remaining. The Rays sit in a great spot but still need to finish the job.

Matchups:

Friday 7:10 PM: Michael Wacha vs Matthew Boyd
Saturday 6:10 PM: Luis Patino vs Casey Mize
Sunday 12:10 PM: Chris Archer vs Tarik Skubal

Matthew Boyd has had a solid bounce back from a disastrous 2020 season. He’s thrown 78.2 innings with a 3.89 ERA/4.09 FIP/4.79 xFIP. His strikeout rate has plummeted from his 2019 breakout rate of 30.2% to 19.9% in 2021. He’s done well avoiding walks with a 6.8 BB% that is in line with this career rate. Over the last two years he’s been very homer prone posting HR/FB rates above 18% in both seasons, but that has fallen to 9.3% in 2021. Boyd’s primary pitch is a 92.0 mph four-seam fastball. His breaking ball of choice is a 80.4 mph slider that he really leans on against left handed batters. Against right handed batters he uses a 79.9 mph changeup heavily and will almost never throw it to a lefty. He will throw a 73.4 mph curveball infrequently to try to get ahead of the count early.

Casey Mize was the number one overall pick in the 2018 draft out of Auburn University. He had a rough cup of coffee last year but the results have been much better in 2021, if still a bit below expectations. In 138.1 innings he’s put up a 3.51 ERA/4.87 FIP/4.40 xFIP. His 18.9% strikeout rate is quite low but he has walked only 7.0% of batters. He has a near 50% groundball rate but when hitters have gotten the ball in the air they have been very successful in getting it over the fence with a 17.4% HR/FB rate. Mize splits his fastball use between a 93.9 mph four-seam fastball and a 93.2 mph sinker. His breaking ball of choice is a 86.1 mph slider which is his most frequently used pitch. He adds a 85.8 mph split finger changeup and a 81.3 mph curveball to round out his repertoire.

Tarik Skubal is another young, well regarded prospect who made his debut in 2020. His 2021 has been better than last year, but also disappointing. He’s put up a 4.30 ERA/4.98 FIP/4.07 xFIP over 136.0 innings. Unlike the other Tigers pitchers he posts a very good 26.5% strikeout rate while limiting walks to 7.7% of batters faced. The major problem has been homers. He’s allowed a 19.7% HR/FB rate and 2.05 HR/9. Skubal works off a 94.3 mph four-seam fastball and 86.3 mph slider combination. He will sprinkle in a 94.4 mph sinker and 82.0 mph changeup. He will throw a 73.8 mph curveball early in the count.

The Tigers bullpen has held back much of their progress as a team this year. Their 4.60 ERA/4.54 FIP/4.62 xFIP all rank in the bottom ten. Michael Fulmer has transitioned successful to the bullpen after several injury plagued seasons. Gregory Soto and Jose Cisnero are the other late inning options for the Tigers.

Detroit is still looking for long term solutions for the offense.

The Tigers have hit .243/.308/.403 and put up a 93 wRC+ this year but their 4.35 runs per game are only slightly below average. They have some solid offensive performers but nobody that has really put up a great season at the plate.

Jeimer Candelario (117 wRC+) and Robbie Grossman (117 wRC+) lead the way offensively. Akil Baddoo (110 wRC+) has had a really good year as a Rule 5 draftee. Jonathan Schoop (104 wRC+) has been his solid self.

Miguel Cabrera (99 wRC+) continues to be ok at the plate as part of his late career slide that has only seen him surpass 102 wRC+ once in the last five years. Miggy was once one of the best hitters in the game and recently hit 500th homer and currently sits 29 hits away from 3,000 for his career.

Defense is where the Tigers have really struggled. They rank last in both DRS (-52) and UZR (-31.3). They don’t have a single player in the positives at any position with more than 310 innings.

The Tigers are getting better. Slowly.

It’s been a while since the Tigers have put a competitive team on the field. You have to go back to peak Miguel Cabrera and Nick Castellanos leading a team that had Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and David Price in the rotation back in 2014-2015.

However you can see progress being made. The pitching shows promise with good young starters, but there’s still a long way to go on the position player side of the ball.

Since starting the season 9-24 they have actually been pretty good. Since May 8th they have gone 57-51 and now sit in third place in the American League Central.

The Rays can’t afford to take the Tigers lightly despite having a substantial lead in the division. They have three teams that could chase them down if the Rays give them a chance.