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Game 34 Preview: Minnesota Twins at Detroit Tigers

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The Tigers will look to get their offense back on track tonight against Twins starter Ricky Nolasco.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Twins (18-15) at Detroit Tigers (20-13)

Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park

SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town

Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Ricky Nolasco (2-1, 9.00 ERA) vs. LHP Kyle Lobstein (3-2, 3.00 ERA)

Pitcher GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP FIP SIERA fWAR
Nolasco 3 13.0 4.85 4.15 0.00 2.00 3.68 5.53 0.2
Lobstein 5 33.0 4.09 3.00 0.00 1.30 3.24 4.56 0.7

The Tigers battered Ricky Nolasco in his first start of the year, collecting six runs on six hits and four walks in three innings. This offensive outburst was not surprising given Nolasco's poor numbers for the Twins in 2014. He had a 5.38 ERA and 4.30 FIP -- both career worsts -- in 159 innings, his lowest workload since 2010. However, Nolasco held the Tigers in check, limiting them to just five runs in 19 1/3 innings. Tigers batters hit .264/.308/.375 against Nolasco last season, the lowest OPS of any team he faced more than once.

Nolasco didn't make his second start of 2015 until nearly a month after his poor showing against the Tigers. He was placed on the disabled list with right elbow inflammation two days after pitching in Detroit, and stayed there for just over three weeks. He has been better in his last two starts, lowering his ERA from 18.00 to 9.00, but only just. Nolasco has allowed seven runs on 14 hits in 10 innings since coming off the disabled list, yet is 2-0 during that stretch. He has limited walks, but is still having a lot of trouble getting hitters out. Overall, opponents are hitting .377/.435/.528 off him this season.

It's impressive enough that Kyle Lobstein has forced himself into the starting rotation conversation despite a very clear-cut group of five pitchers lined up for the jobs in March. Lobstein won't displace Justin Verlander -- nor Alfredo Simon or Shane Greene, most likely -- but the Tigers have an interesting predicament on their hands. Should they send Lobstein back to Triple-A Toledo, or move him into the bullpen, where he could fill any one of many roles?

There are warning signs, though. Lobstein has put up solid numbers against right-handed batters so far this season, but he has more walks (7) than strikeouts (4) against righties. He is still allowing a .351 on-base percentage against righties, and has yet to allow a home run this season. There is something to be said for limiting home runs and forcing opponents to string multiple hits together, but Lobstein is going to get beat eventually.

Tigers hitter to fear: Victor Martinez (.625/.727/.750 in 11 plate appearances)
Tigers hitter to fail: J.D. Martinez (.231/.286/.231 in 14 plate appearances)

The Tigers had never faced Nolasco prior to his move to the American League last season, so most of the numbers the roster has racked up against him are relatively fresh. Current Tigers have faired well against Nolasco, hitting .329/.366/.500 in 82 plate appearances. Many of these numbers are skewed by Nolasco's poor outing on April 8, but there are some promising individual performances. Victor Martinez is 5 for 8 with three walks, while Ian Kinsler has six hits and four RBI in 14 at-bats. Nick Castellanos has a double and a home run.

Outlook

The Tigers scored 47 runs in their first six games, or just under eight runs per contest. Most fans did not expect the Tigers to continue that torrid pace, especially in such a depressed offensive environment, but the steep and sudden drop-off has been nothing short of maddening. The Tigers have scored just 93 wins in their past 27 games, an average of 3.4 per game. They have scored two runs or fewer in 16 of their 33 games this season and rank ninth in the American League in runs scored. While it's still too early to call their offensive shortcomings a problem, the lack of run production will be a hot topic for weeks to come if the team can't start stringing together more hits.

Prediction

The Tigers win another nailbiter behind a solid performance from Lobstein.

★★★

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