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Game 161 Preview: Detroit Tigers at Atlanta Braves

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The Tigers are now in a true must-win scenario. If they lose, they go home.

Miami Marlins v Atlanta Braves Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Detroit Tigers have been fighting from behind for most of the season, and we have seen them with their backs to the wall at multiple points throughout this September pennant chase. Each time, they have managed to worm their way back into a better position and keep their hopes alive.

Now, we have finally reached the terminal point of the season. These are no longer metaphorical “must-win” games; the Tigers must win four games in a row and get some help just to make the ALDS — and then they would be welcomed by the AL’s best team. My best advice is to sit back and take this stuff one game at a time, because the road ahead as a whole is very formidable.

For possibly the last time in 2016, let’s enjoy Verlander Day.

Detroit Tigers (86-74) at Atlanta Braves (67-93)

Time/Place: 3:10 p.m., Turner Field
SB Nation blog: Talking Chop
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (16-8, 3.10 ERA) vs. RHP Julio Teheran (6-10, 3.33 ERA)

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Verlander 220.2 28.1 6.4 3.55 4.8
Teheran 181.0 21.2 5.5 3.82 2.8

Julio Teheran is the ace of the Atlanta staff. Do not let his 6-10 win-loss record fool you, Teheran will be a very difficult matchup for the Tigers’ bats. After a slightly down 2015 that saw his walk rate jump to 8.7 percent, the righthander has gotten back to being characteristically stingy with the free passes. His 5.5 percent walk rate roughly parallels the difficulty of drawing a walk against prime 2011-2013 Doug Fister. Where Teheran is more successful than Fister during that stretch, however, is in also posting a decent strikeout rate (Teheran is at 21.2 percent this year).

Most impressive, perhaps, is that Teheran has done this while trade rumors swirled for most of the year. Our friends at Talking Chop were not very amused, and hoped that the 25-year-old Colombian would stick around.

This is a subject that has been hotly debated around Talking Chop all season and I don't expect that to let up. I understand the case for trading Teheran, but his contract is such a bargain that I probably wouldn't move him. That is, unless I received some godfather-like offer close to the one they received for Shelby Miller.

When you combine Teheran’s ability to limit walks with a .260 BABIP, you get a very difficult pitcher to face, as his 1.07 WHIP attests. While some of that is due to the inherently weird nature of National League baseball (Verlander can mash, people), this has the makings of a very low-scoring game.

Hitter to fear: Freddie Freeman (154 wRC+ this year)
Hitter to fail: Julio Teheran (National League baseball!)

Freddie Freeman is a destroyer of baseballs, as we saw on Saturday night. His 154 wRC+ basically makes him 2016 Miguel Cabrera, but with the added bonus of having six stolen bases. I’m already cringing at the thought of Verlander leaving one of those 92 mile per hour fastballs that he sometimes has a tendency to groove right through Freeman’s wheelhouse. On the other hand, Teheran should make for an easy out. So that’s nice.

Outlook:

As stated above, there is no more margin for error. This is the first of several win-or-go-home games for the Tigers. On the plus side, this is the last day that we will have to stress out over scoreboard watching (side note: the Tigers win the Justin Wilson trade automatically if Luis Cessa shuts down the Orioles). One loss from the Blue Jays or the Orioles opens the door just enough to hope. Verlander just has to get the job done one last time for the Old English D.

Prediction:

Do you really doubt Justin Verlander at this point? Complete game three-hitter.