Losing streaks are not fun, especially when they extend for more than a calendar week. The Detroit Tigers have fallen into this unfortunate boat after Monday's walk-off loss against the Washington Nationals, a game that I had the displeasure of seeing live.
The good news, optimists may say, is that the Tigers are running out of new ways to lose. The bullpen has coughed up a few games after a spotless April, the offense has been inconsistent, and the starting rotation's issues are well documented. Even manager Brad Ausmus threw his hat into the ring, botching a pair of key decisions on Monday.
The bad news is that new ways to lose quickly become old ways to lose. While Michael Fulmer may one day become an excellent starter for the Tigers, he is still inconsistent and lacking a third reliable pitch, something Nationals starter Joe Ross has already honed. Ross has the same mid-90s fastball and nasty slider that Fulmer does, but he has a longer pedigree of major league success.
This has been a consistent theme for the Tigers this season; their starters, while perhaps promising, are often at a disadvantage before they even take the mound. If we were posting odds for this game, the Nationals would be heavy favorites again, while the Tigers may be staring at an eighth consecutive loss. Here's to beating the odds.
Detroit Tigers (14-17) at Washington Nationals (20-12)
Time/Place: 7:05 p.m., Nationals Park
SB Nation blog: Federal Baseball
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB Network, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Michael Fulmer (1-1, 6.30 ERA) vs. RHP Joe Ross (3-1, 1.23 ERA)
Uber prospect Lucas Giolito has gotten most of the press when it comes to the Nationals' minor league system, but the rest of the farm isn't too shabby either. Take Joe Ross, the younger brother of San Diego's Tyson Ross, for example. Ross was relatively unheralded as a prospect, though he got a bit of love from Baseball America prior to the 2015 season. He wasn't even on Baseball Prospectus' top 10 team prospect rankings, and suffers from the usual dearth of internet scouting reports only awarded to baseball's top prospects.
The anonymity would not last long. After a hot start at Double-A Harrisburg to open the year, Ross was called up for a June spot start. While his debut was nothing special, he made two more June starts for the Nats, and struck out 19 batters in 15 1/3 innings. After being optioned to Triple-A for a handful of starts, Ross was recalled after the All-Star break. He made 13 appearances (including 10 starts) down the stretch, allowing a 3.99 ERA and 2.42 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 56 1/3 innings.
With his job secure heading into 2016, Ross has arguably been the Nationals' best starter. He has a 1.23 ERA through his first five starts and has yet to allow more than two runs in any outing. He coughed up a pair of runs in his last start, but also struck out nine in a loss to the world-beating Chicago Cubs. He also has yet to allow a home run this season despite starts in hitter-friendly parks in Philadelphia and Chicago. Though he's days shy of turning 23 years old, the Nats are not holding back on his pitch count either; he threw 103 pitches in his last outing before being lifted.
Like his brother, Joe Ross features a mid-90s fastball along with a wipeout slider that he uses heavily. The slider induced a 25.4 percent whiff rate last season, and has continued to be effective this year at 21.9 percent. He uses it over 50 percent of the time against right-handed hitters, including in nearly three-quarters of all two-strike counts. The fastball doesn't get many swings and misses, but does induce ground balls at a high rate. Ross also throws a changeup almost exclusively to left-handed hitters, but still relies on the slider as his out pitch. Opponents are hitting .146 against the slider this year compared to over .300 against his other two pitches.
Hitter to fear: Bryce Harper (duh)
Hitter to fail: Ryan Zimmerman (.227/.283/.327 in 2016)
For all that Brad Ausmus did wrong on Monday night -- I wasn't particularly bothered by how he handled the top of the eighth, for what it's worth -- his decision to intentionally walk Bryce Harper to load the bases in the seventh was a gutsy one. Harper has been playing out of this world for the past 14 months, so it may not have been the most difficult decision, but willingly giving the Nats an extra runner in scoring position can't be easy to stomach. Until Ryan Zimmerman can start to step up behind Harper, the Nats will be seeing a lot more "scared baseball" in the days to come.
One of the hallmarks of the Tigers' current seven-game losing streak is how often the starting pitching matchup has not been in their favor. Other than Justin Verlander's two starts in this stretch, the Tigers have not had a clear-cut advantage (on paper) heading into the game. Unfortunately, that continues tonight, as Ross has already proven that he can get major league hitters out consistently. Fulmer has not shown that yet, though he has the stuff to dominate on any given evening. He will need some help from a suddenly leaky bullpen if he wants to get Detroit back into the win column, though.
Ross stays hot and the Tigers lose their eighth in a row.
Editor's Note: New players win cash in their first daily fantasy league or get their entry fee refunded! Offered in SB Nation's partnership with FanDuel, your hub for daily fantasy baseball and more.