It's funny how quickly the narrative surrounding a baseball team can change. Heading into Sunday's game against the Baltimore Orioles, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus could have been described as a "dead man walking." Even in the seventh inning, the Tigers' hopes looked bleak. Two home runs off dominant reliever Darren O'Day later -- the first time that's ever happened to O'Day, for what it's worth -- and things seem a little brighter.
The narrative surrounding the Tigers on Monday may change throughout the day -- it's only 9 a.m. from this writer's point of view, after all -- but the situation remains the same. The Tigers are five games below .500 after losing 11 of their last 13 games and have a lot of digging to do if they are to get back into the playoff hunt.
There is a silver lining to this, though. After facing one of the more grueling schedules to open the season, including 23 of 37 games on the road, the Tigers now enter a nine-game homestand against the Twins, Rays, and Phillies. With 12 of the Tigers' next 15 games against teams below .500 -- and the surprising Phillies looking like they're living on borrowed time -- this may be their chance to get back in the race.
No matter who is calling the shots from the dugout on Monday evening, Jordan Zimmermann will be on the mound. Let's go for two in a row.
Minnesota Twins (10-26) at Detroit Tigers (16-21)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Jose Berrios (1-1, 6.28 ERA) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (5-2, 1.50 ERA)
This is the game that many fans were hoping to avoid for as long as possible. Jose Berrios, the Twins' top pitching prospect, is now a major leaguer. Nearly every publication in existence has gushed about Berrios' potential for multiple years now, even if most scouting reports start with "well, he's a little small." John Sickels of Minor League Ball is the high man on Berrios, at No. 9 overall, while Baseball America brought up the rear at No. 28. FanGraphs' Dan Farnsworthcalled him "a stud in waiting" prior to the season.
Twins writer Aaron Gleeman was very optimistic about Berrios (and for good reason) prior to 2016.
Berrios has improved his strikeout rate, walk rate, and durability on an annual basis while moving up the organizational ladder and from both a statistical and raw stuff standpoint he shines as the best Twins pitching prospect since Matt Garza in 2006. Many teams would have called up Berrios last year, but the Twins will send him back to Triple-A for even more seasoning while delaying the start of his service time. If he's not one of the Twins' best starters by June something went wrong.
In terms of actual production, Berrios pales in comparison to some of his teammates. He has been worth -0.1 fWAR this season and owns a 6.28 ERA and 12.1 percent walk rate in three starts. Five of his 10 runs allowed came in his major league debut, a loss against the Cleveland Indians, but he has given up a combined 11 hits and six walks in his past two starts.
In terms of raw stuff, however, the 21-year-old Berrios is light years ahead of anyone else on the Twins roster. He has 19 strikeouts in 14 1/3 innings at the major league level this season after leading the minor leagues -- yes, all of them -- in strikeouts in 2015. Multiple evaluators have said Berrios has the potential for three plus pitches, including a fastball that can reach the high 90s. He has thrown that fastball nearly 60 percent of the time in his three starts, along with a developing curveball (25 percent) and a potential plus-plus changeup (16 percent). The curve has been his go-to pitch when ahead in the count, while he has used the changeup to get out of trouble against both righties and lefties.
Hitter to fear: Joe Mauer (.667/.667/.667 in 3 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Brian Dozier (.000/.000/.000 in 6 plate appearances)
The last time Zimmermann faced the Twins, his ERA nearly doubled. Of course, that's because his ERA was a minuscule 0.35 entering his start on April 30, and he limited the Twins to a single run -- a solo homer by Byung-Ho Park -- in seven innings. Zimmermann had some of his better stuff that day, including a fastball that generated seven whiffs. He hasn't had that same strikeout touch since then, with only five strikeouts in his past two starts, but the Twins' subpar lineup should be a welcome sight.
If Sunday's game was any indication of what the Tigers can do to a power pitcher with command issues, they may be in good shape for this series. Berrios has flashed electric stuff in his brief major league career, striking out 14 batters in his past two starts. However, he has struggled to keep runners off the basepaths and is prone to leaving the ball out over the plate. While the Tigers' offense has scuffled at multiple points this season, they have picked their spots against hard-throwing righties, and Berrios' margin for error is slim with Jordan Zimmermann opposing him. If the Tigers can avoid the post-road trip hangover, they could actually find themselves on a winning streak.
Zimmermann cruises to his sixth win of the year.
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