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Game 39 Preview: Minnesota Twins at Detroit Tigers

Mike Pelfrey is still in search of his first win of the season.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Nothing is more demoralizing than losing a big lead in baseball. The Detroit Tigers and their fans know this feeling all too well, especially with the shoddy bullpens they have cobbled together in recent years. The 2016 season seemed different at first, as the 'pen posted a 2.85 ERA in the month of April.

Despite our best efforts to identify this as a legitimate improvement, the bullpen came back to earth in early May, and no game reflected that more than Mike Pelfrey's last start. Easily one of his best outings of the season, Pelfrey held the high-powered Baltimore Orioles scoreless for five innings. Even after he started to lose his command in the sixth, Pelfrey left the game with a 5-2 lead, one that should be comfortable when you have pitchers like Alex Wilson, Justin Wilson, and Francisco Rodriguez ready to go.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. The Wilsons collapsed, allowing five runs in the eighth inning as the demons of the 2014 ALDS came screaming back to life. Pelfrey's best chance at a win in 2016 -- he's still 0-fer, in case you forgot -- was snatched away in the span of seven batters.

Pelfrey's next shot at glory comes against his former team, and the only non-Tigers club to lose a game started by Mike Pelfrey this season. With the struggling Phil Hughes opposite him and a Tigers lineup potentially awakening, can Pelfrey finally get his first win?

Minnesota Twins (10-27) at Detroit Tigers (17-21)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Phil Hughes (1-6, 6.44 ERA) vs. RHP Mike Pelfrey (0-4, 5.80 ERA)

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Hughes 36.1 16.6 5.1 4.83 0.2
Pelfrey 35.2 12.1 10.2 5.59 -0.2

Oh lawd. The last time we saw Phil Hughes, he was coming off a strong outing against the Washington Nationals, leaders of the National League East and owners of the second-best record in the National League. Hughes was sporting a 3.91 ERA at the time, and looked poised to deliver on a bounce-back season after struggling in 2015. Since then, and partially thanks to the Tigers' doing, Hughes owns a 12.27 ERA in his last three starts. He has allowed 15 runs on 19 hits in 11 innings, with nearly as many home runs allowed (five) as strikeouts (seven).

While one could partially attribute the homer barrage to the Orioles' high-octane offense, we've seen this from Hughes before. He coughed up a league-leading 29 home runs last season and has given up as many as 35 (!) in a season before. With a career 4.39 ERA and 4.08 FIP, his spectacular 2014 season -- buoyed by a record-setting 11.63 strikeout-to-walk ratio -- appears to be the exception, not the rule in Minnesota.

That said, some regression to the mean is still in order. Both SIERA and xFIP think Hughes' ERA is about two runs too high, and he is currently sporting his highest home run per fly ball (HR/FB) rate of his career. His 6.0 percent swinging strike rate still hasn't returned to the level it was at (almost nine percent) from 2012 to 2014, but he is partially offsetting that by generating more ground balls than ever before thanks to an uptick in curveball usage. It's not the most effective pitch in the world -- opponents are still hitting .306 off it -- but opponents are beating it into the ground over 50 percent of the time.

Hitter to fear: Joe Mauer (.500/.500/.667 in 6 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Brian Dozier (.000/.333/.000 in 3 plate appearances)

It's difficult to pinpoint which Mike Pelfrey start has drawn the most ire from Tigers fans this season, but his outing in Minnesota* -- five runs allowed on eight hits in four innings -- resulted in a particularly salty fanbase. However, that was actually one of Pelfrey's stronger outings in terms of raw stuff. He was nickeled and dimed for a pair of runs in the first inning, and a defensive miscue gave the Twins an extra out to work with later in the game.

On the positive side, Pelfrey generated 14 swings and misses in that start, including eight on his splitter alone. He has been throwing that pitch more often lately, and while it is still getting tagged from time to time, opponents are swinging and missing on it 24 percent of the time in his past three starts.

*The off day following that game could be the reason for the extended rage.


While Phil Hughes has been struggling something fierce in his past three starts, we have seen plenty a pitcher get right against this Tigers offense over the past couple seasons. The Tigers generally have good numbers against Hughes -- their current roster is batting .304 with nine home runs and a .514 slugging average off him -- but he owns a 3.10 ERA and 5.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio in eight starts at Comerica Park. Meanwhile, the Twins offense has perked up lately, scoring 25 runs in their past four games.


Hughes bounces back and the Twins tie the series.


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