Forgive me if I’m not so optimistic about this situation. The Detroit Tigers have clawed their way back into the playoff race over the past couple months despite what a lot of people saw as the worst-case scenario for their starting rotation. Injuries to Jordan Zimmermann, Daniel Norris, and others — along with Anibal Sanchez’s seemingly never-ending walk through the dinger forest — have not significantly hampered the team’s ability to win games. A resurgent Sanchez (sorta) and breakouts from Matt Boyd and Michael Fulmer have kept them within striking distance, and as of Saturday morning, they are tied for a Wild Card spot.
Now that Zimmermann is back, things should continue trending upward, right? I’m not so sure. The Tigers’ $110 million man has made one major league start since July 1, and it did not go well. Zimmermann and the Tigers insist that he is healthy, yet his fastball velocity was down in that outing. His strikeout rate has been low for the whole year, and he’s coming off a minor league rehab start in which he gave up seven runs (but only two earned).
A healthy and effective Zimmermann would be a major addition for the Tigers as they go down the stretch. Can Zimmermann help deliver the Tigers another big win as they chase down a playoff spot?
Baltimore Orioles (76-64) at Detroit Tigers (76-64)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Camden Chat
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB Network, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Ubaldo Jimenez (6-11, 6.19 ERA) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (9-5, 4.44 ERA)
Ubaldo Jimenez’s stat line is rather comical, but it was actually much worse earlier this season. He had an ERA above seven at the end of July, and lost his spot in the rotation multiple times only to fall back in due to injuries or ineffectiveness elsewhere. Jimenez’s latest turn through the rotation started a few weeks ago when Chris Tillman was placed on the disabled list with a shoulder injury.
As luck would have it, the Tigers are getting Jimenez on a hot streak. Since mid-July, Jimenez has a 3.38 ERA and 28:12 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Opponents are hitting .187 with a .265 on-base percentage. Jimenez has made four starts in that span, and three since Tillman was placed on the DL. He has managed a quality start in each of his last three outings, and threw a complete game against the Tampa Bay Rays in his last start. One silver lining: he has given up a home run in each of his past three starts.
Of course, this hot streak might not matter if Jimenez’s luck (or lack thereof) against the Tigers continues. Detroit has punished him to the tune of a 5.68 ERA and .813 OPS in 20 career meetings. He has a 1.55 WHIP and a paltry 1.83 strikeout-to-walk ratio against Detroit. Things only get worse at Comerica Park, where his ERA climbs to 7.39 in 10 starts. The Tigers are hitting .308/.369/.534 in home games against Jimenez, a trend that will hopefully continue on Saturday.
Hitter to fear: Steve Pearce (.364/.417/1.091 in 13 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Adam Jones (.167/.167/.333 in 18 plate appearances)
(Steve Pearce plays for the Orioles now?)
This game may come down to which starting pitcher screws up least, a thought that would have seemed impossible when Zimmermann was torching his way through the AL in April and early May. I’m not sold that he’s entirely right, however, so time will tell if giving him a start in one of the most important games of the season is a good idea. Thankfully, Jimenez has been as bad as one can be when visiting Comerica Park. The Tigers could use an early lead in this one, because a battle of bullpens will not go their way.
Detroit wins in a shootout.
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