Two years ago, the Tigers were facing the Twins in an important late-summer series at Target Field. The circumstances were a bit different at the time — the Tigers were still in contention for the AL Central and had a month of baseball remaining — but the parallels are there. They turned to Buck Farmer as their starter in what some would have called a "must-win" game. Farmer recorded four outs, and the Tigers lost 12-4.
I feel a lot different about this game, though. For one, Farmer has two more years of development under his belt. He has put up solid numbers at the Triple-A level over the past couple seasons, and is striking out over a batter per inning in 24 1⁄3 frames of MLB work this year. The Tigers are also out of options elsewhere — besides, you know, their Rookie of the Year candidate. We have berated nearly every Mike Pelfrey and Anibal Sanchez start this season, and Jordan Zimmermann’s second attempt at a return from injury met similar scorn. It would be a bit hypocritical for us to bash the Tigers for thinking outside the box, honestly.
I still don’t think it bodes well for this game. Farmer pitched well against the Twins in long relief eight days ago, throwing 4 1⁄3 scoreless innings with five strikeouts. However, he has been prone to blow-ups at times, and will be going against a lineup tailored to face him, not someone else. Lefties are slugging a whopping .543 against him in a limited sample this season, and the numbers only get worse if you look at his MLB career totals.
Can Farmer deliver another Tigers win?
Detroit Tigers (80-70) at Minnesota Twins (55-96)
Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., Target Field
SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Buck Farmer (0-0, 4.07 ERA) vs. RHP Jose Berrios (2-7, 8.88 ERA)
If you’re still worried about Buck Farmer starting this game, you might want to glance across the aisle. Sure, Jose Berrios is a very promising young righthander with potential coming out of his ears — both MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus ranked him as a top-20 prospect coming into this season — but his major league debut has been a complete flop thus far. He has given up 48 earned runs in 48 2⁄3 innings this season, including a seven-spot in the first inning against the Tigers back on May 16.
That start earned Berrios a trip back to Triple-A, where he found his footing. He limited opponents to a 2.71 ERA and .597 OPS in 86 1⁄3 innings from late May to late July. His command was still a bit off — he walked 8.9 percent of hitters during that stretch — but struck out over a batter per inning and only allowed six home runs. Berrios returned to the majors in August, but things did not improve. He posted a quality start in his first outing, but gave up at least three runs in seven consecutive starts, including another loss to the Tigers on August 27. He only coughed up two runs in his last start, but lasted just four innings in a loss to the Mets.
If there is a culprit here, it’s Berrios’ fastball. He has been all over the place with it in 48 2⁄3 MLB innings, and opponents have hit .343 with a .574 slugging average against it. He throws it nearly two-thirds of the time to open an at-bat, but is only throwing first-pitch strikes 55 percent of the time. Berrios gets even more fastball-happy when behind in the count, allowing opponents to zone in on that one pitch. It’s definitely a good one — FanGraphs has it labeled as a plus pitch — but when he does hit the zone, it’s catching far too much plate.
Hitter to fear: Brian Dozier (.275/.346/.545 vs. RHP this season)
Hitter to fail: Eduardo Escobar (.250/.281/.345 vs. RHP this season)
If you include his minor league numbers, Farmer has limited left-handed hitters to a .771 OPS this season. That’s not bad, but it is entirely deflated by his numbers at Triple-A. At the major league level, lefties have a .918 OPS in 56 plate appearances this season, and a 1.037 OPS in his three-year career.
Fortunately, the Twins have been a below-average outfit against right-handed pitching this season. They sport a 96 wRC+ as a team against righties, and their lefties are slightly worse with a 93 wRC+. Joe Mauer and Max Kepler have done some damage, but the real threat, once again, is Brian Dozier. How Farmer navigates the top of this Twins lineup will likely determine the Tigers’ fate in this game.
If there is a positive to Farmer starting over a veteran like Mike Pelfrey or Anibal Sanchez, it’s that manager Brad Ausmus might be quicker with his hook if Farmer gets into trouble. Farmer hasn’t thrown more than 70 pitches in an MLB appearance this season, and the Tigers may only look to get a few innings out of him before burning through their rested bullpen. Between Justin Verlander taking the ball tomorrow and the expanded rosters, they can afford to be aggressive.
Miguel Cabrera stays hot and the Tigers win their third 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.