It may be a bit disingenuous to say that the Detroit Tigers need to get their offense back on track. While they have only scored 27 runs in seven games, a bit of context is needed. They played two games in relatively cool, damp conditions in Chicago, and still managed to score six runs in their season-opening win against the White Sox. The Tigers then returned home to face one of the better starting rotations in baseball, yet still hung five runs on the reigning AL Cy Young winner. They have also faced Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and a not-yet-dead James Shields in their first week of action.
In other words, runs have been hard to come by.
The Tigers could use a chance to get right, though. They have been limited to just four runs in their past two games, and were largely shut down by Hector Santiago on Tuesday. While the 29-year-old lefty looks primed for a solid season before he hits free agency, we expect more from this Tigers offense.
Luckily, they have the opportunity to break out today. Twins starter Kyle Gibson has not had much luck against the Tigers in his career, allowing a 4.84 ERA and 1.51 WHIP in 10 career meetings. Tigers hitters are batting .270 with a .355 on-base percentage in those games. While the power has been lacking, they have had no trouble putting runs on the board against Gibson.
Can they maintain that production on Wednesday and carve out a third consecutive win?
Minnesota Twins (5-2) at Detroit Tigers (5-2)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB Network, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Kyle Gibson (0-0, 5.40 ERA) vs. RHP Michael Fulmer (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
Game 8 Pitching Matchup
As Eno Sarris pointed out on Kyle Gibson’s FanGraphs player page, there is a lot of average to be found here. Gibson doesn’t do anything particularly well — aside from limiting home runs, perhaps — yet was able to post consecutive two-win seasons in 2014 and 2015. He managed a solid 3.84 ERA in 194 2⁄3 innings in 2015, but his numbers were heavily dependent on home run prevention. He posted a meager 2.23 strikeout-to-walk ratio that season, the best of his career. His K-BB% has never been above 10 percent, while the league managed a 13 percent K-BB% last season.
Speaking of last season, things did not go well for Gibson. He struggled with a shoulder injury, which limited him to 147 1⁄3 innings. Those innings were not good ones, either. Gibson allowed a 5.07 ERA and 4.70 FIP in 25 starts, and all those fly balls he had previously managed to keep in the park started reaching the seats. In the end, Gibson’s home run rate doubled from 2014 to 2016. Those homer problems have seemingly returned in 2017, as Gibson allowed a pair of dingers in his first start of the year. The stingy conditions we have seen at Comerica Park thus far this season will help, but he needs to keep balls out of the seats to be successful in this game.
Key matchup: Gibson vs. the top of the Tigers lineup
So far this season, the Tigers have gotten by on great starting pitching and timely hitting from the bottom of their lineup. Leadoff hitter Ian Kinsler has been on fire as well, hitting a robust .368/.520/.737 through the first week-plus of games. While it seems like Nick Castellanos is lining everything straight at an outfielder, he too has a healthy .998 OPS. With those two in such fine form, Gibson will have his hands full in keeping them off the basepaths in front of the Tigers’ big bats.
Speaking of those big bats, they aren’t hitting. Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and Justin Upton have a combined nine hits on the season, and all are singles. Cabrera doesn’t have an RBI yet, and is batting .095/.240/.095. Upton and Martinez have similarly gruesome stat lines, but have at least drawn a combined seven walks.
Cabrera is of particular note here, though. He has looked better in the past couple games, and hit a sharp single to right field on Tuesday. We hinted that his breakout was coming in this week’s series preview, and it could come today. Cabrera is 7-for-22 with a home run in his career against Gibson, good for a very Cabrera-like .318 average. If Kinsler and Castellanos keep reaching base in front of him, it’s only a matter of time before he starts driving in runs in bunches.
Heading into this week’s series, our friends at Numberfire gave the Tigers a 60 percent chance to win each of their three games against the Twins. Given what we know about the randomness of baseball, that’s a rather decisive number, and is indicative of the talent discrepancy that still exists in the team’s respective starting rotations. This matchup may be the most lopsided of all. While anything can happen in a single game — especially with this bullpen — this team is in a good place right now.
Fulmer has another strong outing and the Tigers win their third in a row.