When the 2017 MLB schedule was released last September, Detroit Tigers fans pointed at May 2017 as a major trouble spot. The Tigers were scheduled to play 19 of their 29 games on the road, with stops in Oakland, Anaheim, Arizona, and Houston. Last week’s rainout in Chicago added another game to that tally, giving the Tigers 20 road games in 31 days, with just two days off.
Worse yet, the home games aren’t any easier. They open the month with a four-game set against the Cleveland Indians, and also play against the reigning AL West champion Texas Rangers and a Baltimore Orioles club that also made the postseason last year. Long story short, the Tigers need to figure out a way to weather that storm.
One way to do that is to take care of business at home, and the Tigers have done that so far this season. They are 5-1 on their current homestand, with series wins over the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins. Jordan Zimmermann has a chance to deliver a sweep of the Twins on Thursday before the Tigers set off on a nine-game trip, including their first series against those pesky Indians.
Can the Tigers grab another win over Minnesota?
Minnesota Twins (5-3) at Detroit Tigers (6-2)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Phil Hughes (1-0, 1.50 ERA) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (1-0, 1.50 ERA)
Game 9 Pitching Matchup
Phil Hughes did not have a good time in 2016. The veteran righthander was already coming off a subpar 2015 season in which he allowed a 4.40 ERA and 4.70 FIP in 155 1⁄3 innings. Injuries further limited him last season, including a fractured left knee after he took a line drive off his leg in early June. He was already dealing with shoulder issues during that time as well, and underwent season-ending thoracic outlet surgery in late June. His numbers reflected the injury, as he gave up a 5.95 ERA and 5.08 FIP in just 59 innings of work.
While there are plenty of concerns surrounding a pitcher coming off thoracic outlet surgery, some of the ones being asked of Hughes are old standbys. He limited opponents to 0.69 home runs per nine innings in 2014, and fans wondered if his days of troubles with the long ball were over. After all, it’s much easier to hit homers in Yankee Stadium than Target Field. Sadly for Hughes, that turned out not to be the case. He gave up identical home run rates of 1.68 per nine innings in 2015 and 2016, which reflected some of his worst years with the Yankees.
Key matchup: Phil Hughes vs. Comerica Park
The Tigers offense has made many a pitcher look awful over the years, even at the expansive Comerica Park. Phil Hughes is not one of those pitchers. While his overall numbers against the Tigers are wonderfully mediocre — I think, Baseball Reference is having issues right now — he has been a force at Comerica Park. In nine career starts in Detroit, Hughes has limited opponents to a 2.91 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. The Tigers are hitting a meager .236/.263/.392 with seven home runs in 55 2⁄3 innings. Hughes has found out how to take advantage of Comerica’s spacious center field, and record lazy fly outs one after another.
We came into this series expecting runs in bunches. Outside of Andrew Romine’s grand slam on Wednesday, that has not happened. Hughes’ aforementioned track record at Comerica Park coupled with Detroit’s scuffling big bats suggest that runs will be hard to come by again for the Tigers today. The Twins are a bit of a wild card at this point, but have the offensive firepower to make things difficult if Zimmermann doesn’t hit his spots. Given how good he likely needs to be to keep the Tigers close, I’m not sure a sweep is in the cards in this series.
Zimmermann comes back to earth and the Tigers drop the series finale.