Winning Major League Baseball games on the road is not easy. Even during their four-year reign atop the AL Central, the Detroit Tigers were 170-154 away from Comerica Park. That averages out to a 43-39 record in road games over a four-year period. It’s an impressive record given the context, but pales in comparison to the win-loss record they had at home.
Playoff races are decided on the road, though, and the 2010 Tigers are a perfect example. That club, fresh off the blockbuster trade that brought Max Scherzer and Austin Jackson to Detroit, won a whopping 52 games at home. One might think that playing at a 104-win pace in half your games would be enough to reach the postseason, right?
Unfortunately, those Tigers went 29-52 in road games that year, and finished the year at 81-81, missing the playoffs.
It’s far too early to paint these Tigers in the same light as their 2010 counterparts. There are more veterans around this group, and they were a game over .500 on the road last season. They have a chance to salvage a win in their series finale against Tampa Bay on Thursday, potentially setting themselves up for a winning road trip if they can best the Minnesota Twins over the weekend. Can the Tigers pick up another win before their next intra-divisional series?
Detroit Tigers (8-6) at Tampa Bay Rays (8-8)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Tropicana Field
SB Nation blog: DRaysBay
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Daniel Norris (1-0, 2.19 ERA) vs. RHP Erasmo Ramirez (1-0, 3.72 ERA)
Game 15 Pitching Matchup
Erasmo Ramirez has proven himself to be a near-perfect swingman for the Rays since arriving in Tampa in 2015. He started 27 games for the Rays that year, holding opponents to a 3.75 ERA in 163 1⁄3 innings. He spent more time in the bullpen last year, starting just one game. Most of those relief outings lasted longer than an inning, however, allowing him to log 90 2⁄3 innings and a 3.77 ERA.
It’s this multi-inning usage that explains why Ramirez was basically the same pitcher from 2015 to 2016. His velocity only increased slightly (if at all) after he moved to near-full-time bullpen duty, and he actually saw a slight drop in his strikeout rate. He also gave up home runs at a much higher rate, though so did many other pitchers throughout the game. The home run spike saw Ramirez’s FIP jump a full run from 2015 to 2016.
Oddly, this rise in home run rate also came when Ramirez induced more ground balls than ever before. He started throwing a cutter more often throughout the 2016 season, though no more than 11-12 percent of the time in his best month. His two-seam fastball was also a weapon; while it only sits at 91-92 miles per hour, it generated ground balls at a whopping 57 percent rate last year. His changeup was also a big pitch, generating a 55 percent ground ball rate and 19 percent whiff rate in 2016.
Key matchup: The Rays bullpen vs. fatigue
While Matt Andriese felt like an unstoppable force in the middle innings of Tuesday’s Rays win over the Tigers, he only worked six innings in total. Couple this with Chris Archer’s five-inning performance on Wednesday, and the Rays’ pen has logged seven innings over the past two days. This isn’t too much worse than what the Tigers have had to manage, but the Rays (a) did not have an off day prior to this series, and (b) are starting a pitcher that might not handle a normal starter’s workload. If the Tigers can drive up Ramirez’s pitch count early, they could dive into a Rays bullpen that might be limited to just four or five available arms.
This game might not be the mismatch it seems on paper. Ramirez is no slouch as a pitcher, and the Tigers’ lineup card might resemble some of the spring training games they played in Florida earlier this spring. Left fielder Justin Upton is not likely to play after injuring his wrist on Tuesday, and manager Brad Ausmus vowed to give Miguel Cabrera a day off at some point on this road trip. The Tigers may also be without shortstop Jose Iglesias, who was evaluated for a concussion after colliding with Tampa’s Brad Miller at the end of Wednesday’s game. If one of Cabrera or Victor Martinez sit, we could see someone like Alex Avila or Tyler Collins in the cleanup spot, let alone hitting fifth like Collins did on Wednesday.
In other words, runs might be hard to come by.
Norris pitches well but the Rays cap off a three-game sweep.