This has been an eventful road trip for the Detroit Tigers. They started things off by frustrating Trevor Bauer and the Cleveland Indians, eventually taking two of three from the Tribe. They then traveled to Tampa for the sweep from hell, which you may already be trying to forget. Their current series has been equally frustrating. From Justin Verlander’s iffy command to Joe Jimenez’s big league baptism, Saturday’s win — no matter how chaotic — was a huge one for a reeling club.
Now comes Sunday and a chance for salvation. The Tigers are 3-5 on their current trip, and sit a game above .500 for the season. A win today would move the Tigers to 4-5 on a tough three-city swing, a passable performance under any circumstances. Add in the oddities and injuries that have occurred, and that record — including a 4-2 mark against AL Central opponents — becomes even more palatable.
With Michael Fulmer on the mound, the Tigers hold a major advantage over Kyle Gibson and the Twins. Nearly a full year after his major league debut on the same mound, can Fulmer deliver another series win over Minnesota?
Detroit Tigers (9-8) at Minnesota Twins (8-9)
Time/Place: 2:10 p.m., Target Field
SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Michael Fulmer (1-1, 3.00 ERA) vs. RHP Kyle Gibson (0-2, 6.91 ERA)
Game 18 Pitching Matchup
Heading into this year, Twins starter Kyle Gibson was looking to rebound from a subpar 2016 season that may have been affected by a shoulder injury. It... hasn’t gone well. Gibson has allowed 11 runs on 18 hits in just 14 1⁄3 innings so far, including a five-spot against the Tigers on April 12. He has yet to make it through six innings in a start this year, but Twins manager Paul Molitor has had a quick hook; Gibson has not topped 90 pitches in any outing.
While the ERA is alarming, the batted ball profile might be even more so. Gibson has induced ground balls at just a 45.1 percent rate this year, a stark contrast from the mid-50s clips he posted earlier in his career. His line drive and fly ball rates are up, and while he is generating more soft contact than before, high pull rates and home run rates suggest this might not last long.
Key matchup: Jim Adduci vs. major league pitching
The Tigers appear to be taking a novel approach to their recent slew of injuries. Instead of making one-for-one swaps when Miguel Cabrera and JaCoby Jones were placed on the disabled list on Saturday, the team might be aiming for versatility. John Hicks was a catcher for the Toledo Mud Hens last season, but has only played first base in limited action for the Tigers. Jim Adduci was called up to replace Jones on the roster, but will not be playing center field. The 31-year-old will see some time in an outfield corner, but can also play first base.
That second part is important. With Cabrera on the disabled list, the Tigers’ offense takes a major hit. They can still put together a capable batting order against left-handed pitching, but could struggle against righties unless someone steps up. With platoon lefties Tyler Collins and Alex Avila already in the fold, a strong week from the left-handed Adduci could help mitigate the offensive firepower against righty pitchers lost with Cabrera out of the lineup.
A win would obviously be a good thing for the Tigers at the end of a long road trip, but Fulmer could use a strong outing. He struggled with his command in his first meeting against the Twins, but eventually relied on his two-seamer to notch a garden variety quality start. I didn’t think he was particularly sharp in his most recent start either, allowing three runs on six hits in six innings against the Tampa Bay Rays. We still have yet to see the best Fulmer has to offer in 2017, but he has been stingy enough to hold opponents to a 3.00 ERA. He will need his best command on Sunday; the Twins lead baseball with a 12.1 percent walk rate through 17 games.
Fulmer delivers a big win and the Tigers take the series.