The lengthy Major League Baseball schedule doesn’t lend itself well to single games or plays providing interesting pivots for a team. Other than in specific instances, there is never that one moment that turned a team’s season around. Still, fans try to find them wherever they can. Last season, many will point to Brad Ausmus’ sweatshirt-shedding tirade as a bit of a turning point for the Tigers. While I would argue that the actual turning point came in a late-inning comeback against these same Orioles a day earlier, the point stands. The team won eight of their next 10 games, but ultimately fell short of a postseason berth.
Tuesday’s heartbreaking 13-11 loss had a chance to be that same type of moment. The Tigers roared back from a 7-1 deficit, then later erased a three-run Orioles lead in extra innings to stay alive. Had they won the game, we might have looked back upon it as a springboard to a potential postseason berth (or more, depending on how much you want to dream). Instead, the Tigers fell under .500 for the first time since a late April loss to the Chicago White Sox.
Luckily, they have a chance to bounce right back. Michael Fulmer has been the Tigers’ steadiest starter this season, and is coming off a pair of breezy outings on the west coast. Facing him will be Ubaldo Jimenez, a former AL Central rival who has struggled to find his footing in 2017.
Can the Tigers get back to .500 tonight?
Baltimore Orioles (23-14) at Detroit Tigers (18-19)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Camden Chat
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Ubaldo Jimenez (1-1, 6.15 ERA) vs. RHP Michael Fulmer (4-1, 2.54 ERA)
Game 38 Pitching Matchup
Prior to the start of the 2014 season, the Orioles signed Ubaldo Jimenez to a rather unpopular four-year, $50 million contract. Jimenez wasn’t that highly thought of at the time, as his late signing suggests. While the deal hasn’t been a complete disaster — he was worth 4.7 fWAR from 2014 to 2016 — O’s fans were certainly hoping for more during the front end of his contract.
Like many long contracts, Jimenez’s deal is souring as he gets closer to the end. He has allowed a 6.15 ERA in seven starts this year, and his 6.47 FIP is even worse. He has walked 13.4 percent of batters he has faced, and his 16.1 percent strikeouts rate is a career low. Jimenez has also given up eight home runs in 33 2⁄3 innings, the eighth-highest rate in the major leagues.
As such, Jimenez has been treated with kid gloves. He has been pulled in the fourth inning on three occasions already, and worked just 4 1⁄3 innings in each of his first two outings. The O’s have tried to keep him out of trouble as much as possible, but this may not be feasible after Tuesday.
Key matchup: Michael Fulmer vs. a very tired bullpen
Both teams will come in shorthanded after Tuesday’s 13-inning marathon, but the Tigers offense has a chance to put the screws to Baltimore’s pitching staff on Wednesday. Ubaldo Jimenez has not been particularly efficient, failing to make it through five innings in five of his seven starts this season.
More importantly, Michael Fulmer has a chance to save the Tigers’ ‘pen. In his last four starts, Detroit’s ace in the making has averaged seven innings on just 106.25 pitches thrown per outing. He pulled a similar feat against the Orioles at Comerica Park last September, holding them to two runs in seven frames on just 103 pitches. Baltimore’s lineup is tied for last in the American League with just 3.79 pitches seen per plate appearance. If all of these trends hold, Fulmer might be able to bypass the Tigers’ tired middle relief corps to Alex and Justin Wilson, who only threw a combined 29 pitches on Tuesday.
For all the preseason talk of Justin Verlander leading a young pitching staff, Fulmer has easily been their best arm in 2017. The Tigers are 5-2 in his seven starts, with many wins by comfortable margins thanks to Fulmer’s dominance. He has been on fire since his lone loss of the season on April 18, holding opponents to a 2.25 ERA with 26 strikeouts in 28 innings. Given Baltimore’s propensity to swing and miss — they have the fourth-highest whiff rate in baseball this season — he has another favorable matchup to feast upon when the Tigers need it most. Hopefully he can be efficient and give the bullpen a day off along the way.
Fulmer makes a slim lead stand up to snap the two-game skid.