Last season, the Tigers endured one of the worst stretches of their season in early May. Following a road sweep against the Cleveland Indians, the Tigers were also swept at home by the Texas Rangers. They then proceeded to lose five of their next six games in an East Coast road swing against the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles. Brad Ausmus’ job was reportedly in jeopardy, and the Tigers fell 8 1⁄2 games out of the division race.
While they never quite got back into contention in the AL Central, they were able to pull even in the Wild Card race later in the year. When looking back at reasons why they fell just short of reaching the playoffs, that brutal 1-11 stretch was chief among them.
That doesn’t make the last week seem so bad, does it? Sure, the Tigers have lost five of their last seven games, but are in a better position overall than they were at this time last season. They are just 4 1⁄2 games out of first place in the division and have played one of the toughest schedules in baseball so far.
However, they need to get back on track in order to avoid the same pitfalls of last season. Can they begin to turn things around in a doubleheader against the White Sox on Saturday?
Detroit Tigers (22-25) at Chicago White Sox (21-25)
Time/Place: 2:10 p.m., Guaranteed Rate Field
SB Nation blog: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Game 1 Pitching Matchup: RHP Buck Farmer (1-3, 4.12 ERA in Triple-A) vs. LHP Derek Holland (4-3, 2.47 ERA)
Game 48 Pitching Matchup
Buck Farmer’s ERA hasn’t been all that impressive in the minors this year, but his peripheral numbers suggest otherwise. From Friday’s preview:
He has a stellar 3.06 FIP in 54 2⁄3 innings, and is striking out 5.4 batters to every walk. Opponents are hitting .282 against him, but are aided by an unsustainable .357 batting average on balls in play (BABIP).
The improved walk rate is most interesting, as Farmer has never been this locked in on the strike zone in his professional career. Will he continue to pound the zone against the White Sox, or will he start to nibble against better competition?
Meanwhile, Derek Holland has continued plugging away in his attempt to build value for a free agent deal next offseason. From Friday’s series preview:
Holland is the one reclamation project that has panned out for the White Sox this year. He has limited opponents to a 2.47 ERA in 54 2⁄3 innings, and appears to be getting stronger as the season moves along. In his last four outings, he has collected 21 strikeouts. He has also topped the 100-pitch mark in each of his last three starts, an important barrier for a pitcher looking to field a more lucrative contract offer this offseason.
Game 2 Pitching Matchup: RHP Michael Fulmer (5-2, 2.55 ERA) vs. RHP Tyler Danish (1-3, 3.15 ERA in Triple-A)
Game 49 Pitching Matchup
Danish is a 22-year-old righthander who was drafted in the second round of the 2013 MLB draft. While that brief profile suggests he could be a solid starter in the making, the reality isn’t quite so sexy. Danish has allowed a 3.15 ERA in the minor leagues this year, but is striking out just 11.8 percent of hitters at Triple-A Charlotte. He was slightly better in 29 1⁄3 innings for the Knights last year, but still isn’t much of a strikeout artist.
Minor League Ball’s John Sickels profiled Danish in his annual prospect guide back in 2016.
I was aggressive with a Grade B for Tyler Danish last year but his mediocre 2015 season provided ammunition for the skeptics. In 2014 he showed a nasty low-90s sinker, a plus slider, and a solid-average change-up to go with good command, a deceptive delivery, and intense mound presence. He still showed much of that in Double-A: competitiveness, delivery funk, lots of grounders (1.85 GO/AO) and a change-up which improved into the plus range. However, his fastball and slider each lost a step, his velocity down in the 88-90 range and the slider losing enough sharpness that some observers rated it as below average after seeing it as plus in ‘14.
Key matchup: Tigers pitchers vs. getting outs
Other than Michael Fulmer and a few bullpen arms, Tigers pitchers haven’t done this lately. Saturday would be a good day for them to start.
While the Tigers have been as frustrating as can be over the past week (if not longer), their road trip isn’t even half over yet. They have played one of the tougher schedules in baseball so far, with 25 of their 47 games played away from Comerica Park. Even on this trip, the Tigers still have time to pick up wins against the White Sox and Kansas City Royals. A strong finish to this road swing will put them in position to climb back up the standings in June when the schedule isn’t quite as daunting. With Farmer showing improvement in the minors and Fulmer already in top form, they have a good chance as any to right the ship today.
The Tigers offense scuffles in the opener but Fulmer stops their losing streak in the nightcap.