Heading into the season, national experts and casual fans both noted that the Detroit Tigers needed to stay remarkably healthy to remain in contention. With a farm system devoid of any capable depth, the Tigers were relying on a core of aging stars and a young, unproven rotation. Wednesday’s game seemed like the first clear case where that lack of depth reared its ugly head. While Jim Adduci came through with a big RBI single, the Tigers sorely missed J.D. Martinez’s bat in the middle of their lineup, particularly against Cleveland Indians closer Cody Allen in the ninth. It’s easy to play the “what if?” game, but there’s a good case to be made that Martinez’s absence was the difference in a tight game.
He would not have moved the needle today, however. Martinez has had zero success against Indians starter Danny Salazar in his career, with nine strikeouts in 14 at-bats. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus has even gone as far as to sit Martinez in games started by Salazar.
Fortunately, the rest of the Tigers offense has fared much better. The current roster is hitting .286/.346/.469 with eight home runs in 191 plate appearances against Salazar. Miguel Cabrera, Nick Castellanos, and James McCann (!) all have an OPS of .850 or better in at least 15 plate appearances, while Andrew Romine and Tyler Collins have enjoyed success in smaller spurts. Salazar has had his moments, but has a career 4.58 ERA and 1.39 WHIP in 12 starts against Detroit.
Can the Tigers continue their success against Salazar and earn a series win on Thursday?
Cleveland Indians (15-12) at Detroit Tigers (14-13)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Let’s Go Tribe
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB Network, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Danny Salazar (2-2, 4.34 ERA) vs. RHP Michael Fulmer (2-1, 3.19 ERA)
Game 28 Pitching Matchup
Key matchup: Terry Francona vs. lineup construction
While he only has 190 innings under his belt in his major league career, Michael Fulmer has demonstrated some pretty extreme reverse splits thus far. Thanks in part to his devastating changeup, Fulmer has limited left-handed hitters to a .579 OPS. This season, they are hitting just .149/.200/.403 in 80 plate appearances. Meanwhile, righties are hitting .246/.300/.418 against Fulmer in his career, including a .977 OPS in 44 plate appearances this season.
These splits aren’t set in stone, especially as Fulmer is still developing consistency with his secondary pitches. However, the Indians are the most versatile lineup in baseball, gaining the platoon advantage in 75 percent of their plate appearances. This could work to their detriment against Fulmer, though they have hit him well in his young career. The interesting questions come near the bottom of the lineup, where Terry Francona and the Indians could use their usual left-handed platoon bats or opt for righties like Brandon Guyer and Austin Jackson.
The threat of buckets-on-buckets of rain in Detroit on Thursday afternoon creates an interesting set of questions surrounding this game. Chief among them: which team stands to benefit most from a potential rainout? The Tigers might be catching a struggling Salazar at the right time, and they have performed fairly well against him over the years. Bullpen aces Andrew Miller and Cody Allen are both coming off 25-pitch outings in Wednesday’s game.
On the other hand, the Tigers could also benefit from a rainout. The extra day off would be nice prior to the team’s upcoming west coast trip, especially for hobbled stars Miguel Cabrera and Ian Kinsler. The bullpen would be as well rested as it as been all season as well. Plus, pushing this game back to a later date could allow the Tigers to field a healthier lineup. J.D. Martinez is currently on the disabled list — though he likely would not start against Salazar anyway — while Kinsler is dealing with a hamstring issue he picked up on Wednesday. Cabrera might get the day off as well, leaving a skeleton crew in the lineup on getaway day.