Let’s just come right out and say it: the Detroit Tigers are not very fun to watch right now. They have struggled to play well in all facets of the game for most of the season; if the lineup and rotation are clicking one night, the bullpen screws things up. Other times the pitching staff does its job, only to be let down by the offense. Sometimes, as we saw on Saturday, everything goes wrong. They have played some time-consuming games, to boot; both of this weekend’s losses have taken over 3 1⁄2 hours to play.
Some of this is just due to fatigue on the fanbase’s part. Frustrated with the team’s inability to win a World Series during their prime and a seeming lack of urgency during the offseason, the fanbase is on edge after a sub-.500 start to the season.
Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to change their entertainment value. One of the bright spots of last year’s somewhat mundane season was Daniel Norris, who looked prime for a breakout after a dominant run in August and September. Norris has struggled so far in 2017, but seems to be teetering on the edge of improvement; even though he allowed four runs in his last start, he made it through six innings and struck out seven.
The Tigers need Norris to take a step forward. Not only will they need him to live up to his lofty potential if they are to make the postseason — their playoff odds are just 15.7 percent right now, according to FanGraphs — as well as beat the potent Red Sox lineup on Sunday.
Detroit Tigers (29-32) at Boston Red Sox (34-37)
Time/Place: 8:05 p.m., Fenway Park
SB Nation blog: Over the Monster
Media: ESPN, WatchESPN, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Daniel Norris (2-4, 4.48 ERA) vs. LHP Drew Pomeranz (6-3, 4.02 ERA)
Game 62 Pitching Matchup
At first glance, it looks like something has gotten into Drew Pomeranz this season. He is striking out 29.2 percent of batters, the fourth-highest strikeout rate in the American League (minimum 50 innings pitched). This is another step up for him, as he has raised his strikeout rate by a fair margin in each of the past couple seasons. He has also lowered his walk rate, resulting in a career-best 21.4 percent K-BB%.
There may not be much to this, though. Pomeranz’s swinging strike rate is 11.0 percent, the same it has been for each of the past three seasons. Mike Podhorzer’s expected strikeout rate formula projects Pomeranz for a slightly lower strikeout rate given his underlying metrics, one more in line with what he produced in 2016.
There are other issues too. While he looks to have reverse splits in a small sample of innings, Pomeranz is striking out fewer righties than lefties while walking them at a slightly higher rate. He also hasn’t improved as much in this regard as his overall numbers suggest; his strikeout rate against righties has actually decreased slightly from 2016 to 2017.
That said, this is still a tough matchup. Opposing righties are batting just .222 with a .284 on-base percentage against Pomeranz this season while striking out over 25 percent of the time. He has coughed up a few more home runs since arriving in Boston, but has improved his walk rate to limit the damage when a fly ball or two do leave the ballpark.
Key matchup: Tigers bullpen vs. preventing runs
It’s happening again. After a productive May in which we could actually look to the Tigers bullpen as a strength (I know, right?), they have returned to their old form in June. So far this month, Tigers relievers have a 6.67 ERA, the fifth highest total in baseball. They have walked 12 batters in 27 innings for a 10.3 percent walk rate that is the worst in the AL. While they have continued to limit home runs, one dinger — a two-run shot by Jackie Bradley on Friday — was particularly costly. The Tigers bullpen has coughed up 11 runs in just five innings so far this weekend; they will need to limit the damage on Sunday if they are to avoid a costly sweep.
It goes without saying that the Tigers would like to win this game. They would otherwise avoid a four-game losing streak heading into Monday’s off day, and could pull a bit closer within a still-contested AL Central Division. However, a sweep is not the end of the world; this is arguably the toughest series the Tigers have on their schedule for the entire month of June, and they return home for a six-game homestand next week. Norris has the potential to shut down any lineup in baseball when he is on, but as we have seen already this weekend, it takes more than just one good starter to win a game.
Pomeranz baffles the Tigers lineup and they drop their fourth in a row.