Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but it’s go time for the Detroit Tigers. Malingering a few games back in the division wasn’t so concerning as June opened, but here we are nearly halfway through the month and they’ve actually slipped a little further behind the pace. Meanwhile, the AL East is bound and determined to claim all the wild card spots. Things look bleak for the home team.
If there’s a bright spot to be found, it’s the Tigers record in Comerica Park. The Tigers are 16-12 at home, and are into a stretch where 10 of the remaining 17 games in June take place in Detroit. They also have some easier prey on the table in the form of teams like the Mariners, Padres, Rays and Royals coming up. But first, they’ll have to kick off this six-game homestand with two against one of the more surprising teams in the league this season, the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Detroit Tigers (29-33) vs Arizona Diamondbacks (39-26)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SBNation Blog: AZ Snake Pit
Media: FSD, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Buck Farmer (2-0, 3.00 ERA) vs. RHP Zack Greinke (8-3, 3.20 ERA)
Game 63 Pitching Matchup
The Tigers haven’t seen Zack Greinke in a long, long time. July 9, 2014 was the last time they squared off against the Diamondbacks’ ace. Much has changed in the interim. Greinke signed a huge four-year deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks prior to the 2016 season, and promptly struggled with some nagging injuries and general mediocrity. A very un-Greinke type season, combined with the disastrous Shelby Miller trade, got the previous front office booted out of Phoenix.
However, the Greinke of 2017 appears fully rebooted. His strikeout rate is as high as it’s been in his entire career. He’s also trimmed back the walks to typically low levels. Greinke’s fastball has continued to dip in velocity, but the movement and command he’s shown with the heater this season has made it as effective as ever. Combined with the sharp breaking slider for which he’s best known, Zack Greinke is once again a very dangerous individual on the mound.
Key Matchup: Buck Farmer vs. reality
In two starts for the Tigers, Farmer has been outstanding. He’s throwing with more feel and a little less effort in years past, and reaping the rewards of better movement on his fastball. The key to that movement may simply be a more relaxed Farmer on the mound. His fastball is down two miles per hour from where we’ve seen him in spot starts and relief in the past, and it appears to have unlocked his ability to spin the heater in there with more tailing action and sink. Farmer has thrown the fastball 65 percent of the time in his two starts since being called up. So far, it’s been shockingly effective. But this won’t last.
To continue to be effective, Farmer is going to have to up his usage of both slider and changeup. Hitters are eventually going to dial in on that heavy fastball percentage and start teeing off on it. To keep them at bay, Farmer is going to have to make more liberal use of his changeup against left-handed hitters like Jake Lamb and David Peralta. Farmer’s changeup has long been regarded as his best pitch, and it’ll need to be in heroic form Tuesday night. If he’s able to shut those two down in particular, he may be able to work around Paul Goldschmidt to a degree, break some bats by jamming the right-handers inside, and keep himself out of too much trouble.
Farmer certainly looks like an improved model so far in 2017, but without a lot more evidence, it’s hard to trust that the wheels aren’t about to come off.
If there’s a style of pitcher that seems to vex the Tigers’ lineup most, it’s a sinkerballer with elite command. Greinke has that. He can also work the four-seamer upstairs to keep hitters off balance. Combine that with one of the more consistently devastating sliders of the past decade, and the Tiger bats are in for a tough test. They’ve hit well at home, but they really need to get to Greinke early in this one, before he settles in and starts pounding the bottom of the strikezone with his usual precision.
The one area where Greinke has consistently struggled in recent years, is with allowing home runs. That’s a common problem around baseball at the moment, but the Tigers are capable of doing damage against him via the long ball. To get Farmer a lead with which he can settle in, the bats are probably going to have to mash in the early going.
The speed and balance of the Diamondbacks offense is the toughest test Farmer has faced so far. I don’t expect it to go well.