The San Diego Padres entered the 2017 season with one of the worst rosters in all of Major League Baseball. They signed righthander Jered Weaver — he of the mid-80s fastball on a good day — to bolster their rotation on the eve of spring training. At $3 million, he is their second-highest paid player (behind All-Star first baseman Wil Myers). According to Baseball Reference, they have just $30 million in guaranteed salary on their roster this season, a hair more than what the Detroit Tigers are paying for Miguel Cabrera.
And the Padres are favored in this series.
Sure, playing at home helps. Our friends at numberFire give the Padres a slight edge in two of the three games in this series, but all three matchups are essentially toss-ups. Only Saturday’s game gives either team (the Padres, in this case) slightly better than coin-flip odds, with a 52.8 percent chance of beating starter Anibal Sanchez.
It also depends on who you ask. FiveThirtyEight (rightly) gives the Tigers a 59 percent chance of winning with Michael Fulmer on the mound on Friday, and favor them by at least a 52-48 percent margin in all three games of this series. While the Tigers have struggled mightily in the month of June, they have a sizable talent advantage in this series. They also have been the better team this season; all of Baseball Prospectus’ win order percentages rank the Tigers at least four games ahead of the Padres, while strict run differential puts Detroit nine games clear of San Diego.
Game 1: RHP Michael Fulmer (6-5, 3.45 ERA) vs. RHP Luis Perdomo (1-4, 4.97 ERA)
It’s not often that a Rule 5 selection becomes a key cog in his new team’s starting rotation. However, rebuilding teams like the Padres have the luxury of trying out lottery tickets like Luis Perdomo. The 24-year-old righthander features a bowling ball sinker that has helped him generate an incredible 64.1 percent ground ball rate this year. He was just shy of 60 percent in 146 2⁄3 innings last year, when he allowed a 5.71 ERA. While he hasn’t been able to limit runs all that well yet, his strikeout rate has improved from his rookie year. If he can start to limit home runs — over 20 percent of his fly balls have left the park this year — he could become a decent back-end starter when the Padres look to contend again.
Game 2: RHP Anibal Sanchez (0-0, 7.96 ERA) vs. RHP Dinelson Lamet (2-2, 7.50 ERA)
No, “Dinelson Lamet” is not a made-up name. An amateur free agent signing back in 2014, Lamet blazed through the minor leagues last season, limiting opponents to a 3.00 ERA in 150 innings across three levels. He spent most of the year at Double-A San Antonio, where he struck out 91 batters in 74 1⁄3 innings. The strikeouts have come in bunches again in 2017, including 37 punchouts in 24 major league innings. To no one’s surprise, Lamet has a huge fastball; it has averaged 95.5 miles per hour and topped out at 99 mph this year. He also has a wipeout slider, which he features 30 percent of the time. His command has been spotty at times, but he has four strikeouts to every walk so far in his five major league starts.
Game 3: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (5-5, 5.25 ERA) vs. LHP Clayton Richard (5-7, 4.20 ERA)
The “ace” of the Padres staff, Clayton Richard has had a very Clayton Richard season. He has a 102 ERA+ in 94 1⁄3 innings, and has limited enough walks and home runs to post a solid 3.98 FIP. He doesn’t strike out many hitters, though, and leads the National League in hits allowed. His ground ball rate has spiked over the past couple seasons — something potentially related to the lower arm slot he flashed on Opening Day — which has helped him generate 15 double plays already this year.
Who’s hot: Hunter Renfroe
No one has actually been “hot” on the Padres roster lately, save for Yangervis Solarte, who was placed on the 10-day disabled list earlier this week. The former New York Yankees infielder has a 169 wRC+ over the past month, but will miss this weekend’s series with an oblique strain.
Next up is rookie outfielder Hunter Renfroe, who has a 102 wRC+ in his last 26 games. This is the best mark on the Padres roster (minimum 50 plate appearances) in the past 30 days, a big reason why they are just 7-11 with a -31 run differential in June. Renfroe has massive raw power, most of which has been sapped by Petco Park’s spacious outfield. He is hitting just .185/.241/.379 in home games this year compared to an .813 OPS on the road.
Who’s not: Erick Aybar
Remember this Tigers legend? Aybar has continued to scuffle offensively since signing with San Diego during the offseason. He is hitting .218/.288/.340 this season, a paltry 67 wRC+. He has also played subpar defense, and is worth -0.1 fWAR this year. His numbers have been slightly worse over the past month, as his walk rate has declined to just 5.1 percent in the past 20 games. The Padres probably don’t care — if anything, his poor play is helping them earn a better draft pick next year.
How the Tigers win this series
The Tigers offense needs to wake up. While they have had the occasional outburst in June, they have been dormant far too often lately. The Tigers have been limited to two runs or fewer in four of their past 10 games. They are scoring just 4.27 runs per game in the 15 games since sweeping the Chicago White Sox to open the month, which would rank third-worst among American League teams for the season.
Fortunately, the Tigers have a nice matchup ahead. The Padres have a 4.84 team ERA this season, fourth-highest in the National League. They have coughed up 5.67 runs per game in June, as their pitching staff has been decimated by injuries. Their bullpen actually has one of the higher strikeout rates in the NL, but has also coughed up more home runs per nine innings than all but the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies. The venue isn’t the best for creating offense, but Detroit should have enough power to shake out of their recent funk this weekend and pull the “upset.”