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Tigers vs. Padres Preview: A baseball game might decide Brad Ausmus’ fate as Tigers manager

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Will a win today save Ausmus’ job?

Detroit Tigers v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

The mood spread throughout the Detroit Tigers fanbase has been rather dour lately, and for good reason. The team has lost eight consecutive games and is now 7 12 games out of first place. They have one more win this season than the San Diego Padres. They currently own the worst record in the American League.

However, manager Brad Ausmus’ seat doesn’t appear to be all that hot. Some believe that a loss in this game would warrant a pink slip on Monday, but the team’s pragmatic (or lethargic) approach still leaves room for doubt. Firing Ausmus isn’t the answer to fixing this team, and making him a scapegoat effectively does nothing.

Ausmus was a little testy with the media on Saturday, but this isn’t a new position for him. He was all but out the door in 2015, and we even heard rumblings of a change in 2016. The situation last year was comparable, as the Tigers were nearing the end of a long road trip with their tails between their legs. They had lost 11 of 12 heading into a series finale against the Baltimore Orioles, but late home runs from J.D. Martinez and Miguel Cabrera — followed by the sweatshirt thing and eight wins in their next nine games — kept Ausmus employed.

Unfortunately, those same questions will cloud the narrative of this game. Never mind that Cabrera is batting second or Jordan Zimmermann has pitched well lately. Will this be Ausmus’ last game as the Tigers’ skipper?

Detroit Tigers (32-42) at San Diego Padres (31-44)

Time/Place: 4:40 p.m., Petco Park
SB Nation blog: Gaslamp Ball
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (5-5, 5.25 ERA) vs. LHP Clayton Richard (5-7, 4.20 ERA)

Game 75 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Zimmermann 82.1 15.5 7.0 5.66 0.1
Richard 94.1 16.9 6.3 3.99 1.4

On Friday, we labeled Luis Perdomo a ground ball machine, citing his ground ball rate as the highest in the majors over the past two seasons (minimum 200 innings pitched). If you lower that minimum to 150 innings, Perdomo drops to second. In first place is his teammate, lefthander Clayton Richard. The 33-year-old southpaw has been San Diego’s ace this season. He leads the team in innings pitched and wins above replacement (WAR), and is second to the injured Trevor Cahill among Padres starters in ERA and FIP.

While these numbers aren’t great in a global sense — Richard only has a 103 ERA+ in 94 13 innings this year and has allowed the most hits in the NL — they aren’t the problem. Richard is pitching like a solid mid-rotation starter right now. He is averaging 6 13 innings per start and has produced decent peripherals. The problem is with the rest of the staff; Richard should not be a team’s best pitcher, or even among their top couple starters.

Jordan Zimmermann, on the other hand, was expected to be one of the Tigers’ top-end starters when they signed him to a five-year deal in November 2015. While that hasn’t happened so far, Zimmermann seems to be finding a groove. Since the calendar flipped to June, Zimmermann has a 2.70 ERA. He has 21 strikeouts to eight walks in 26 23 innings, numbers relatively in line with his career norms. The walk rate during that stretch is a little higher than he would like, but he has managed four consecutive quality starts with at least five strikeouts in three of those games.

More importantly, he has tamed the home run ball. Zimmermann has only allowed two dingers in June after allowing at least two homers in four separate starts during the month of May. He has lowered his fly ball rate to just 35.5 percent while upping his ground ball rate north of 43 percent, a full reversal (and then some) of what his numbers looked like in April. Opponents are still generating plenty of hard contact against him, however, so we will see how long this new-and-improved Zimmermann stays that way.

Key matchup: Miguel Cabrera vs. batting second

This sure took long enough. Instead of wedging another hitter into the No. 2 spot with Alex Avila on the bench against a lefty, Ausmus has opted to bat Miguel Cabrera second for only the third time in his career. He will be followed by Justin Upton and J.D. Martinez in a lineup that many fans were hoping for from day one. If it works — Richard’s platoon splits certainly hint it might — one wonders if Ausmus will keep it intact as the team returns to playing proper baseball with a designated hitter next week.

Outlook

Given that Zimmermann has had similar home run problems as Anibal Sanchez, Saturday’s game outlook still holds true for today.

For all of San Diego’s faults as an offense, one thing they have done relatively well this season is hit home runs. They have 91 dingers on the season, one more than these Detroit Tigers. The Padres’ .384 slugging average is second-worst in Major League Baseball, but they are close to the middle of the pack when it comes to isolated power (ISO). Given Sanchez’s specific issues with the home run ball — which creeped up again during his last start, remember — this could be a sneaky good matchup for San Diego to notch their third win in a row.

Prediction

Tigers lose. Ausmus keeps his job. Twitter explodes.