It’s funny just how big of a difference a week can make in a 162-game MLB schedule. Last Monday, the Detroit Tigers were in the midst of their worst stretch of the season, winning just three of their past 11 games. They had lost three of four against the Chicago White Sox, a team starting to rebuild this season. Fans were bracing for the inevitable July sell-off, one that would determine the short and long-term future of the franchise.
Naturally, we overreacted a bit. The Tigers snapped out of their funk and won five of six against the White Sox and Kansas City Royals, moving back to .500 with their first positive run differential since early April.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Angels have trended in the opposite direction. They were considered a pleasant surprise just over a week ago, sitting around .500 and in the thick of the AL Wild Card race. Their pitching was holding up despite a rash of injuries, and Mike Trout was elevating an otherwise mediocre offense to respectable levels with arguably his best season to date.
Then, disaster struck. Trout injured his thumb on May 28 and had surgery shortly after. He will be out for at least two months, and the Angels don’t have the prospects to even begin thinking about him (to be fair, any team would struggle to replace the best player in baseball). While Los Angeles is just 3-4 in the seven games played since Trout’s injury, it’s hard to see them staying competitive in a stacked playoff race. Former Tiger Cameron Maybin is also on the disabled list now, further limiting L.A.’s already meager lineup options.
Can the Tigers take advantage of the reeling Angels this week?
Game 1: RHP Jesse Chavez (4-6, 4.68 ERA) vs. LHP Daniel Norris (2-3, 4.47 ERA)
After bouncing around in MLB bullpens for a few seasons to begin his career, Jesse Chavez finally made good on a chance to start in Oakland. He made 21 starts for the A’s in 2014, holding opponents to a 3.45 ERA and 3.89 FIP. He followed that up with a higher ERA but nearly identical FIP in 157 innings in 2015. He was relegated to bullpen duty for all of 2016, but moved back to the rotation when he signed with the Angels last winter.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t gone well for him. He is striking out fewer batters while allowing more home runs, which is never a good sign. His velocity has not dipped, though, a good sign for an aging righthander who many were concerned would flame out early because of a slender build. He has stopped throwing his cutter this season for some reason, but is inducing the highest ground ball rate of his career.
Game 2: RHP Alex Meyer (2-2, 4.91 ERA) vs. RHP Buck Farmer (1-0, 0.00 ERA)
The Tigers have not officially announced Buck Farmer as Wednesday’s starter yet, but the evidence is mounting. Farmer set the Tigers fanbase on fire in his first start, generating 11 strikeouts and 22 whiffs against a hapless Chicago White Sox offense on May 27. He followed that up with a solid outing at Triple-A Toledo on June 1, putting him in position to start as early as Tuesday on full rest. While Drew VerHagen would also be on full rest for a Wednesday start, it’s tough to ignore what Farmer did less than two weeks ago.
Game 3: RHP J.C. Ramirez (5-4, 4.11 ERA) vs. RHP Michael Fulmer (6-3, 3.00 ERA)
There is a possibility that the Angels could turn to righthander Matt Shoemaker in Thursday’s series finale. The Michigan native pitched well in his last start, holding a high-powered Minnesota Twins offense to two runs in 6 1⁄3 innings. Shoemaker is having a solid season in terms of ERA, but an elevated home run rate has sent other advanced metrics skyward.
If the Angels do not juggle their rotation, Ramirez would get the nod. He got knocked around by the Twins on Friday, coughing up seven runs on eight hits (including three home runs) in 4 1⁄3 innings. He had settled down after the Tigers roughed him up for five runs in their last meeting, allowing just four earned runs in 20 2⁄3 innings before the Twins got to him last weekend.
Who’s hot: Kole Calhoun
It’s about time, right? After a brutal start to the season, Calhoun has taken off over the past few weeks. He is hitting .231/.338/.446 with four home runs in the few weeks since the Tigers left town, and has doubled his season-long home run and RBI totals in that time. Three of those four home runs came in a four-game weekend series against the Twins. Calhoun is still demonstrating significant platoon splits, but the Angels can’t afford to rest him against left-handed pitching with both Mike Trout and Cameron Maybin currently on the shelf.
Who’s not: Luis Valbuena
Prior to the Tigers’ last meeting with these Angels, we touted Valbuena as a potentially dangerous bat due to his recent hot streak and penchant for tormenting right-handed pitching. He did exactly that, collecting three hits (including a home run) and a walk in 10 plate appearances. Since then, Valbuena has gone ice cold, hitting just .113/.225/.194 in 71 plate appearances. That he is still drawing walks is encouraging for the Angels faithful, but he isn’t doing much else. He has a 36 wRC+ over the past two weeks, and has been worth -0.3 fWAR during that stretch. The Angels need him to start producing if they are going to stay in the Wild Card hunt with Mike Trout sidelined.
How the Tigers win this series
Giving up lots of runs to a Trout-less lineup would be problematic, but the Tigers need to do more than that to win this series. In their last matchup, the Tigers’ starting pitchers had a significant advantage on paper, but were only able to decisively win one of the four matchups. Though Daniel Norris has struggled and Buck Farmer is unproven, that needs to change in this series. Detroit’s starters still need to be wary of the power threats on the Angels roster — hey, Albert Pujols just joined the 600 home run club — and the offense would do well to take advantage of a few favorable matchups.