As the old baseball saying goes, momentum is only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher. The Detroit Tigers received plenty of momentum from Buck Farmer on Wednesday, as he stretched his MLB scoreless streak to 13 innings this season. With their series against the Los Angeles Angels up for grabs on Thursday, the Tigers now have the luxury of turning to Michael Fulmer, the ace of this year’s Tigers staff.
As the season has gone on, those whispers of Fulmer becoming the team’s top starting pitcher have gotten louder and louder. He leads the starting rotation in nearly every meaningful category, including innings pitched, ERA, FIP, WHIP, walk rate, strikeout-to-walk ratio, and home runs allowed. He is the lone Tigers starter universally trusted by the sometimes finicky fanbase thanks to his remarkable consistency.
The Tigers will need Fulmer at his best on Thursday. The Angels have proven themselves to be no pushover, and teams are already starting to jostle for position in a crowded American League playoff race. The Tigers themselves are just 1 1⁄2 games back of the Minnesota Twins in the AL Central, and are playing the best baseball of that group right now. A win, potentially coupled with losses by Minnesota and/or Cleveland, could pull them even closer to the front of the pack.
Can Fulmer and the Tigers tighten the division race on Thursday?
Los Angeles Angels (30-32) at Detroit Tigers (29-29)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Halos Heaven
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP J.C. Ramirez (5-4, 4.11 ERA) vs. RHP Michael Fulmer (6-3, 3.00 ERA)
Game 59 Pitching Matchup
When the Tigers faced J.C. Ramirez earlier this season, he was coming off a trio of strong starts, including a nine-strikeout performance against the Texas Rangers in early April. Prior to that, Ramirez had struggled some, with an ERA above 6.00. The Tigers roughed him up for five runs on eight hits, but he continued the same pattern — he put together a 1.74 ERA in his next three starts before giving up seven runs to the Minnesota Twins six days ago.
Early on, Ramirez did well to limit home runs. That has not been the case lately. Since he faced the Tigers on May 11, Ramirez has allowed eight home runs in just 32 innings of work. That he still only has a 4.50 ERA during that span is impressive, and speaks to his low walk rate.
In all, it’s a rather astounding stat line from a player who had not started a game at any minor league level since 2011. Ramirez has cut his walk rate despite the stiffer competition, all the while maintaining a decent strikeout rate. His 13.6 percent K-BB% isn’t all that amazing in a vacuum, but it would rank second among Tigers starters (third if you include Buck Farmer).
Key matchup: The Tigers offense vs. expectations
Admit it: you’re a bit frustrated with the Tigers offense in this series. They have only scored seven runs, and were only sitting on a slim lead for most of Wednesday’s game thanks to the efforts of Buck Farmer and the bullpen. This comes after shellacking the Chicago White Sox for 33 runs in a weekend sweep, so naturally, the last couple games have been a bit of a letdown.
However, the Tigers have been one of baseball’s top offenses all season long, and have continued to perform at that level over the past month. They are third in baseball with a 125 wRC+ over the past two weeks, and are tied for fifth over the past month at 108. This is with Ian Kinsler performing as a league average hitter (100 wRC+) while also missing time on the disabled list, and Miguel Cabrera at a much lower standard (112 wRC+) than we are used to. While they aren’t consistently putting out five runs per game, no offense in baseball does this. The one here in Detroit is doing just fine.
We’re looking at a very small sample of innings here, but Fulmer has been absolutely dominant against the Angels in his short career. In three meetings, he has only given up four runs on 10 hits, and has 19 strikeouts in 19 2⁄3 innings. The Tigers somehow found a way to lose one of those games, but he has limited the Angels lineup to a .145/.234/.217 output in the meantime. While this won’t change much with Mike Trout out of the lineup — he’s 0-for-8 with a walk and four strikeouts against Fulmer — it’s an impressive line all the same.
Fulmer cruises to a win and the Tigers take the series.